Monday, January 4, 2016

Packing Paintings for Travel

Recently, I received the exciting news that I will be having a solo exhibition at the Academy of Fine Arts, Kolkata.  

Suddenly I am confronted with the daunting challenge of transporting a lot of artwork to India. Around 30 pieces will need to be shipped. Fifteen large paintings will be traveling. The largest are four feet square. The other works are mixed media drawings on paper (approx. 20"x 30").

Shipping the stretched paintings would be cumbersome and may take too much time. Everything needs to be there in just a few days. 

All the paintings will need to be taken off of the stretchers and rolled. The airline suggested I coordinate with a shipping company to send my shipment as cargo on my flight. 

After many phone calls, that didn't seem a real option. Many cargo shipping companies will only work with corporations. DHL, UPS, FedEx are very expensive.  I have quickly come to realize that shipping a large roll of canvas will cost as much as my airfare. Maybe more. My flight includes two checked bags. The thought occurs to me: is it possible to take the rolled work as a checked bag?

Qatar Airways has a strict baggage policy that the maximum total dimension for a checked bag is 62" (height + width + depth). I started looking for shipping tubes that would fit within that total dimension. ULINE had ones that would work for $13 each, but they only sell them in cases of 50.  

Would a cardboard tube be strong enough to withstand the voyage? A large PVC pipe would be strong, but it is difficult to purchase one with a diameter large enough. Will an airline believe a large pipe to look suspicious?  Will a tube roll around in the plane's cargo hold or roll off the conveyor belt never to be seen again? Should I put a tube in a crate or box to keep it from rolling? Should I fashion handles out of duct tape to try to prevent rolling? So many questions!

Looking into having a wood crate built, a shipping specialist suggests I purchase a cardboard concrete form tube at Home Depot, saying that they are sturdier than any crate would be. The forms are 48" long and come in 8" or 12" diameter sizes. They actually vary slightly in size, as they are designed to have three or four fit inside each other. I picked up two nesting forms at around $5 per tube. For a a sturdier shipping container, I will be using two for double thickness.


Half of the paintings are on the roll now. Seven more to go, but it looks like it should all fit inside the smaller tube. Now to think of a way to close the ends that will still allow access for airport security checks.

The sporting goods department at Walmart has folding chairs in canvas bags. These bags are just about the right length and even have shoulder straps!

Many of the bags narrow at the bottom, but this one has a 9"x 9" square bottom perfect for a 8.5" diameter tube...

The concrete forms fit perfectly in the chair bag. To fit within the 62"maximum dimension, the tubes need to be  44" or shorter.  Cutting to 43" to be on the safe side.

Over all this solution should work. It will be strong, compact, and portable. After repeatedly looking for solutions online and coming up empty, I'm finally in a position to try out my home made art tube. Wish me luck! 

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