Artworks and Natural Disasters – Nemesis, folly and Preservation


The bronze Colossus in Rhodes Island came down due to an earthquake in 226 BC, Cimabue’s “The Crucifixion” in Florence became unrecognizable due to floods, thousands of classic Japanese artwork has been destroyed during the earthquake of 1923, and these are only a few examples of how nature affects the history of art and preservation of art. Artworks and natural disasters should not have any relation; this article focuses on safeguarding the precious history created by artists whose legacy is reflected on canvas.

Three major natural causes that can completely wipe out artworks are earthquakes, hurricanes and wildfires. Human folly plays a major part as negligence, improper maintenance and storing in unsafe areas can lead to damage. To protect precious and immortal art one has to take steps during natural disasters to prevent partial or permanent loss.

Artworks and natural disasters

Unpo Takashima’s depiction of the great earthquake in 1932

Artworks and Natural Disasters

Hurricanes

Windstorms and heavy inflow of water are the characteristics of a hurricane; floods can be included in this category as water is the troubling agent. Water gushing into the house or a museum is not a pleasant site and understanding the measures needed to be taken is very important. Fortunately, there is scope to learn about natural disasters like hurricanes and flooding. The artworks should not be kept in basement or places where there is a chance of flood penetrating. One wouldn’t want “The Storm on the Sea of Galilee” drenched in water or famous murals become colorless on walls; therefore, having knowledge is crucial. Learn through weather stations or news or other sources about the oncoming danger and protect your art work during a hurricane.

Wildfires

Wildfires are observed mainly during the dry season but they can happen anytime. High winds can spread the fires rapidly and they can enter a human community unnoticed causing havoc. Once the fire spreads temperatures raise, smoke and mental stress can cause confusion. It is not appropriate to think of artworks during this time.  Evacuation should be the main priority; people/art collectors/museums in wildfire prone areas should take advanced precautions to safeguard artworks and natural disasters should always be taken into consideration while planning to keep a piece of art.

Earthquakes

These are mostly unpredictable and catastrophic. Installing the artwork in the house or museum with professional care and securing the floor with anti-earthquake installations can help limit the damage. There are specific ‘earthquake hooks’ that can be used to hold the artwork in its place during low frequency earthquakes. Careful handling of artworks is important during low frequency earthquakes; whereas, high frequency earthquakes leave no chance as witnessed during 1932 in Japan where literally tens of thousands of classical paintings were destroyed.

Human Folly 

Classical artworks should be handled by professional art handlers and the only exception is during emergencies where they cannot reach the place. Art collectors or museum staff with less knowledge about handling art makes mistakes during their transport, framing or dealing with minor problems. Not wearing gloves, using improper storage materials, rough handling of frames while going out in a rush can cause considerable damage. These should be avoided as much as possible.

Preservation or safeguarding artworks

  1. Create an inventory to note down the collection and make a priority list; this helps to take out the most important works during natural disasters.
  2. Take professional help to ensure better storage and protection of artworks
  3. Some natural disasters can be avoided by obtaining beforehand information
  4. Evacuation specialists are available to take care of precious artworks in case of emergencies; they can come in and take good care of the pieces.
  5. It is suggestible to have insurance for priceless arts obtained by the collector. Having insurance will at least prevent financial losses in case of high frequency hurricanes and other unfortunate events.

Artworks and natural disorders should not collide and if by some fortune they do, then safeguarding measures mentioned above can help in minimizing the damage. The world needs more art now than ever and people who have them or museums should take care of them like holy grail of human evolution and imagination.

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