Claims for Damaged Work Feed

Preservation, Conservation - Design for Repair

In this ongoing series about Preservation, Conservation, and Experimentation, I'd like to make a recommendation for all artists and makers  design for repair.

Windows of Memory by Harriete Estel  BermanI am sure everyone would like to think that damage doesn't happen with good care, but 40 years of experience has taught me that accidents do happen, even to the most valuable of items.



Damaged artwork constructed from recycled tin cans Windows of Memory
  Damaged corner of one window. I had to
  completely disassemble the window,
  remake a few parts, repair the pieces
  I couldn't remake, and then put it back

Through the "school of hard knocks," I've also found it far better to anticipate the possibility of damage and not just ignore the possibility.

From the beginning and during your construction, consider how your artwork or craft can be repaired. 
I design my work to be disassembled and keep the instructions and assembly methods in my sketchbooks. Not that I want to repair my work, but when damages do happen, it won't be a total loss. I would rather repair my work myself, instead of letting someone else try to figure it out. I am an expert on my own work. No one can repair it as well as I can.

Damaged artwork documented in the process of making an insurance claim.Keep your records for the materials used or possibly spare parts. Your Inventory Records might include the brand of paint, significant colors, patina, or glazes. Anything that you might need to know about a particular piece or group of work.

I charge for the repair.
Since I do silver repair and restoration, I charge the same hourly rate.  Insurance companies are glad that someone will repair the work, as compared to compensating the owner for the entire artwork.

The document Claims for Damaged Work in the Professional Guidelines will help you with a successful claim if your work is ever damaged.

To help assure the long-term future of your work, design your art or craft for repair and restoration.


This post was updated on February 27, 2023 to provide current links.


Preservation, Conservation, Experimentation -- Using Alternative Materials

A reader raises a profound question about the use of impermanent materials in an artists' or makers' work.

I have a question about how far a maker's responsibility goes for the 'lastingness' of a product. This was brought to mind recently because someone had a museum-quality bowl by a famous artist that was developing serious finish issues due to the use of polyethylene glycol as a soak to preserve the color in the material. We also sometimes see pieces put together with questionable adhesives, etc. I understand the importance of experimentation, but it troubles me as my responsibilities include the preservation and conservation of artworks.

Is this a question that has gotten much or any attention? 

I was really hoping that this was a question that artists were asking themselves (and each other) on some level.

Signed, A Concerned Curator
Glasses without a person so we can look closely at preservation, conservation, experimentation

Dear Concerned Curator,

Issues of the impermanence of materials, experimentation with materials, and long-term preservation and conservation of artworks are really complex.

The use of experimental or untested materials is a reflection of our society in a way. We applaud artists that use new materials or untested methods. The tried and true may be perceived as boring, been there, done that. Even the idea of "permanent" anything isn’t given very high regard. Buy cheap, express the "now," and throw it away seems like a pervasive trend of our culture.

Let's expand on the issues swirling around the use of alternative, untested, or experimental materials. Conservation becomes a concern of the owner, collector, or museum. I am betting that museum curators and professionals need more solutions.  To buy, or not to exhibit or not to exhibit when just the act of putting work on display (even in a  controlled environment) may cause further damage. 

Let's itemize some of the profound issues:

  • the impermanence of materials,
  • experimentation with alternative or unproven materials, and
  • long term preservation and conservation of artwork.

Conflicting perspectives abound on these issues which would provide topic material for endless debates.  So here are my dueling opinions. 

The artist has a responsibility to consciously choose how the work is made and what is intended for long-term display (if any). Basically, I think this leads to four possible scenarios from the artist's perspective:

1) Consciously choose to make impermanent work and know it will not last. The work of Andy Goldsworthy or of Eva Hesse are just such examples.

2) Consciously choose to make permanent work and use the best materials available.  e.g. Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel.

3) Consciously choose the risk of using unknown materials and accept whatever the outcome.

4) Ignore the impermanence or untested aspect of your materials and pretend indifference.

The first three are valid approaches and should be honestly communicated to any audience or potential purchaser.  The fourth scenario is questionable.

The materials used in a work will certainly affect its long-term conservation and preservation - and possibly its value.

Raise awareness
This question should certainly be on the minds of all artists who want to have their work purchased.  Artists have every right to choose how to make their work.  

What is the responsibility of the artist during fabrication?

What is the responsibility of the artist/owner? For storage? For display?

What is the responsibility of the exhibitor? Lighting? Hanging? For some work, just the fact that it is on display is destructive? 

What about care and maintenance?
Is polishing to restore the original finish a destructive act?
Is refinishing, removing grunge, old varnish, crackled surface restoration or destruction?

ANTIQUES ROADSHOW where they discuss how to preserve wood furniturefurnitureIf you ever watch Antiques Roadshow you hear the voice of the experts. Each material seems to have its own definition for proper care and maintenance.

As an artist, do you think about how to care for your work? 

Should the collector/curator have the same responsibility? It might surprise the artist to consider that a collector/curator may not have the same expectation for care and maintenance, or original finish as the original maker.

