The past few weeks have been a real test for many people living on the east coast, especially in the New York and tri-state area. The dramatic and unprecedented weather brought to the area by Hurricane Sandy, which was quickly followed by a Nor'Easter last week, has caused serious and catastrophic damage to many people's homes and belongings. Power was (and continues to be) lost, homes were destroyed, and people lost possessions and valuables that were of great monetary or emotional value -- or both. I witnessed firsthand the devastation in Brooklyn, where I was born and raised, and in Cedarhurst, where my auction house is located.
After the storms, I was thrilled to see art institutions like the MoMa hold instructional sessions on art and antique restoration for many of the City's galleries, who suffered devastating losses or damage to their artwork and antiquities. However, little to no mention was made before or after the hurricane on how individuals could have prepared their own belongings.
While we cannot prevent storms or all the damage they cause, there are certain precautions that we can take to save our most precious belongings, especially art objects and antiques. As the owner of J. Greenstein & Company, Inc., the country's only auction house specializing in antique Jewish Ritual art, and as an expert in antique Judaica for over 30 years, I have a unique view on how individuals can protect their antiques so that they will be better prepared for the next extreme weather event.
First, when you hear about an evacuation order, if there is time to safely place your antiques in an unaffected location, that's always the best. If there is no time to do this, and you are not able to evacuate the premises with your items, pack them safely in bubble wrap, then in a box, and then, most importantly, in heavy black plastic garbage bags sealing them shut with duct tape to make them as waterproof as possible. Also, be aware that with water-related evacuations, in addition to possible water damage, theft and looting is always a possibility; Extra care should be taken in hiding your antiquities.
Second, not all antiques are equal. Certain pieces will sustain more damage under certain conditions while others will not. For instance, silver can mainly be damaged by crushing, or by fire. Moreover, for the most part, water does not affect silver, as long as the object has not sat in the moisture for an extended period of time. One thing I recommend for art that is easily damaged by water is to store those items in plastic bins or tubs. Lastly, make sure that any statues, ceramics, crystals, and other such collectibles are tightly fastened to the ground to prevent them from falling and breaking. While these are only suggestions, sometimes a little precaution can save a whole deal of heartache.
Obviously, your primary concern during any disaster should be to ensure that you, your family and friends are safe. After your personal safety is ensured, taking the steps above will protect your objects from future damage. Often, people are emotionally attached to their artwork because of its intrinsic value, which is why we must be extra vigilant in protecting our artwork before another storm comes and the damage is irreparable.