Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Dumpster Diving...

... or "Packing and Shipping 101."

I had to get several tapestries off to an exhibit today, and it occurred to me that all of my experience in this area may be helpful to some of you who haven't done as much as I have. I have to tell you that my experience in this area has been gained at both ends - in the shipping of pieces to many exhibits, AND (and perhaps more educationally, for me) in the receiving and unpacking and repacking of tapestries for exhibits. One of the things I am most convinced of, based on these experiences, is that if you pack and ship your work as if it is VERY valuable to you, it will be received and treated that way by others. So, here's the packing process I go through:

It begins at the Dumpster. "Ah," you say, "what kind of respect can you give your work starting at a dumpster?" Well, I'll tell you... I don't go to just any dumpster; I am somewhat picky. Here in my town, the best dumpsters are behind the bridal shop and Pier One Imports. They are the "Card Board Only" dumpsters. Pier One has lots of tapestry sized and shaped boxes, as they receive a lot of lamps and rugs. The bridal shop has large, flat, square boxes that wedding dresses come in, which are good for framed pieces. If I can't find an appropriate box at the dumpster, the packaging store is in the same strip mall, so I have to go there and spend $8-15 for a good box.

After I've got a good box, I make sure all labels required by the specific exhibit are properly attached, then I lay the tapestry(ies) out flat, cover them with a layer of clean, new tissue paper, and roll them up, rolling around the hanging bar that is attached to the top of the tapestry. After the tapestry is all rolled up with tissue paper, I roll a clean piece of fabric around the whole thing, and tie it firmly but not tightly (as I don't want to create creases in the tapestry) in several places, using some of that spare yarn that I seem to always have. After the fabric, I place the whole roll in a large trash bag - sometimes it takes two bags to cover both ends. The trash bag is important, because UPS and some other shippers want packages of value to be covered with something waterproof.

After all this wrapping, the roll goes in the box. I use plastic grocery bags to fill empty space in the box and pad the tapestry. Most exhibits now specify 'no styrofoam peanuts,' so recycling those reproducing-in-the-closet-when-you're-not-looking bags feels like a good thing! Plus, they're easier for unpackers to deal with.

Then, remembering to put the all-important return shipping label and instructions, and (usually) pre-paid check or whatever is required or arranged to get the work back to you, the box is ready to go. My UPS shipping office knows me very well, so they don't check my boxes for proper packing anymore, but some shippers will do that. So you might want to save the final taping up until you get to the shipping agent. I do also always put a warning on the box, on both sides, that there is fiber inside - a warning to the person who will open it to not just slash into the box.

The final thing I have to 'teach' you about shipping your artwork is about insurance. I do fully insure my work - ALWAYS! It takes a long time to weave a tapestry. BUT... (isn't there always a big 'but' somewhere? Like the one in the boat in the top right photo...)... I know that I would have the documentation that is required to make the insurance claimable. Shipping insurers require documentation of the value of your piece if it is lost or damaged. That documentation can be in the form of sales of similar work through reputable agents who are willing to do the paper work (ie. a retail gallery or art center or museum), or you would need to have had an appraisal of the work done by a similarly reputable agent. If you can't get that kind of documentation, you may as well take the risk and ship your work uninsured. If you can document the value, the exorbitant cost of insurance is well worth it. I say that from experience, having dealt with a lost tapestry through UPS, which was insured for full value and which they paid full value for (not mine, but a juror of a show I curated).

End of packing and shipping tutorial. Those of you who have no interest in such things, please come back another day!


meabh said...

Hi Kathy,
I used couriers a lot when I had the gallery in Much Wenlock and discovered early on that none of them insure art or craft (paintings/sculpture/ceramics/jewellery...there was a long list - I think plants and live animals were on it too). For that you have to use a specialist art transporter. It used to strike me as bizarre that electronic equipment was covered when a tapestry wasn't. I had one delivery man who, as soon as I saw him pull up outside, I would literally run to meet as otherwise he would drop my boxes from waist height....
Nothing in your tutorial about plastic packing tape - the bane of the unpacker but I couldn't do without it!

K Spoering said...

Oh yeah, Meabh, how could I forget the tape!? I buy it by the carton at Sam's Club, one of our big box stores. It's a staple in our house, like salt and sugar. I tape every crack and join, not only to keep it safely together, but also to keep hungry insects out.
Shippers here will insure art, but you DO have to have the proper documentation to collect it. Actually, on the shipping form, I don't put that the package contains "Art", I put "Tapestries". UPS has told me that puts the package in a different category than 'art.' It's in the same category as handwoven one-of-a-kind oriental carpets. And they DO understand the value of those.
The shipper also has told me that highly insured packages are marked prominently, and are treated differently. They are not supposed to be thrown or tossed, and are supposed to be on the TOP of the pile, instead of having all the other boxes piled on them. In fact, she referred to that 'special treatment' again yesterday as she put some huge red tape all around the box. Another good reason to fork over that high insurance money.
Oh, and keep the receipt! You can use it to track the package to be sure it arrives safely, and, if your weaving is a listed business, shipping costs are a legitimate tax deduction.
I've probably still left stuff out!