View Full Version : Storage for old art shipping crates

Richard Hinson
06-28-2010, 07:59 AM
I have a big problem with what to do with old art shipping crates and was hoping to get some ideas what others are doing about disposing of them. We have a very active loan program here at the MFAH and as is common in the industry, usually have high quality shipping crates made for our objects being transported to other venues. Once the objects have returned, we are faced with the dilemma of what to do with the old shipping crates. Many we hold on to for indefinite periods of time in the hope that it will go out on loan again soon and we can reuse the crate. Iím forming some solutions for our storage needs and was trying to come up with a way to deal with these expensive, shipping crates we no longer need that isnít based on ďhopeĒ. Keeping the crates, even for short periods of time after they return, is expensive and time consuming and I was wondering if some of my more creative colleagues out there may have a better solution than hauling them to the landfill. I have explored other options of recycling but was wondering how many of you were experiencing the same problems and what options you were exploring? Other than reuse, what other recycling solutions have you found helpful?


Richard Hinson
Senior Preparator
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
(713) 639-7734
(281) 330-7260 cell

Paul Brewin
06-28-2010, 08:27 AM
We've had some luck with giving away unwanted crates to other institutions, artists or the general public who loves anything for free via Craigslist, but we always have some leftover, especially big one, which get broken up and tossed. We try and save hardware on crates that get destroyed. As far as I know we haven't looked into recycling crate construction materials; raw unpainted wood is recyclable, but most crates are probably painted/sealed, or have foams attached, etc, making them difficult to recycle.

06-28-2010, 08:49 AM
The University Museum I used to work for had a large collection of used crates, they came in quite useful by being modified for shipping new items and saved some money. They were just stored in a off-site space that was partially secure and mostly temperature controlled ... I think the University had some sort of physics labs in the same building so there was no rent.

I am also a member of the RCAAM listserv and there have been a few strings going around recently about museums needing to rent crates, perhaps your extra crates would find good homes via that listserv?

Richard Hinson
06-28-2010, 09:18 AM
Thanks for the information. We currently have about 3,000 SF of off-site storage at one of the local storage companies, (North American). The problem with this situation is we have so many crates each year, we keep dumping them there and fill the space pretty quickly forcing us to do an inventory and dispose of the crates from that location. What I'd like to do is have some alternatives to keeping them and disposing of them at a later date. Thanks for looking at the website and contributing solutions.


Richard Hinson
06-28-2010, 09:26 AM

Thanks for the information. Last December we busted up enough crates to fill two forty yard dumpsters. That was the third time last year we had a cratesmash and the fourth and fifth 40-yard dumpsters we filled with old crates. Gathering, organizing, and disposing of these crates occupies a lot of my time and takes me away from my primary job of managing two off-site warehouses. I've tried giving the crates away to local artists and organizations, but it ended up being as much or more work than just dumping the in a landfill. I have to weigh my time and the cost of additional help to destroy these crates. I haven't considered Craigslist but it is a good suggestion. I'll look into that.

06-28-2010, 10:24 AM
Whew! That's alot of material ... sorry no real ideas. I think most wood recyclers make you pay to dump wood. I don't think plywood makes very good mulch either. And for both of those you would have to take out all the screws, not good.

I did run across this however (http://www.containerexchanger.com/how_to_sell.php) maybe that could help? There are a few want ads up there, including someone who needed 100 crates in NY by august.

There are alot of us unemployed museum types out there right now, I bet you could find some one in the Houston area to help out with your crates. Especially check the art history grad schools and art schools.

Richard Hinson
06-28-2010, 10:51 AM
Thanks again. More useful information. I'll look into both of your suggestions

T. Ashley McGrew
06-28-2010, 06:12 PM
Hey Richard,

One museum I know of adds a layer of material (gator board in this case but could be coroplast or whatever since that would be thinner) inside their crates. All their padding is attached to that an just tacked inside with screws. The entire interior can be gutted and reconfigured that way. If you used this method you could keep a selection of crate shells in different sizes and just store crate (innards) for specific artworks. There is less waste, less room required and you get to keep some of the most labor intensive portions of the crate.
The only other thing that I have heard of is that some folks put out announcements on either Craigs list or Freecycle. The big tip it seems is not to describe them as art crates but as "large wooden boxes with detachable lids" or some such thing. The idea I guess is that there are all kinds of uses for the boxes - far more than there is need for art crates.


Richard Hinson
06-29-2010, 06:13 AM

Thanks for the information. That's a good idea, having an inner container, but as you know, that won't always work. I've got to come up with a compelling argument in favor of properly disposing of these crates. My problem is two-fold: What to do with crates that are expensive but no longer needed, and how to properly dispose of them without sending them to a landfill. If I could find a way to recycle them without too much labor involved, I might be able to get the Registrars behind the decision not to keep these crates indefinitely. They really don't want to throw away a crate that cost several thousand dollars but the storage and maintanence of them isn't their responsibility, it's mine. They find it very easy to say let's keep this crate, it cost us $2,500.00, maybe we can find another object to ship in it. But right now I have over 100 crates like that just sitting around in three different storage areas that is costing us over $2,000.00 a month to store. I'd rather have that money for storage furniture, or additional storage.

Paul Brewin
06-29-2010, 08:27 AM
If only this was an option... http://www.caseworkscrating.com/crateFurniture.htm

T. Ashley McGrew
06-29-2010, 10:35 AM
Just to clarify - an inner container is not what I meant to describe - instead just a panel for each side with foam attached. So when removed you have a set of panels that can just be stacked and take up a fraction of the amount of space.... For single painting crates you shouldn't need 100 crates. You could keep ones in about 10" to 12" increments. For single paintings anyway you could reduce that number that you keep and still save the investment that you have those few.
If you think about it, it does really seem a bit nuts to have to make individual crates for paintings that will be traveling at different times and are only 3 or 4 inches different in size.
I know that is the tradition but I think we are all examining that about now. As long-time exhibition crater there is nothing I have hated more over the years than rehabing old crates, but much of that has to do with the traditional way that interiors were done. Having to scrape out old pads and and such could take forever and was very frustrating.
If stripping the crate just means spending five minutes removing a handful of waferhead screws it kind of puts a different spin on things.
Of course that notion doesn't help you at all with the 100 crates that you already have with traditional interiors that you already have!

I know that your delimma is very common. There is always talk about crate creating co-ops which could maybe work in a museum-dense environment like DC or New York but is harder in the rest of the world.

T. Ashley McGrew
06-29-2010, 10:48 AM
Maybe we are being too hasty here.
Richard how about selling "genuine Houston MFA" art-crate-furniture out of the museum shop?
I see book cases.....
You could include its provenience in terms of a photo of it with artwork inside. Something like "If you can't buy the Art you can at least buy the crate".
What do you think? No?
Ok whatever

Richard Hinson
06-29-2010, 10:54 AM
You see, this is the kind of creativity I'm looking for. Not a bad idea though. Part of the problem I have is that I don't have a shop for building crates, or furniture out of crates. Any crates I build are strickly for storage purposes and are hammered and sawed on a loading dock somewhere. All of our shipping crates are ordered from local vendors which makes them expensive and makes throwing them away more difficult.

01-22-2011, 03:02 AM
Thanks for all usefull information.. Hope to have a painting soon,.