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Why do we need specialist logistics for collections?

As part of the exciting refurbishment and redisplay of two of our Galleries, Constantine Ltd was asked to move the existing collection of objects on display. We asked Sascha Hurrell from Constantine why we need specialists to help move our collections.

Constantine Ltd has remained a family business for over four generations. With our longstanding heritage and expertise in fine art logistics, we hold the necessary knowledge and skills to move many intriguing objects that included the striking Uvol headdresses from New Britain, the largest island of the Bismarck Archipelago.

  • Constantine moving our objects, Packing objects, Constantine Ltd
    Packing objects, Constantine Ltd

The most well-renowned object the team handled was the famous painted papier-mâché figure of Kali, the mother goddess, which was part of Frederick Horniman’s original collection.

Constantine’s Technical Manager, Laurence Burley, could see what a unique project this was, “The objects that we packed were varied in size, weight and age, which proved quite challenging. This was especially true of the headdresses and masks, which were designed to be ceremonial and so not made to last. Our technicians worked very closely with the Horniman Museum and Gardens staff, and our relationship was essential to ensure we completed the work on time to the highest standard”.

What happens when a museum wants to move or change a display? It is vital to have specialists with relevant skills and expertise to complete the task efficiently with the upmost care and attention to detail.

  • Constantine moving our objects, Making sure objects are safe for transportation, Constantine Ltd
    Making sure objects are safe for transportation, Constantine Ltd

Before any artwork or object can be moved, it needs to be assessed by the technical team in charge of the project. Here are 10 factors that need to be taken into consideration for each object:

Fragility

If the objects are fragile they will require additional preparation from the museum team and expert technicians, to ensure the safety of the piece for future generations. In some cases, bespoke equipment and forms of support must be created to complete the task. The structure of an object determines the method of handling and moving.

Weight

This will determine how many technicians are required and if the object can be moved manually, or whether a lifting operator is required with specialist lifting equipment.

Age

Knowing the history of an item is crucial in determining how it should be moved. In many cases, objects could be on display in the same location for many years, so any movement could unsettle the object and may cause lasting damage. The museum’s own archives can be an invaluable source of information.

Assessing location

Before any work can begin, the Technical Manager must confirm what part of the building the objects are currently placed and whether it is easily accessible. They must work out how the objects can be removed from its current position. Knowing what existing lighting is available in each room is incredibly important when deciding how any item or collection is moved. In many cases, additional conservation lighting is required to ensure the safe movement of the objects.

Destination

It may sound obvious, but a big part of the technician’s job is to assess where the objects are being moved to. The final destination can affect the quote of the project, the timescale, the number of staff and crate preparation.

  • Constantine moving our objects, Removing objects from the galleries, Constantine Ltd
    Removing objects from the galleries, Constantine Ltd

Bespoke crating and packaging

Are the objects staying in the museum or are they being shipped nationally or internationally? If they are staying in the museum, the technicians must determine whether they are being placed in short-term or long-term storage, as each requirement entails a different method of packing and conservation. Careful planning and precise handling is vital, with the safety of the object being paramount.

Timescale          

Efficient planning to ensure work is completed by a specific deadline is of great importance to contractors and the museum. Possible challenges which may occur during a project must be taken into consideration. Completing a project on time is also crucial to developing a strong relationship with the museum team.

Surrounding space

Rooms holding collections of paintings or objects vary greatly in size, so it is important to access the area before work can begin. This can have an impact on the overall timescale of the project and can greatly determine what equipment can be used. It is very important to have a clear work area and sufficient transporting space to enable work to be moved freely from other objects and displays. Once large objects are removed it is often surprising how much space can be made available. This is most obvious when packing and crating component parts of a larger piece.

Building structure

Any building with listed status means the protection of the fabric of the building is of specific concern. The team would usually proceed with guidance from Historic England. This can dramatically affect the way a collection is moved or re-installed.

Expect the unexpected

Technicians must be prepared for any challenges that arise. Every project is different and requirements can change at any moment. It is of great importance that the team complete the work to the client’s deadline, so any unexpected challenges must be resolved quickly.

Any of these 10 factors can be challenging for technicians and museum staff. They highlight the many logistical stages that must be considered when relocating collections, and the importance of detailed planning and research before a project begins.

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