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Conservation Notes: Don’t spill the Beans

September 16th, 2013

Beans, 2000. Chris Hanson and Hendrika Sonnenberg. Overall: 43 x 33 x 35 cm (16 15/16 x 13 x 13 3/4 in.), polymer clay, wax, kraft paper, plastic. Purchased with financial support of the Canada Council for the Arts Acquisition Assistance program and with the assistance of the E. Wallace Fund, 2001

Beans, 2000. Chris Hanson and Hendrika Sonnenberg. Overall: 43 x 33 x 35 cm (16 15/16 x 13 x 13 3/4 in.), polymer clay, wax, kraft paper, plastic. Purchased with financial support of the Canada Council for the Arts Acquisition Assistance program and with the assistance of the E. Wallace Fund, 2001

An example of packing and crating at the AGO

By Sherry Phillips, conservator of Contemporary and Inuit Art

Hendrika Sonnenberg and Chris Hanson’s artwork Beans is a large quantity of double-bagged, handmade kidney beans crafted of polymer clay, an artwork that sits quietly on a gallery floor when installed. The piece is fairly heavy but well balanced if installed correctly. However, the paper bag and handles of the plastic bag are not strong enough to be used to lift the artwork. Fortunately, the materials used to make the bags are still robust enough to contain the loose beans.

We received a loan request from the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia about a year ago to include Beans in the upcoming exhibition Chris Hanson and Hendrika Sonnenberg: The Way Things Are, running Oct. 25, 2013, to Jan. 26, 2014.

The assessment-for-loan process began with a conservation report on condition, to determine if it’s fit to travel, and a consideration of installation plans and schedules here at the Gallery, to make sure we don’t have plans to install the artwork over the course of the loan request. After we confirmed our support of the loan, we needed to determine how best to transport, handle and install the artwork. Knowing that the paper and plastic bags should not and could not be expected to support the weight of the piece during a lift, I devised yet another bag to contain the artwork and chose materials that would not damage the artwork now or into the future. It can be used to handle, transport and store the artwork, and it’s modelled on the familiar, reusable canvas shopping bag.

The handles of the canvas bag are adjustable with Velcro so they can be used to carry the work (but only if necessary) or cinched more tightly to contain the foam blocks that keep the top edges of the bag from being crushed and keep the beans from spilling. One side of the bag is also secured with Velcro; when the artwork is placed in its desired installation spot, this side is opened and the artwork is slid from the canvas bag into position.

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We found a small crate in storage that we could re-purpose to suit Beans. Various types of foam are used to provide thermal insulation, as well as a means of cushioning to moderate any vibration during transport by truck. We were able to consult an excellent body of research investigating the effect of shock and vibration during transport published by staff at the Canadian Conservation Institute.

Larger, heavier crates demand that we need to carefully consider: size, weight, moving-equipment access, hardware type that is accessible here and overseas (for example: Robertson screws are common in Canada, but not everywhere), consideration of truck, airplane and door limitations as well as clear and concise handling instructions. It can all become quite complicated. This little crate, however, is simple yet robust: it’s well designed and protects the artwork during shipping and could almost be considered cute. I thought it a perfect showcase for the in-house packing and crating design/build at the AGO.


Want to learn more about the fine art of fine art transport? The AGO, in conjunction with the Canadian Conservation Institute, will host a Packing and Shipping Cultural Property workshop November 27-28, 2013. Please click here for more details.


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