Fine art of relocating 4000 works for SAM
Earlier this year a team of specialist art couriers and Shepparton Art Museum staff started the mammoth task of relocating thousands of artworks from the old Welsford St site to the new SAM building at Victoria Park Lake. John Lewis spoke to SAM staff about how the job was done — with no breakages and some surprise finds.
Question: How do you move 4000 artworks 3 km up the road to a new home? Answer: Carefully.
If the list of artworks to be moved includes 3000 ceramic pieces, the answer might be refined by the word ‘‘extremely’’.
For nearly 85 years, Shepparton’s civic art collection has been stored and displayed in or near the Welsford St site of the city’s council offices.
The collection was established by society portrait painter Sir John Longstaff and politician Robert D Elliott in 1936 with a £50 Victorian Government grant.
By 1949, the collection had grown to 47 artworks displayed in the town hall. It wasn’t until the redevelopment of the Civic Centre in 1965 that Shepparton acquired its very own art gallery space.
During the 1970s the gallery’s collection increased with the acquisition of thousands of ceramic pieces until the Welsford St space was bursting at the seams with artworks — mostly in storage.
As the new Shepparton Art Museum at the southeast corner of Victoria Park Lake neared completion in 2020, museum staff faced the daunting task of upping sticks from Welsford St, along with more than 4000 artworks.
Three Shepparton Art Museum staff — collections manager Claire Liersch, digitisation officer Sophie Varapodio and museum technician Neil Pinnick — had been planning since 2019 how to store the collection in the new space, recording details such as artist, culture, era, medium, weight and size.
The exact order in which artworks would be moved, shelf heights and precise display locations in the new space were also calculated in advance.
Finally, the identification and custom packing of 27 highly fragile, awkward or heavy items had to be done.
Ms Liersch said these items included a ceramic sculpture of a baby with a fine porcelain lace hat, cardigan and booties, and a 1 m-diameter bowl with mosaic designs on the interior and exterior.
These items were packed into crates and boxes with special foam supports for transportation.
‘‘Our amazing life-like Woman and Child sculpture by Sam Jinks thankfully already had a custom crate,’’ Ms Liersch said.
SAM staff were assisted by two temporary collections staff members, Jennifer Parker and Kiri Smart, who helped audit the collection before the move and updated the condition of every item in the museum database.
They were hired through the state government’s Working for Victoria initiative.
There were some surprise finds during the audit.
‘‘We made some fabulous discoveries, including two sculptures with some items caught inside — a piece of Lego and a Scrabble tile which would have been inside the artworks for decades,’’ Ms Liersch said.
Ceramic pieces hidden at the back of shelves and not seen for decades were also discovered, as well as mystery items that were identified through a process of elimination.
SAM staff were assisted by an eight-member team from specialist art packers and removalists International Art Services, owned by Indigenous businessman and logistics expert Kingsley Mundey.
The IAS team was fresh from relocating thousands of artworks during renovations at the Australian Museum in Sydney.
In total, there were 13 people involved in the auditing and relocation of SAM’s 4000-piece collection.
The big move started on April 26 this year and was completed on May 12, with a team working at each building.
Ms Liersch said the operation was completed on budget and ahead of time.
‘‘This was a testament to the great planning and processes put in place and the fantastic teamwork of SAM and IAS staff,’’ she said.
Ms Varapodio said she was looking forward to SAM’s November opening when people could finally appreciate the potential of the building.
‘‘I am very excited for everyone to visit the museum,’’ she said.
‘‘The new building has given us a wonderful opportunity to display more of the collection and increase public access.’’
Ms Liersch said it had been a privilege to plan and manage the project, which had been two years in the making.
‘‘New museums aren’t built every day, and as I have strong family connections to Shepparton, it means so much to be able to contribute to the community during such an exciting time,’’ she said.