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Preserving the Priceless

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While talking to a fellow art collector in the past week, he and I discussed how, while I’ve talked about framing and storing cards, I’ve never discussed art storage. With sixty-seven collectors of Magic on OriginalMagicArt.com, it’s time storage is discussed—in case art is in storage forever.

I worked in an art museums registrar’s office out of college, and while I didn’t preserve all the things, I definitely learned to find out how. There are books and guides, bibles really, that tell you all the ideal ways to preserve and handle artworks. I find that’s more of what my art-management master’s degree entailed: admitting I don’t know anything but that, with time and effort, I can find the precise, exact, and ideal way to do things, all things considered. With that mini intro explained, let’s get into the art.

Hangar 51 image via indianajones.wikia.com

Here is a quickie list of must-dos that often turn into should-dos—that then, sadly, turn into don’ts:

  • Any unframed canvas painting should be stored between 70° and 75° (20° to 24° C) with about 50% relative humidity. Ideally, you’ll store your art offsite in a climate-controlled storage unit. This is also Magical Christmas Land and silly-expensive.
  • Do not store artwork near open vents or open doors. Moving air means dust. Change your furnace air filters on time or early!
  • Sunlight damages art, but more precisely, ultraviolet (UV) light is among the biggest reasons art fades. Light damage is cumulative over time and is irreversible. Buying UV or museum glass is more expensive, but it minimizes exposure. If you hang many artworks in your home, it may be less expensive to have your windows covered with UV film. I’ve covered one room’s windows in our house to have this covering.
  • If this is newly-created artwork, such as a convention-made piece or a commission, make sure that the paint is dry and that the ink is fixed before you prep it for storage. (Fixatives, while optional in many cases, shouldn’t be optional when storing art.)
  • Do not store oil paintings or anything that has a bare face (no glass atop it) in sealed plastic or bubble wrap, as this can cause moisture to be trapped inside the plastic, damaging the art. Loosely wrap the art if you must. I like art covered in felt to keep dust out with other stuff above. Also, do not wrap artwork in newspaper. It rubs off every time.
  • Keep an inventory of art that you are storing. You will access it more often if you keep a list handy for rotation around your house, whether or not it’s framed.
  • Make sure to have insurance for artwork that you place in storage. People often forget about those pieces. This is especially true if you store them offsite. Take photos of it as you wrap it up, too.
  • If you have not removed an artwork from storage within a year, you probably shouldn’t own it. Art is meant to be loved, appreciated, and seen, not hidden like gold bullion.
  • Do not store chemicals, cleaning supplies, potpourri situations, paint, or any other combustible items nearby. If it has a smell, store your art elsewhere. This means that basements and laundry rooms should be avoided if possible. Otherwise, move the smells!
  • Every quarter, check in on your stored art. If a season is changing, you should look into how your art could be affected!

Ideally, Frame Your Ish

You always want to frame your works, but if you’re looking into storage, either you have too much art or a smaller place to live. Let’s be honest. A few friends I have with condos need to store their art, as they go on rotations.

Most framers, even your hourly Michaels employee, are aware of the importance of using preservation quality materials. I’ve written on Framing 101 before, and I encourage you to read that A.S.A.P if you have not yet.

In short, have things framed if you can. Art belongs on your wall, not in storage. When you have it framed, do the basics such as asking for acid-free mats, museum-style mounting (i.e. make them show you it isn’t just Scotch tape), and consider UV or even museum glass for the best possible light protection. In some cases, extreme temperature or humidity differences create the need to have your framed art restretched or ironed and reset into the mats. I’m literally going to have to do that now. And I’m not a happy camper.

Have it framed, and do it in bulk to save some cash.

Vertical Storage

The best way to store your art is akin to placing it on your wall. In an ideal world, you would frame everything, and your prints and paintings would always be stored vertically and preferably in racks, able to be hanged and dusted periodically:

image via spacesaver.com

A more realistic approach is storing artworks upright, packed up.

If you are storing multiple paintings, store them with the largest piece leaning against a wall or partition, and place the smaller pieces in front in descending size order. Place pieces of cardboard in between each piece of artwork. Art in this case should sit off the ground.

Store canvas oil paintings upright off the ground. Place the canvases on wooden pallets, on foam or Styrofoam rectangles, or vertically on a shelving unit.

