Did you feel that rush of air? That was me exhaling. I’ve been holding my breath for a week. That’s how long it took a second-day delivery crate to get from my East Coast studio to Plymouth, Michigan. If the crate had contained widgets I wouldn’t have given it a second thought, but my "widgets" were a painting. An encaustic painting. And encaustic is not fond of sub-freezing cold.

Olson Uttar, encaustic on panel, 24 x 60 inches, 2007

Long story short: Last Monday, November 12, on a balmy bay, Bax Global picked up a painting that I’d been working on for several months. It was scheduled for second-day delivery: Wednesday. The weather was above average, in the 50s--perfect for shipping encaustic--and likely to stay that way all the way to Michigan. I tracked the crate's progress on line.

On Wednesday morning I got a call from my client. "Um, there seems to be a problem," she said, disappointment in her voice. Indeed, the package being unloaded was not my 111-lb. plywood crate, but a smaller, lighter cardboard box. I suggested she refuse the delivery. Then I got on the phone.

The crate: 34 x 70 inches of 3/8" plywood and 1x8 board, stuffed to the screws with insulation

"Good news. We’ve found your crate, " said Gerry on Wednesday night. She was the fourth Bax customer-service person I'd spoken to in my several hours of phone calls. Well, good news but not great. My crate was on a truck to Salt Lake City. Bax had mislabeled it.

"So you’ll get it to Michigan tomorrow?" I asked.
No, that’s not possible.

"Then It will arrive in Michigan on Friday?"
Well, no.

"Saturday, then?"
Actually, er, no.

It arrived yesterday, November 19, a week after I'd sent it.

Fortunately my obsessive packaging—I prepare each box or crate to withstand extremes of temperature and human intelligence—has protected the painting. (A dealer once asked, "Don’t you think you’re being a bit anal with the packaging?" Not when it ends up in sub-freezing temperatures for a week, no.) Here’s why it weathered a week on the road:

I lined the crate with four layers of flat foam insulation. I wasn't sure whether to put the metallic side facing in or out. I opted for in.

Before I started working on the crate, I had made a lined slipcase for the painting--corrugated cardboard padded with small-bubble wrap and lined in glassine. I placed the painting face in and secured it lightly with a strip of masking tape. Since I had extra insulation, I placed three layers in each segment of the panel.

Then I wrapped the slipcase in small bubblewrap.

And wrapped that in large bubblewrap. Then I lined the crate with two layers of bubble wrap, bubble-side facing cardboard slipcase (you can't see that here) . . .

. . . set the wrapped slipcase into the lined crate, and placed a layer of bubble wrap over that.

Just before screwing on the plywood lid, I laid four layers of flat insulation on top of everything, shiny side in. So the painting was cossetted inside its own padded slipcase, which was twice-wrapped in bubblewrap. That package was laid into a bed of insulation and bubblewrap and sandwiched with the same layering.

I know: This is redundant redundancy at its mostest. But I didn't have insurance on the crate--hey, health insurance or shipping insurance; pick one--so I made it as safe as I could. Call it remote control.

If you're wondering why I’ve titled this post Bax-ploitation, it's because after the crate spent a full week in transit, the company is planning to charge me the full shipping cost. Um hmmm.

Let’s just say I’m going to Bax them the check.


Anonymous said...

Great story! You know, I believe that your packaging represents an artform in itself. I could totally see you crate, partially disassembled, on the floor of MoMA.

Joanne Mattera said...

Hey, I think I've already seen that at MoMA! By the way, right up there with the best inventions ever: the cordless drill.

Anonymous said...

Wait, you built the wood crate yourself, too? BAX is messing with the wrong woman.

Joanne Mattera said...

Here's the secret to making your own crate: Have the wood cut to size at the lumberyard. You pay about a dollar a cut--very worth the $10 or so dollars it will cost you. The sheets of plywood will have perfect 90-degree corners, so in the studio you just drill and screw. And, yes, I pride myself on being the "wrong woman."

Anonymous said...

And there I thought you built the crate because you had spare time.
When the box arrives there, you'll see the casual end of the spectrum of packaging. It's definitely a refection of the pride one takes in one's work.

Anonymous said...

So is proofreading. RefLection.

Cassandra Tondro said...

Good to know that I'm not the only one with these sorts of shipping disaster stories! I'm glad your work made it there safely, Joanne.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post- I've been wondering about using Bax. They claim on the website a 100% money back guarantee if they don't deliver on time. Why didn't this apply?

Joanne Mattera said...

Good question, Artgirl. I'm going to go check it out. Because I made a decision to not pay for the (lack of) service I didn't think twice about it. Perhaps the Bax rep misspoke.

Couple other thoughts:
. In fairness to Bax, other times they delivered on time and at a great price.
. If you work in acrylic or wax emulsion, those medium don't like sub-freezing temps either.

Linda Womack said...

Thanks for sharing your shipping nightmare. I always hesitate to pay for insurance because many shippers exclude reimbursements for art even if they'll sell you the insurance! I'll be getting some insulation for my next round of packing. I'm so glad it worked out for you eventually. What a week that must have been!

Nancy Natale said...

Thank you for being so explicit in the way you packed this painting, Joanne. This is way beyond the foamcore box. I'm glad to get your tips on crate-building by using your local lumberyard. You are very helpful - as always.

Joanne Mattera said...

Well the foamcore box is just for storage. The crate is for serious shipping. Somewhere between the two, particularly for small work, is bubblewrapping the foamcore box and placing it inside a larger corrugated box that's stuffed with bubble. That's whgat I do for small shipments to galleries.

Tim McFarlane said...

At least I feel justified in my obsessive wrapping of a painting that I might hand-carry a few blocks from the studio to the gallery.