Museum Techniques – Transporting Art

Contributed by Hoang Tran, Director of Archives

Continuing the blog series on museum techniques, today’s topic is about housing and the transportation of art.

It all started a few months ago when three curators from the Library Company of Philadelphia visited the Center to conduct research on their upcoming exhibition, William Birch, Ingenious Artist opening May 1, 2018.


The curators examined some of PAFA’s William Russell Birch miniatures and selected the ones they wished to loan for their exhibition. It is hard to tell from the above image, but if you look closely, the original housing of the miniatures were simple archival boxes. This type of housing is fine for long-term storage, but inadequate for transportation. Although the Library Company is located only 8 blocks away from PAFA, transporting such fragile works is still challenging.

The loan of the objects provided an opportunity to create new custom housing for the miniatures. Not only would the project make transporting the objects safer, but the new enclosures will ensure the objects are well preserved once they are returned to PAFA for long-term storage.

Creating the custom enclosures required some thought and a lot of patience. Liz McDermott, PAFA’s Conservation Technician, had to pay special attention to how other people would handle the materials during the multiple phases of the exhibition–transportation, installation and deinstallation, repackaging, and delivery.

Features include separate lift tabs for easy access, Tyvek lining to prevent abrasion, and ethafoam and volara foam to absorb shock and create a sturdy environment within the box. While it is impractical to create custom enclosures for all of works of art, in this particular case, it was a great opportunity for me to upgrade the housing for these amazing works of art.

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