During the panic of preparing my home for what surprises Hurricane Gustav would bring, I was also concerned about what to do with my artwork. Thankfully, I have pieces that are in galleries far away from the hurricane’s path, however, I had to then deal with the artwork currently in my possession. So I thought it might be helpful to post a blog on how to prepare your artwork in the event of a hurricane. Of course, anything could happen, and following these ideas may not prevent all damage from occurring, but it’s sure worth a shot.
First, you should already have this on hand, but make sure you have good photographs of all your artwork. This will be important for insurance purposes. Whether you evacuate or not, you should keep these photographs, digital files, what have you, in a safe place- air-tight container perhaps- or take them with you if you leave. Now, I’m gearing this towards paintings since that is my experience, but this can apply to other media as well. Move all artwork away from windows or vents- anywhere water or debris can get in due to strong winds, etc. Keep everything up high and off the floor in case of flooding. If you have a closet with high shelves, move pieces there if they will fit.
All pieces should be covered to protect from moisture- not just flood water, because even a small amount of water in your home will cause mold and mildew to grow when there is no power (i.e. no air conditioning to keep air circulating and control humidity). I would recommend covering pieces with a sheet of paper over the face of the piece, and wrap in glassine. This will help ward off any condensation (just as you would when shipping a painting, especially to any area with a significant climate change from your location). To further protect the work, wrap in Mylar or polyethylene. Since you never can be to sure, I would then place the work in some type of airtight, heavy plastic bag.
As soon as you can get back to your home in the event that you evacuated, remove all plastic wrapping, etc. from your work. If your power is out, it may be best to leave the work wrapped in Mylar since you will still have to deal with humidity in your home. Or if you have a friend, neighbor, etc. whose power is on, I would ask to leave the work in their home, unwrapped, so it can breathe. If your work has any debris on it, you can gently wipe that off with a soft, dry cloth. Don’t use any type of cleaning products, though, as this will ruin your paint. If there is any mold, which hopefully Mylar would prevent that anyway, you will have to bring the piece to a professional art restorer. I would not recommend trying to remove mold yourself.
Again, none of this is a guarantee, but it should for all intents and purposes protect your work. Even without anything crashing into your work, the possibility of water damage in some form or another is pretty high. My brother’s work had mold growing on it even though Hurricane Katrina only brought about an inch of water into his home. It was the lack of electricity for several weeks that allowed the humid conditions needed for mold to spread. (His work was also hanging on the walls, unprotected.) So you just never know. If you really want to be safe, I’d say rent a U-Haul, pack your work in there, and leave!