Keeper of the Arts – A unique Elmira business finds its niche

story and photos by Cindy Ruggieri

For art museums and private collectors, moving and storing valuable pieces of art is a critical piece of the behind-the-scenes work which is key to preserving a collection. For Naglee Fine Arts, it’s what they are all about.

Naglee Moving and Storage has been around since 1914; a family business that grew to be a well-recognized name for moving and storing household goods. It has changed hands a few times over the years, but for current owners Phil Schweiger and Jessica and Beau Roskow, it is once again a family business and continues to thrive and expand to keep up with the latest trends and technologies.

When Phil’s former partner retired, Beau joined the business in 2015; bringing with him a corporate background. He used this knowledge to upgrade to the latest digital technology for backend office processes and warehouse management, and put focus on rebranding the fine-arts division. The storage facility was upgraded with the latest top level security enhancements and temperature controls, and a new, custom-built, fine-arts truck was purchased complete with air ride suspension, a multilevel security system and GPS tracking.

“We have a team of three fully trained art preparators on staff who are responsible for handling the art,” Beau explains. “They all have continuing training and development opportunities in order to stay current with industry trends and marketplace innovations.

In addition to preparatory skills, they each have their own area of expertise. Ian Christopher is the warehouse manager, responsible for keeping track of every piece in storage. Jeff Perrault is responsible for marketing, and also has the driving credentials required for driving the truck and transporting the art. Jared DesRuisseaux designs the custom crates. All of them are artists and art lovers themselves, and they are passionate about the safety of the art that is entrusted to their care. They have packed and moved collections from Texas to Florida, and in major cities including Cleveland, Chicago, Nashville, Washington, D.C. and New York City.

Art institutions along the East Coast, including ones in the Finger Lakes area, are among the company’s clients. One is the Arnot Art Museum in Elmira. Its permanent collection includes 17th-, 18th-, and 19th-century European paintings; 19th- and 20th-century American art; and 21st-century contemporary representational art.

Another client is the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art on the campus of Cornell University. Its permanent collection of more than 35,000 works of art includes two windows from Frank Lloyd Wright’s Darwin D. Martin House.

“We also have a number of private collectors who may need storage from time to time; for example, if they head south for the winter,” Jeff explains. “They can’t leave their collection behind, so it’s either pack it up and take it with them, or let us pack it and store it at our facility.

We’ve stored everything from pianos and vintage furniture to a large wine collection. Whatever is requested we can accommodate it.”

The most unusual piece they have stored was a museum piece – a huge piece of art completely made out of chewed bubblegum.

For clients who have previously paid big-city storage costs, Naglee’s prices are very attractive, Jeff says. “After Hurricane Sandy, a number of storage facilities were flooded and needed to find new places outside of their area. We were able to accommodate them, and they have stayed with us. The cost of their footprint in Elmira is substantially less than in a large metropolitan area.”

Moving and packing art and keeping it safe and secure is key to their business, and they have an on-site woodshop where they can design and custom build any crate necessary to safely move art. Crates for flat art such as a painting are built to industry standards, ensuring proper strength, using a variety of interior foams and ensuring nothing comes in contact with the surface of the art. The crates often consist of an inner crate for protection and an outer crate for travel. Other pieces of art such as a sculpture will have other packing and crating requirements, but will use the same care and industry standards to ensure the safety of the art.

I jumped at the chance to do a ride along with Jeff, Jared, and Ian in January as they prepared to pack for transport a very large 19th-century painting they referred to as “the Bouguereau.” A favorite from the Arnot Museum’s collection, “L’art et la literature” (“Art and Literature”) is an oil on canvas by the great French academic painter William-Adolphe Bouguereau. It will be on view through March 2020 as part of “Bouguereau & America,” a new exhibition organized by the Milwaukee Art Museum & the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art. It explores the artist’s remarkable popularity in the United States, particularly from the late 1800s to the early 20th century.

They showed me the custom crate built in their workshop specifically to fit this piece. The solid construction and custom padding will protect every corner and surface of the picture. It takes three of them to load it into their fine-arts truck.

Once at the Arnot Museum, they’re careful and focused, the protection and safety of the painting is their priority. The inner crate is padded and designed for proper suspension of the painting. The Bouguereau is placed in the crate and secured with OZ clips, the industry standard for securing the art. The crate is covered and secured, moved carefully down the hallway to the outer travel crate waiting near the truck, where it is loaded and secured for travel. They’re so good at what they do and I am pretty well impressed.

The whole process takes a couple of hours, and I can’t help but think about how much work and preparation goes into moving an entire show from one museum to another. Whether moving museum pieces or art work in private collections, it takes industry knowledge, skill, and preparation to pack, store, and move art to ensure the safety of the art. I’m glad to have observed first-hand how true experts in the field make it all come together.

Client Profile

Jack Walsh, Art Quilt Collector

I’ll admit it. I didn’t really understand what an ‘art quilt’ was until I met Jack Walsh, local collector and expert in the field. Different from the traditional quilts that are often handed down through generations, art quilts are made on a fabric base with techniques and materials from other fine art medium such as painting, printmaking, and sculpting. And they are stunning pieces of art.

“In the 1960s, a new type of quilt began to emerge,” says the website of the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art. “Artists used fabric, thread, and often unconventional materials to treat quilt surfaces much like a painter does a canvas. Made as art to be hung on the wall and engage the viewer in a visual experience, these quilts were unapologetically nonutilitarian.”

The article introduced “Bold by Design,” a 2014 exhibit that featured quilts from the collection of Cornell alum Jack Walsh.

It was back in 1992 when Jack attended an art quilt show in Louisville Kentucky. It was the beginning of his passion for collecting art quilts. “I didn’t know what I was doing, but I knew I wanted to start a collection,” he says. With the help of renowned art quilt expert Penny McMorris, he began his collection with the goal of collecting 10 art quilts that year. His collection has continued to grow over the years and he now owns more than 100.

“I wanted to find an endeavor which would be rewarding as I went forward in my life, to find the small moments that had great staying power in my memory” says Jack. “When I first learned about art quilts, it was one of those moments, and it stayed with me.”

His art quilt collection has achieved that vision. He considers his quilts to be a trust and he manages them as if he is a museum. “They will be around long after me” he states.

Jack’s quilts have been displayed in shows as far away as St Marie Aux Mines in France, the Texas Quilt Museum in LaGrange, the University of Kentucky Art Museum in Lexington, at the Arnot Museum and the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art.

There are specific requirements for packing and storing the art quilts. There can’t be any creases in the material, they must be rolled with specific packing material and hung on bars for storage.

When he moved from New Jersey to the Finger Lakes region, he needed to store his quilts in a secure location while he made the transition to a new home. “I used Naglee Fine Arts to pack and store my quilts. They strictly followed all the packing and storage requirements and did a great job.”

Jack continues to search for art quilts with great visual impact using groundbreaking artistic techniques. He looks forward to his next exhibition, wherever that may be, for an opportunity to show off his gorgeous collection. And for sure, I’ll be in line to attend.


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