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Shipping Artwork: Trial + Tribulation

Guest Author Ceramicist Brett Beasley

As a ceramic sculptor, I frequently have to package and ship my artwork to galleries. When preparing my work to ship, I envision the scene from Ace Ventura Pet Detective when Jim Carrey is acting as a postal delivery man playing football with the package. Ace hikes it up to the quarterback, finds a player down field and launches the football toward the receiver. In my case, instead of using a football, picture a box with a fragile sticker on the side containing precious cargo – my artwork. This is what shipping your artwork feels like.

This brings me to my most recent interaction with the United Postal Service. I was accepted to exhibit a sculpture at the Wayne Arts Center in PA. Juried into the show by the Renwick Gallery curator Nora Atkinson, I was thrilled to be accepted!

I take great care in shipping my work. For my abstract ceramic sculpture, I followed these recommendation steps:

  1. Make sure to take portfolio quality images for your documentation and records in case the artwork was sold at the gallery or damaged during shipping
  2. Use high quality packaging materials the first step in packaging fragile sculpture is to wrap the X, Y and Z axis with bubble wrap at a minimum thickness of  two inches. I use stretch wrap instead of packing tape to secure the bubble wrap. If you use tape, two things will happen: first, folks unpacking will need to use a knife or scissors to cut through the tape and could cause harm to themselves or the sculpture. Second, they will have to cut through the bubble wrap which could make it a one-time use material. Let’s face it, we have enough plastics in the world already and if we can reuse some materials, let’s do it! (if the bubbles are deflated, you should use new bubble wrap)
  3.  I put a layer of loose fill packing peanuts in the bottom of the first box to a thickness of 2”-4” and lay the bubble wrapped sculpture on top. At this point, I fill all the remaining voids of the box with loose fill peanuts. When closing the box, be sure to add enough peanuts so that it is under compression, i.e. the flaps would pop up if there was no tape. For this particular sculpture, I used 2” foam board to create a buffer between the interior and exterior boxes.

Your shipping process needs to be methodically documented and detailed with instructions for the preparatory staff of the exhibition so they know how to professionally package your sculpture for return shipment.

  • To insure or not to insure: When shipping fragile artwork, it is vital that you pay for the UPS or carrier’s insurance policy. Here are a  few things to consider when paying for insurance:
  • Have you sold the artwork you are sending to the gallery in the past? If so, the insurance value is usually 40% off of retail. (If you have not sold, you will have a difficult time getting your asking price because they request a sales record of past artworks and might only want to pay you material costs.) So, if the sculpture is $1000 retail then the insurance value would be $600.
  • Be sure to calculate the cost of art materials, cost of packaging materials, value of your time, cost of show application and cost of shipping. If you do not charge enough in some of these areas, you are giving away your artwork and time for free!

Using the package methods described above, my sculpture arrived to the exhibition without incident. It was on display for the duration of the show without incident. While I was unable to attend the event in person, there is a very nice archived brochure of the show: Afterwards, the preparatory staff repackaged the sculpture, as per my step-by-step instructions and handed it back over to UPS. One small, but extremely pertinent step that the staff member altered during the repackaging procedure, was the addition of “fragile” stickers all over the exterior of the package. The innocent gesture is really telling the UPS employee, “I am packaged extremely well, you can throw me down a flight of stairs, or stack lots of heavy things on top of me”.

As I awaited the return of my sculpture, low and behold, it came back to me in a collection of broken pieces. Being less than amused, I immediately began to file an insurance claim with UPS.

Here’s what you need to do to file a claim if your artwork was damaged during shipping to fulfill the following requirement:

“In order to adequately assess the damage and provide a timely resolution, provide photographs of the packaging material and the damaged item(s). Please provide digital pictures of the following:

  • A photo of the damaged item.
  • A photo showing the damaged merchandise, inside the original box, with all of the original cushioning (picture should show the placement of the merchandise and packaging inside the box).
  • A photo of the packaging material used inside the box (e.g. bubble wrap, Styrofoam peanuts, cardboard dividers, etc.).
  • A close-up photo of the shipping label with tracking number (please zoom in enough to read the tracking number which usually begins with 1Z).
  • A close-up photo of the box manufacturer’s certificate (BMC), if available. The BMC is a round stamp that details either the bursting strength of the box or the edge crush rating of the box. The BMC is generally found on a bottom flap on the outside of a corrugated cardboard box.
  • Two photos displaying all 6 sides of the package (1 photo should display the top and 2 sides, the 2nd photo should display the bottom and the opposite sides).
  • Dimensions of the box including the package height, length, and width provided in the body of the email.”

Around 3 weeks elapsed before UPS notified me my claim was denied.

I went to the UPS store manager and physically showed her my professional packaging procedure and how this is NOT OKAY! We reopened the case and appealed the initial denial. 3 weeks pass again, and the appeal was accepted! WHOOHOO, with shades of gray. Yes, I was paid my insurance asking price ($1000). Yes, I fought the system and won. But… what a hassle! There should have been zero question that UPS was at fault after the initial claim was made, which is why I purchased the insurance in the first place. Especially after taking photographs of the packaging materials and seeing how over-kill I packaged the piece.

UPS denied my claim the first time because they did not package it. They have a package and ship guarantee, if they package the product and it arrives broken, they are 100% responsible. The main reason I had to fight is because they gallery was who return packaged it. Even though they probably repackaged it correctly, (following my step-by-step instructions)  there is no guarantee they packaged it to the same standards I packaged it initially.

If UPS or any shipping or insurance company pays your claim for damaged artwork, they own your artwork.

UPS now owns my packaging materials and broken sculpture It stinks because even though they were damaged, I could have used the box again, and reappropriated my sculpture into another sculpture… oh well.

If you have to ship something fragile, consider having UPS package the piece. They are 100% to blame if the piece breaks during shipping and you do not have to file an extensive claim.

Before shipping my artwork, I made sure to take portfolio quality images for my records in case the artwork was sold at the gallery or damaged during shipping.


Before shipping your artwork, make sure to take portfolio quality images for your records and in case it’s damaged during shipping.

Brett’s sculpture after return shipping.


Wrap X, Y and Z axis with a minimum of 2-6 inches of bubble wrap each.

Step 2

Pad box with foam board and lay 2-6 inches loose fill peanuts around all directions of bubble wrapped sculpture.

Step 3

Pad exterior box with foam board and insert interior box.

Step 4

Insert inner box and finish compression filling with loose fill peanuts.



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