Author: Melissa King
This blog was originally posted on the Brooklyn Museum blog September 2018.
It is easy to take for granted the work that goes on behind the scenes at a museum. Because of the Brooklyn Museum’s diverse and important collection of art objects, the museum is often lending this artwork to other museums and organizing traveling exhibitions for people around the world to enjoy. This means that every single object must be carefully packed and crated to prevent objects from incurring damage during transit.
The Brooklyn Museum’s Fine Arts Packer, Paul Speh, is the mastermind behind this important job. He shows great pride in his creative strategies to secure objects, no matter their size, shape, material, and fragility. Now to think… how much packing material in a year Paul must go through in order to safely pack the hundreds of objects that leave the museum to visit other museums? Due to Paul’s commitment to sustainability and the reuse of materials, there is not as much waste as you may imagine.
“My entire job is sustainability,” says Paul proudly, as he tours you around his packing and shipping room. He points to a pile of lumber and exclaims that he has not bought any new lumber since the day he started working at the museum nearly 10 years ago. The rigid white foam you see in many of his packages, Ethafoam, is also recycled and Paul has been able to go his full time at the museum without purchasing any more. Metal hardware such as screws is also easily recycled. Foam core is the one packing material he does find himself having to purchase due to its fragile nature.
Paul is creative with how he keeps his supply levels where he needs them. When exhibitions in the museums are being deinstalled, Paul is right there hoping to collect the wood from temporary walls coming down. He also tries to reuse materials from all of the crates that return to the museum. Not only is this a wonderful way to keep prices down, but it is even better news for our planet and our collaborative effort to minimize waste. Great job Paul!
All images and research belongs to Melissa King, Paul Speh, and Brooklyn Museum.