Lying beneath California is the San Andreas Fault, a boundary between the Pacific and North American plates running from the Salton Sea by San Diego to San Francisco. The fault is prone to movements, tremors that can spread across the state in a matter of seconds. In order to prepare, it is recommended to ready a survival pack (water, food, light source, battery, radio, cash, first aid, medications, family documents, blankets, etc.) and know what to do when it happens (stop, drop, take cover, hold on.) While there are critical safety measures to take to protect yourself and your family, as a collector, you should consider preparation to protect your most valuable assets like fine art.
In earthquakes, there is no time to foresee the disaster and prepare, as there may be with a flood or hurricane, which is why it is so important to prepare now. Scott Reuter, a former preparator at J. Paul Getty Museum in Pasadena, said “you have to be prepared for it to happen every day.” Vibrations can pose grave risks to art. Because of this, we have prepared a list for our collectors of solutions to secure artwork in case of a major earthquake.
With sculptures of infinite form, one must think about shape and volume of objects, and how movement would affect its stability. The best possible way to prevent the shattering of an object is to isolate it from the grounds movement. The Getty Museum invented a technology which bolts sculptures to a base connected to the ground with three individual frames on rollers. In earthquakes, the frames will slide separately to absorb and diffuse earth’s movement. Springs provide resistance and slow the sliding frames. This method is used widely in museums in seismic areas, yet may be inaccessible to most home collections.
There are several easier and more affordable ways to secure your sculptures. To stabilize a hollow piece, place a metal mount inside and secure that to a pedestal or floor. If the piece is bronze, check to see if there are screw holes on the bottom to attach to a base. If it is made of marble, it is possible to drill holes into the bottom, which can then be screwed into a base. It is important to be aware of the disadvantage of this method: altering a work of art will potentially lower the value of it.
Smaller pieces can be glued down using museum wax or putty, which can be found at most hardware stores. While the wax can later be removed, it is not an easy process and can leave a permanent stain on the base of wooden sculptures. Museum putty, also known as “earthquake putty” is a blended rubber material, which works on securing opaque collectibles. To use, roll a small amount of the material into beads and place them on the bottom of the object, when placing the object on the base, press down lightly to ensure that the putty adheres.
Art should be placed on two hooks, rather than one, in the event that one hook is dislodged, the other will be able to hold its weight. In addition, the hooks should be connected to wall studs, and picture wire should be braided, which is rated for twice the weight of a single strand of picture wire. For further security, consider connecting a wire to the bottom of the frame to a screw in the wall to limit the amount of movement encouraged by earthquake.
Another option is the suspended cable solution, which essentially turns the art into a pendulum– so when there is movement, the piece is able to sway side to side. However, if the swinging is severe, the art could slap back against the wall. A safer solution would be to introduce one more cable, so there are two supporting the object. This provides extra weight bearing capacity, as well as lessen the pendulum effect of one cable.
The third option, and likely the most secure, is to use tensioned cables. Cruise ships, which can pitch as much as 15 degrees or more from vertical, usually apply this method for any hanging works. Two cables suspend the frame from an upper track, which terminates in the upper corners on the backside of the frame (similar to the suspended cable method), but with another pair of cables connecting to lower corners of the frame and then to a track below. Thus, in this method, the piece is held in tension and there is no possibility of swinging movement.
Lastly, check on your insurance coverage to see what would be covered in an earthquake, and make adjustments when necessary. If the earthquake is strong and walls are coming down, these solutions will not be effective, so it is important to have the coverage when possible. Contact us to learn more about the type of insurance you may want for fine art protection.
These tips are meant to guide you in preparation for a disaster. If you are in an earthquake, no matter how valuable the piece, it is not worth risking your life. If you have questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to contact us and see how a fine art collection manager can help you navigate fine art disaster protection.