Returning priceless art delicate job


STOCKBRIDGE -- Moving Daniel Chester French's sculptures back into their homes at Chesterwood is delicate work.

U.S.Art, an international museum and fine art moving company, was contracted to execute the task of unpacking and moving the sculptures that had been crated and stored all winter during the studio’s renovation.

Though many sculptures remained in their crates through the winter, a few were put on display after moving them from the studio. The last sculpture to be moved out of the showroom and back to the studio is that of an angel high on a pedestal with arms outstretched and head bowed, titled "The Genius of Creation."

Dealing with works of art that are more than 100 years old, such as "Genius," requires attention to detail and patience: Every potential problem must be thought through before attempting to move the piece.

The delicate plaster "Genius" has to travel on a small forklift from the temporary gallery space down a muddy road, along a path lined with trees. It needed to slip through an archway of stiff branches and then down three stone steps, and into the gallery on a ramp made from two pieces of plywood.

The painstaking process is routine for this moving team.

George Hagerty, national special projects manager for U.S.Art team, engineers the plan and oversees the execution of packing the sculpture and making it safe for transport.

Hagerty and three others, Justin Bothwell, Germael Rivers, and Charlie Hummel, use sheets of plastic and aluminum to facilitate sliding to raise the statue onto a wood pallet so the forklift can lift it. A strap is fastened across its lap to prevent it from sliding and falling and the men slowly pull the statue, which stands about 7 feet tall, through the doorway of the storage area and outside.

They wear plastic gloves whenever they are in contact with the statue and any fastening materials that touch it are lined not only with foam for padding, but with a thin, plastic bag-like material between the foam and the support, ensuring the foam does not damage the sculpture.

Once the statue is outside, the movers secure it to the wood pallet below and assemble a latticework-like crate around the statue to begin its transport.

Every detail is accounted for.

Wood beams are fitted together and foam attached to their sides to (just barely) press against the statue in case, for some reason, it shifts during transport. Straps are fastened around the base of the statue and drilled into the pallet below.

The delicate outstretched arms look as if they could fall off with the touch of a finger and Hagerty instructs Bothwell to attach foam to lengths of cotton strap to support them. He knows exactly what he wants: The strap must cradle the forearm of the sculpture but not put any pressure on it. It must be touching the arm but just barely, making a cradle, just as a precaution.

From the time the sculpture is brought outside to the time it enters its destination at the studio, the process has taken more than an hour, a very fast time, team members say.

The movers rush no part of the process, and if a structure is questionable, the answer is never "That will be good enough;" the answer always is "Re-do it until it is perfect."

Because when dealing with this kind of art, there is no room for error.

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