Friday, August 31, 2007

Valuable art moved out of fire?s path

Hundreds of pieces shipped away

Express Staff Writer

Art gallery owner Gail Severn helps unload valuable art moved from valley homes to protect it from the Castle Rock Fire. Severn and her crew have moved art from dozens of homes to protected, undisclosed locations. Photo by David N. Seelig

The value of a Ketchum-Sun Valley home: millions. Valuable furniture: thousands. Fine art by famous artists: priceless.

That's the theory and thinking by dozens of owners of valley fine art who have enlisted a local gallery to protect those priceless paintings, sculptures and ceramics from the flames and smoke of the Castle Rock Fire.

Picassos, Reniors, Georgia O'Keefes and works by other famous artists are literally flying out of the valley.

"We did deliver work to private planes today (Wednesday)," said Gail Severn of Ketchum's Gail Severn Gallery.

They were then flown to secure locations.

Hundreds of pieces of art have been removed from valley homes in the last week or so and put into safer storage locations.

"I got nine more phone calls today (Monday)," Severn said.

Severn, nine of her staff and a number of volunteers have been working with trucks and trailers to move the art to hopefully safer locales. Her staff is helping move art until midnight and 2 a.m. and then coming to work in the daytime, she said.

"There are a number of collectors in the valley that have paintings and sculpture of significant value, pieces that you would read about in the New York Times," Severn said. "The pieces had to be protected and removed."

Many of the art owners are famous for their collections. There are "a number of people in that realm," Severn said.

Many have second homes in the valley and also live in major metropolitan areas like Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and Chicago.

Homes and furniture are insured, but how do you replace priceless art?

"But the art, especially if the artist is deceased, would be really hard to replace," Severn said.

People can remove personal photos and important papers by car, but it's hard to throw a valuable painting in your trunk, she said.

It all started about a week ago for Severn.

"We were personally contacted by clients to move their fine art and valuables, such as antiques ...We've moved 27 different homes (collections)." And that number is going up.

Severn and her crew began in upper Board Ranch and Frenchman's Bend, then went on to Lower Board Ranch, Warm Springs, and Adams Gulch.

"We started removing individual sculptures and paintings, photography, glass and ceramics," she said.

Now, Severn said she is starting to get calls from farther down the valley.

"We're still getting calls every hour from people about removing their things ...When Greenhorn Gulch blew-up we had to remove things from East Fork."

Severn rented a 22-foot trailer in Shoshone and her staff is using numerous storage locations.

"We have a big trailer and several vans," she said.

In the midst of helping clients, Severn, like many others, had her own personal drama to deal with.

"My house got called for mandatory evacuation Saturday night ... Eight of my friends went to my house (Broadway Run) and evacuated for me."

It was not just private art that came off walls.

"What We Keep: an exhibition on books and memory" was removed from the walls of the Sun Valley Center for the Arts in Ketchum just to be on the safe side.

The works in the exhibit, which began Aug. 3 and was to have run through Sept. 28, don't belong to The Center, said Kristin Poole, artistic director. Because of the fire "we felt it was a prudent and precautionary measure on our part to put it into safe storage."

It took two days, starting Monday, to carefully remove and pack the items, and the fire willing The Center will consider re-installing the exhibit, she said.

The bigger picture of protecting irreplaceable art from harm and the volunteers fueling that effort has clearly moved Severn, but at the same time the economic devastation is clear in the fire's smoky wake.

"It's really quite astonishing, these people who are passionate about their collections," the gallery owner said.

Friends and other collectors have offered vehicles and helping hands.

"It has been such a huge outpouring of help ... My housekeeper and her husband, my bookkeeper and her husband," Severn said.

When people ask what they can do to help in relation to the fire Severn said they should support local businesses.

"I think we have to think of all the small businesses that have lost business in the last 10 days ... All of a sudden the restaurants haven't had anybody in them for six nights."

Moreover, Severn, who has been in the art business here for 30 years, had not yet considered what she would charge for such services.

"We haven't even discussed that frankly ... Down the line I'm sure they (clients) will offer to pay us for our time."

How to protect your art

There are ways to protect art that is damaged from smoke or is threatened by damage from events like the Castle Rock Fire, art experts say.

The Washington, D.C.-based American Institute for Conservation (AIC) of Historic & Artistic Works has a Web site and can refer art owners to experts who are both members of AIC and conservators. Conservators deal with a variety of factors in considering the preservation of an art object including conservation treatments based on an object's characteristics and reversing physical or chemical deterioration, its Web site said. The Web site gives criteria for choosing a conservator.

Kristin Dimitrova of Artwork by Dimitrova in Hailey is a conservator registered with the AIC. She specializes in oil paintings and canvas. She recommends that anyone removing paintings because of the Castle Rock Fire should keep them in a steady temperature (50-60 degree) environment. Varying temperatures, direct sunlight and humidity can damage art. Art owners with concerns should contact a conservator, she said.

Diana Hobart Dicus of Boise is a conservator of fine objects rather than fine art. She works with wooden and metal art as well as textiles, costumes, tapestries and rugs.

"The problem with smoke are its fine particulants and oils that bond onto surfaces and are hard to get rid of," she said. With soot and smoke "you don't want to brush it off because it scratches the surface" of woods and metals with high finishes. Rather, a special type of vacuum cleaner that captures small particles called a HEPA filter vacuum is used.

"I encourage people not to intervene too quickly because they can get more problems," said Hobart Dicus. "Certainly covering and protecting is a very important thing."

Objects can be covered with muslin or any cotton fabric and then with clear visquine. Expensive carpets can be rolled with the decorative side out and wrapped.

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