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The Intricate, High-Stakes World of Fine Arts Packing

Paul Speh, Fine Arts Packer, walks us through a day in the life of securing art objects for transport.

Every office has its adages: a series of well-worn, time-tested truths familiar to anyone in the business. For Paul Speh, Fine Arts Packer at the Brooklyn Museum, they sound something like this: It’s tough to mail a dinosaur. 

You may have follow-up questions; so does everyone. Whenever a stranger asks Speh what he does for a living, he says it prompts an hour-long conversation that becomes more intricately detailed at every level, just like one of his creations. 

Speh’s custom-built, intricately detailed crates keep artworks secure as they move between the Brooklyn Museum and viewers all over the world. Whether working with paintings, archaeological finds, textiles, or other mediums, his job is to design and build packages that fit the exact specifications of each object. Having spent decades perfecting the art of close attention, Speh has found that if he spends enough time with artworks, they speak to him—and only by listening can he discover the best ways to keep them safe. 

From his office, surrounded by custom tools, materials of every variety, past creations, and crates in progress, Speh spoke about his journey to the Brooklyn Museum and what a fine arts packer does every day.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

 

Paul Speh: The first piece I ever packed here was Albert Bierstadt’s A Storm in the Rocky Mountains, Mt. Rosalie. It’s a signature piece. That was [in] 2000. The company I worked for had packed it for decades. I had the schematics for it and the Brooklyn Museum asked me to come assess it. I was brand new as the manager of the company. I came back like eight times

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