Okay, but Why Vertically?

Artworks can warp if stored flat, like thick acrylic on cheap paper, or you might place something on top of the artwork, thus causing damage to the piece. Frames can and will collapse under their own weight.

Imagine it looking something like this when you’re finished, but on a smaller scale. Art is upright, wrapped loosely with felt or glassine/tracing paper, given foam corners, and wrapped in bubble wrap that isn’t touching the actual art.

Flat Storage

Small paintings can be kept in flat file cabinets with a layer of archival paper between them. Any pH-neutral sheets are set. As a note of warning, metal flat file drawers are best when bugs are of primary concern, and wooden flat file drawers are best when humidity is the primary concern. Does that make sense? Minnesota has over fourteen thousand lakes, so it’s humid as Dante’s sixth level. If you’re in Texas, I might use a metal box if it’s not suspended in midair.

What’s This Archival Paper Business?

I would use something called glassine paper for protection. You can also use tracing paper, but glassine is antistatic, meaning nothing sticks to it if it happens to touch the face of the painting. You’ll see a lot of tracing paper as flap covers over works on paper when you buy them at conventions from artists. Just avoid plastic as a direct protective layer, as it can—and will—pull art off the surface due to moisture changes. This is also the reason to avoid Plexiglas if you don’t have spacers to allow air to be between art and Plexi.

I Want to Know What’s in the Box!

A Solander box is an acid-free, airtight box with front panels on little hinges. These boxes are ideal for storing unframed 2D art, as the hinge allows you to easily add and remove pieces. Always move one piece at a time with gloves, left to right, left to right. You can purchase Solander boxes from conservation suppliers because the Amazon selection is crazy-expensive and limited. Use the Google!

I only have one because a local artist I like is all on paper, and I mix it with other fine-art prints I have. It gets the job done.

Another option is a flat file storage cabinet. If you’re living large with a library card catalog with your card collection or Etsy hipster business, I’d consider obtaining one if you’re a lover of original sketches or a lot of works on paper. They are really damn expensive, but you can often find them from a past business looking to update its furniture.

Image via spacesaver.com

A literal fifteen-second search on my local Craigslist popped this up:

I may buy this—just saying. Luckily, I have a couple of days before writing and my article going live. If not, it’ll be added to my search list of things like card catalogs, to keep my eyes open for in the coming months.

All I Gots Is Boxes; What Do?

If you don’t have the cash to buy a folio or Solander box, the time to build something needed, or the space to keep them upright and away from a window in a safe space, place them in boxes.

I like boxes within boxes, in foam peanuts, but if you’re against the peanuts, use foam corners on the inside box. You can find some for free if you ask UPS super-nice—or you can always Google “shipping foam corners” and ask for some samples. This $15 sample kit would do the job pretty well.

A no-peanuts packing job could look something like the below image. It takes time, but it allows you to stack them pretty tightly if you have nearly zero space. If you have some artworks that are close to the same size, framed or otherwise, you could reuse a box and put an artwork on rotation in your home. Simple!

Summary

  • Frame your art.
  • Follow some simple tips I mentioned.
  • Store it upright if you can.
  • If you can’t do upright, do in a folio.
  • If you can’t do any other option, box it up!
  • If you’re in a warzone, seriously consider shipping your highest-end art it to a friend who’s plenty far away for a few years on loan. Just . . . consider it. Small art can be easily sold and taken from you.

Ideals

  • Storing sketches, pencils, or watercolors – STORE FLAT
  • Storing unframed oils – STORE UPRIGHT
  • Storing framed anything – STORE UPRIGHT
  • Storing unframed acrylics – STORE IN A FOLIO
  • Storing mixed-media artworks – STORE IN A FOLIO




As always, I’m on Twitter at @VorthosMike. Shoot me questions if you have them!

As I wrote this, I hadn’t built a deck in a while, so I made a little Commander deck based on preservation and storage. Keeping intrusions out is best represented by a prison deck, of course. I then read Celestial Convergence and Divine Intervention as the end to every war. After the conflict, after war spoils are taken and looting has invariably happened, this prison deck’s job is to preserve the art, keep things the same (i.e. shoot for a draw). Of course, during this time, swift justice should occur to those who would attempt to attack your peace.

-Mike


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