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The Fine Art of Fine Art Removals

Friday 16 May 2014

Artworks and antiques are frequently priceless, but when it comes time to remove them from their protective covers– for transport to art exhibitions or as part of private household removals – they remain safe through Stuttaford Van Lines’ specialised services.

John SpangenbergA walk through Stuttaford Van Lines’ (SVL) Cape Town warehouse is a completely different proposition to traditional warehouses. With gleaming trucks parked outside a warehouse with equally gleaming floors and meticulous racking, Branch Manager Mike Kitshoff’s attention to detail is self-evident.

Turning down one passageway in the warehouse is particularly rewarding, as it is lined on both sides with framed artworks – appropriate considering that at its end lies another of Mike’s ‘babies’: SVL’s Fine Art Division, headed up by SVL Fine Art Executive John Spangenberg.

With over ten years in the removals industry and six of those spent specialising in Fine Arts and Antiques specifically, John is well-acquainted with the special requirements for the safe handling and transport of priceless objet d’art.

John has been driving not only the growth of the Fine Art Division in SVL’s Cape Town branch, but throughout the brand’s 14 branches across South Africa and neighbouring countries. His responsibilities include providing specialised on-site training to SVL’s packers, overseeing demanding jobs personally, and liaising directly with clients for their peace of mind.

“Obviously when you’ve been in the industry for a while you get to know your artists and the galleries that you work with,” says John. “The galleries move with a person, because with art they have to put their trust in you. You’re their one point of contact and the only person they deal with.”

Nothing To Risk

With John estimating that the average value of artworks he deals with being over R1 million, the need for his steady hands is evident. His advice is sought whenever valuable artworks or antiques – including Fine Art Packinggrand pianos, vases or grandfather clocks – are identified at customers’ houses, as well as when engaging with art galleries on the transport of exhibitions.

For a single art auction SVL was booked to transport R35 million worth of art from Cape Town to Johannesburg, while a recent exhibition in Paris saw John personally monitoring the loading of artwork totalling R89 million into the airplane at Cape Town International Airport.

SVL’s dedicated Fine Arts service includes the physical surveying of art at clients’ premises, packing and crating it as necessary – with specialised materials including tissue paper, foam chips and wax wrap – and, in SVL Cape Town’s case, transporting it in a dedicated Fine Arts truck with air-ride suspension. Even the physical installation of artworks at their destination is provided if required.

When talking Fine Art at SVL, the term ‘dedicated’ crops up repeatedly: from the dedicated truck to its dedicated driver and packer, to the dedicated low-traffic area in SVL’s warehouse where artwork is stored securely, to – naturally – the dedication shown by John towards his craft.

“I love what I do,” he says simply. “I enjoy getting involved in the physical work too: you learn by hand, from people who have done it.”

One might imagine that carrying high-value items would be stressful, but on the contrary John says he enjoys it. “That’s the fun part of it: making sure you handle it properly and concentrating all the time,” he says. “A lot of people will put an artwork down to answer the phone, but our team are trained that it doesn’t matter what goes wrong: if you’re carrying a R10 million painting you’re not going to take the call.”

Pushing The Envelope

Talking to John about memorable moves for him, it’s clear that artists are continuing to push the boundaries of what is physically possible, and by extension posing new challenges when transporting their artworks. Stuttaford Van Lines, however, is always ready to meet the unique demands.

In one case that meant installing wood frames in the back of a truck transporting dripping wet oil-paintings from Johannesburg to Cape Town. In another it entailed building frames around paintings’ frames and only then crating them, to ensure that no wrapping touched their fragile surfaces.

Fibre glass; a full-size man sitting on a chair and watching television; faces carved out of books; even artworks from bread – John has seen it all. One unique challenge is frequently posed by an artist who moulds cow hides and then hardens them with resin.

“You have to learn how to package challenging items, but that only comes with time the more you work with art,” he explains. “I’ve grown to love art more because I’m working in the industry, and getting to meet artists who are down-to-earth.”

For more information on Stuttaford Van Lines’ Fine Art service or to request a free quote, visit the website or contact John Spangenberg (Fine Art Executive: SVL Cape Town) on john.spangenberg@stuttafordvanlines.com; or Margarida Fernandes (Fine Art Executive: SVL Gauteng Hub) on margarida.fernandes@stuttafordvanlines.com.


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