Please tell us what you think?

Have you ever thought about this before? 


The next posts will break up this enormous issue into a series of thoughts. I've heard opinions from collectors. I have practical recommendations for my work.  What about you?

This post was updated on February 18, 2022.

Wading Through Mud - Life as an artist.

As regular readers may know, I've been checking 39 boxes of work returned from the Loveland Museum. Checking returned work is like wading through thick, sticky mud -- slow and messy.

Damaged work
  Damaged corner of the mirror
  Click Here to view the full view of the   mirror on my website titled: 
  Identity Complex Mirror. 

Damaged boxes reported in a previous post have been the warning sign, but so far only one artwork has been damaged...but not all the boxes are opened yet.

Damaged Box While checking and cleaning each piece, it occurs to me that popular media has glamorized the life of the artist/craftsperson inspired by endless opportunities to be creative and sell work without selling your soul.

In questions for an upcoming interview (more about that in future posts), there were several questions about "the turning point" when I knew that I was successful? {Raised eyebrows and an audible "hunh", are you kidding?}

Other questions related to how I stay motivated?  Yes, there are various answers about how to stay motivated, but the REAL answer is to work even when you are not motivated.


California Dream Teapot by Harriete Estel Berman
  California Dream © 2001
  Recycled tin cans, Pentium chip
  Artist: Harriete Estel Berman
  Photo Credit: Philip Cohen

Cleaning California Dream (carefully with Q-tips) reminds me about working on this teapot six years ago. I wasn't inspired at that time! It was more like overwhelming concern about finishing it in time for the show at Mobilia Gallery. Will anyone appreciate the messages and content issues?  Will anyone buy this teapot? Is it too big? Is it too small?Berman CAifornai Dream teapot under the base

Then a discovery
while cleaning this teapot tonight. I had forgotten all about it. Where no one ever sees -- the underside of the base.

The bottom is finished and complete even though no one can see it (left image) I even wrote, "Bermaid" (adapting the Sun-Maid). Bermaid is a pseudonym for Berman (not a very good name for a feminist). I often sign my work, Bermaid, a reference to the fact that a woman (maid) made this, and a pun on "made by hand."

The secret details are always my favorite part. A personal investment that no one but a curator or collector ever sees. Sometimes I take photos of the hidden side (bottom, inside, or back as in the examples shown below), but normally these details are not public during the exhibit.

Hourglass Figure: The Scale of Torture
Inside view of 
Hourglass Figure: The Scale of Torture
  © 1994
Recycled tin cans,
Artist: Harriete Estel Berman
Photo Credit: Philip Cohen

Everyone always wonders how I keep going.  Exhibitions and purchases of the important pieces are not as frequent as in the past. The tough economy hits every level of the art world, but there is one thing you can always do....make your artwork for yourself.


Seder Plate by Harriete Estel Berman
  Back view of Seder Plate titled:
  Seven Days You Shall Eat Unleavened
  Bread, You Shall Remove Leaven
 From Your Houses © 2004-2005
 Recycled tin cans
 Artist: Harriete Estel Berman
 Photo Credit: Philip Cohen

No one ever said that the art and craft world was a good business model, it's not. Despite the plethora of online programs, podcasts, classes, marketing tips, and business gurus -- everything we offer for sale is a discretionary purchase. No one needs what we offer.  I don't care how much you promote your site, study your keywords or reinvent your metatags, a poor economy and a crowd of competition have everyone at a disadvantage.

OH MY, only 24 more boxes to open and inspect.  And one insurance claim to fill out. (more on how to make a Claim for Damaged Work soon.)

Wall peice by Harriete Estel Berman
back view of
Nice and Easy, Even If your
Marriage Doesn't Last Your Color Will
© 1997-98
Recycled tin cans, vintage steel
doll houses
Artist: Harriete Estel Berman
Photo Credit: Philip Cohen

Maybe it's time to go to bed.  Didn't someone say, "tomorrow is another day?"


This post was updated on January 14, 2022.

Worked returning from an exhibition? Did you fill out a Condition Report?

Last Thursday, 39 boxes were returned from an exhibition at the Loveland Museum.

The question and lesson arises, What is your job as the artist when receiving work back from an exhibition?

Several of the exterior boxes were dented, crushed, and damaged as mentioned in the previous post.

Step 1. Remove the exterior shipping boxes. What a mess! Peanuts everywhere! That took four hours for two people. (Eight total work hours.)

Step 2. All the damaged exterior shipping boxes were saved in case a claims agent needs to see them. The boxes in good condition were collapsed and put away. Peanuts stored.


Harriete Estel Berman Consuming Conversation several stacks of teacups
Consuming Conversation © 2001-04
Recycled tin cans, brass, sterling silver
Artist: Harriete Estel Berman
Photo Credit: Philip Cohen
Waiting in a box to be checked.

Step 3. Now to open the interior shipping boxes. When work is returned from an exhibition, I check every piece as soon as possible. With more than 39 pieces, this is a mini-marathon. There were over 72 teacups alone, plus 36 grass panels. That's a lot of work!


