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The 10 rules of art handling

When we train art handlers we orient them into our world of planning, procedures and checklists. The very first list we expose them to in this training is below, communicating the key rules of art handling.

1. Expert art handlers always have three tools at-the-ready: communication, awareness and forethought.

This is rule that trumps all rules. You will find that these three principles are the driving force of each rule that follows.

2. Less handling is always better.

Plan ahead to avoid unnecessary handling. Unwrapping and rewrapping an object because you did not label it or forgot to measure it means putting it at unwarranted risk. This rule also expands to larger scope. When moving art across the country or globe limiting transfers also limits the opportunities for damage.

3. Use at least two hands to carry any object.

This means you can only carry one object at a time, no matter how small. You should also be aware of cases where you need more than two hands (aka: another handler or two) for heavy and unwieldy objects.

4. When wrapping choose materials wisely, prepare them in advance, pre-plan your approach.

There is no one-material-that-fits-all. The properties of an object will dictate if you need tissue, Tyvek, Dartek, Volara, or something else entirely. And the object’s shape, size and planned transport will also determine the approach for packing. Failing to plan, and needing to repack or rewrap, can lead to infraction of the second rule: Less handling is better.

5. Wear gloves. Wear the right gloves for the object.

There are many kinds of gloves.

6. Items are usually safest when moved in display orientation.

This means paintings and prints are generally better off upright, especially those that are hinged. Furniture is rarely more stable on its side on inverted. A few objects, like pastels, are better laid flat, but often this requires mitigation of other resulting risks, which your art care professional can advise on.

7. Prepare your destination in advance, be aware of all your surroundings, and communicate with your partners as an object is moved.

Talk through as you move with an object; are you turning left or right? Do you need to stop to step around an obstacle? Do you need to take a break or re-position your hands? One handler must lead and direct and others must follow to avoid motions in divergent directions.

8. Lean and span works with care; face-to-face, with cardboard dividers, mindful of hardware.

And make sure leaned works are in a low-traffic area and will not slide from their position.

9. Lifting objects from rims, lips, handles, arms and other temping protrusions can lead to disaster. You can rarely go wrong by supporting and object from the bottom.  

Often the part of an object that looks like the handle is merely decorative, and may be the site of a previous repair and thus unstable or weak. There are a few exceptions, but generally providing support from the base of an object is the best choice.

10. Style counts when wrapping. Cut, fold and tape neatly. Label purposefully and clearly.

Will it be possible to safely open the package? Is it free of any loose pieces that might get caught and snag? Does it convey the message that it was wrapped with care by a professional?

Bonus: Each item is unique and so must your approach be each time. On the rare occasion where you think breaking one of these rules is necessary: Talk it out, Plan it through, Proceed methodically and mindfully.