On January 30 the Art Spirit Gallery was getting ready to open like every other day. It was not until Kylie Sparks, the gallery manager, found clear water pooling and the sound of water spraying that they knew it would be a different kind of day.
According to Blair Williams, owner of the gallery, a water intake valve snapped, filling the upstairs of the galley with water which then seeped through the floor, allowing water to rain down on the basement. The museum has around 2,000 pieces in its inventory at any given time, which makes a disaster like this an even bigger deal.
“Roughly 400 hundred pieces were on display between the main and upper gallery. Two hundred ceramic pieces were in storage under the main floor,” Williams says. “That leaves roughly 1,400 pieces we have to review, each and every one of them. ART, an insurance company based in Portland, requires we use a certain art restoration and kind of assessment for damage. They are a wonderful team and they are methodically going through the pieces.”
Before ART could fully dive into the work of damage assessment, they had to sit down with the gallery and learn the ins and outs of how Art Spirit runs, as each gallery is different.
“They arrived two weeks ago this past Monday, for maybe an hour and half or two hours we told them what occurred,” Williams says “We talked how our business works, and what our inventory is comprised of. We have photos of most pieces, but at any given time there could be pieces that haven’t been catalogued since we get them all the time. They were here all day Monday through Wednesday assessing around 180 pieces. They were supposed to come back last week, but they found the pass too difficult to get through because of the winter storm.”
The process of assessing art for water damage is not that quick, and there are several factors that need to be checked.
“There’s a lot to look at, like if the frame is made out of wood,” Williams says. “Did it take on any water, is it warping or about to crack, did water get trapped, is there any mold on the back of the canvass? Water was the initial concern but now we have to think about mold. While the water was clean and on the floor, it still came through the floorboards and over beams, which disrupted dust so maybe it grabbed dust and washed over the canvas.”
The artists of all the pieces in Art Spirit’s inventory were alerted before any news outlet, according to Williams, and while the final assessment still isn’t finished the artists are constantly updated with the goings on of the gallery. While ART is still in the process of assessing each piece for damage, the other big hurdle for the gallery is reconstruction.
According to a press release sent out by the Art Spirit Gallery, before the gallery can reopen they still have to install sheetrock and electrical in the basement, repaint the basement, perform a final cleaning of the basement, replace and refinish the floors, rebuild the basement layout, install fixtures, repaint part of the main gallery, restock the basement and main floor with artwork and clean the entire gallery.
In the midst of figuring out the condition of the pieces as well as getting their gallery back in working condition, they also must figure out how to house their lineup of monthly shows.
“Every February for the last eight years we have had this beautiful relationship with Barrister Winery and we usually hang a show for them,” Williams says “By the 48th hour (after the disaster) there was no way in hell that we could hang our show, so we took what would have been our February show and just shifted it over there.”
While the gallery was able to make a quick transition for February, Williams says March is difficult and they are currently putting out a call out to anyone who could hang their planned show since real estate is so hard to find especially during the pandemic.
Williams’ goal is to wrap up construction by April 2, which would allow them one week to hang their April show. But if that date is pushed back again, she and the rest of the Art Spirit team is prepared with a positive attitude.
“You can pick your attitude, right?” Williams says. “We chose to go into this with the right attitude. The most interesting story is what we are learning and what I hope we can share with other galleries and artists. There is just a lot you don’t know when you flood an art gallery and while it is a sad event, these beautiful pieces could be damaged. Because of the love and support from our artists, clients and communities, it allows us to go into this and say what we can do different and what we have learned from this.”