Harriete Estel Berman Consuming Conversation 13 is three teacups.
Consuming Conversation © 2001-04
Recycled tin cans, brass, sterling silver
Artist: Harriete Estel Berman
Photo Credit: Philip Cohen
Waiting in a box to be checked.

Step 4. All of the work needs to be cleaned and checked against the Condition Reports.

Before sending work to the Loveland Museum, the condition of all work was examined. Registrars at museums are really "picky" about this. Scratches, dents, and imperfections were noted on the Condition Report. I made photocopies of my Condition Reports and mailed the originals to the museum along with the work.

The museum should have sent a copy of the Condition Reports noting the condition of the work upon arrival -- and again before it was returned. Each step in this process is an effort to document the condition of the work.


Harriete Estel Berman Obverse Obsession Chocolate Pot
Obverse Obsession © 2005
23” height   x   17” width
Artist: Harriete Estel Berman
Photo Credit: Philip Cohen
Current location...waiting in a box to be

The museum did not return my Condition Reports, but I have a copy of my originals!

What is a Condition Report you ask?
The Professional Guidelines has a sample Condition Report  Download CONDITION REPORT.

The purpose of the Condition Report is to document the condition of your work:

  • when it leaves your studio;
  • at each exhibition location (if it is in a traveling exhibition);
  • when it is packed to be returned
  • and when it arrives back at your studio.

This Condition Report establishes a clear expectation about how you want your work to be handled.


Harriete Estel Berman Consuming Identity a chair constructed from recycled tin cans.
Consuming Identity © 2001
Recycled tin cans, fabric,
Artist: Harriete Estel Berman
Photo Credit: Philip Cohen
Waiting in its crate to be checked.

I made a photocopy of my Condition Reports filled out before the work was shipped to the Loveland Museum. Now begins the tedious task of cleaning and checking each piece. 

At least with a thorough Condition Report, you can make a Claim for Damaged Work if it is ever necessary.  


This post was updated on January 14, 2022.

DAMN! Damaged boxes! Claims for Damaged Work.

The life of the artist is soooo.... romantic, right? Today's post is an extra big reality bite. It's not always a pretty picture!

Livingroom a mess with 39 boxes 39 boxes were returned today from a wonderful exhibition at the Loveland Museum.  BUT . . . Damaged Boxes!  Aaarrgghhh! Before I go further...... let's review and make this a learning experience.  

The exhibition at the Loveland Museum was a tremendous opportunity. It was also a huge amount of work just to prepare all the materials prior to the exhibition. This includes photos, correspondence, Condition Reports, and putting all the work in shipping boxes.  It was two solid days of backbreaking work (for two people) just to DOUBLE BOX ALL THE WORK for shipping. Thank goodness all my work is double boxed... more later.


Alyson Stanfield and Harriete Estel Berman at the Loveland Museum
At the opening of my exhibition at the
Loveland Museum with Alyson Stanfield
Photo Credit: 
Alyson Stanfield

Going to the exhibition 
was the easy part.  The exhibition was beautifully installed! My lecture was well received. The museum graciously paid for me to fly out, lecture, attend the opening and "walk through," etc. All that is great!

Driveway crushed box.

FLASH FORWARD.  THURSDAY, April 22, the 39 boxes return home. Shipping boxes are obviously crushed in! This is not a good sign.

Lesson #1 Use the Claims for Damaged Work in the Professional Guidelines for a tutorial on what needs to be done.

Inside TRUCK with damaged boxes Lesson #2.  As soon as the truck arrives start shooting photos. If the work turns out to be completely safe, you can delete the photos. In this case, however, I noticed damage to the boxes before they were even removed from the truck.

Driveway 17 crush bottom of another box. I photographed every box THAT  WAS DAMAGED as it came off the truck.

I informed the truck driver, to make sure he notices the damaged boxes also.  Be nice to the driver.  It's not his fault.

Photograph the boxes.

Did I say, Be polite and business-like?

Driveway 16 crushed box Report damages to the shipping agent, shipping company, and the museum staff.  Six damaged boxes out of 39 are bad news!

Wait........stay tuned....I'll let you know what they say. Sometimes they want to look at the boxes before you open them. Sometimes they will say, go ahead and open the boxes to see if the work is damaged. Always be cautious and follow their instructions. If the work is damaged in transit, you want to be able to make a successful claim for damaged work.

Stay tuned!


P.S. I know some may wonder why my work is not in crates...but crates are heavy, real heavy, for shipping. Crates are also expensive and time-consuming to make and store. Crates make it impossible for one person to carry a box.

These days with shipping costs so high, higher than ever, I try to keep the total shipping weight as low as possible. Shipping expenses are a concern for museums, exhibition spaces, galleries, and artists, too! Many times I can't be in a show if the museum can't cover the shipping. 

Custom-made interior shipping boxes and double-boxing for shipping is my answer.

What is your answer for shipping?

This post was updated on January 14, 2022.