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Work of Art
Exhibit packers draw on 5 generations of family experience

By BETH PRATT A-J religion editor

Massimiliano Montenovi welcomes Lubbock journalists to one of the company warehouses to demonstrate the care with which valuable art is prepared for shipping.
Photos by Beth Pratt/Lubbock Avalanche-Journal
ROME — Preparing irreplaceable art for transportation demands meticulous attention to the smallest detail.

That's why the Vatican calls on Rome's Montenovi family to pack its exhibit, "Traditions and Renewal: Medieval Frescoes from the Vatican Museums," which will open June 2 at the Museum of Texas Tech.

"It's very important to know you can't learn it from a book," said Massimiliano Montenovi, a fifth generation member of a family business begun in 1870 in Rome by Romulo Montenovi.

"Everyday (brings) a new surprise in how to pack," said Montenovi, who is called "Max" by his American clients.

photo: news
  After measuring the base of the statue he is preparing for shipment, David Maranelli cuts a circle from a dense, foam-type packing material that will absorb bumps that might occur.  
Whether the company is packing a coin, a statue or paintings, each piece of art must have a crate designed that will provide ultimate security for the object.

The wood used is "like pine, soft but strong and very flat," Montenovi said.

Glue between the panels of wood strengthens the crate and makes it watertight. Controlling humidity is a key step in protect-ing the art. The outside of the crate is painted with fire retardant. Small items are packed inside a larger box, which contains several dummy crates to help foil thieves.

"We cannot reuse the crates," Montenovi said. "We call a special company to dispose of it."

photo: news
  At another of the company's workshops, Massimiliano Montenovi, center, shows the precise fitting that keeps the artwork from being damaged in shipment.  
New crates will be required to transport the Vatican frescoes back to Rome after the exhibit is over.

"Perhaps we could use the crates twice, but it is hard to do that because they can grow fungus" while in storage, he explained. "We prefer new crates even to bring it back."

Montenovi and his younger brother, Christiano, work with their father, Mauro at Montenovi Imballaggio. When the company was smaller, their mother worked with their father. She still helps with the accounting department in the mornings, he said.

Today, the company employs five trucks drivers, movers for statues and about 10 people in the office.

Fresco exhibit

• What: "Traditions and Renewal: Medieval Frescoes from the Vatican Museums"

• When: June 2-Sept. 15

• Where: The Museum of Texas Tech.

• Tickets: Free tickets must be obtained in advance. Visitors should know the day, and hour of day, they wish to attend before requesting tickets. Tickets can be reserved in advance by calling 742-6800 locally, or toll-free 866-803-6873.

Although most of their business is in Italy, they work around Europe "from Pompeii to Paris and as far as Tokyo, Japan.

"Just 20 days ago, we prepared an exhibit from Naples on Roman and Greek mythology for transport to Seoul, Korea," he said. "They love this kind of art."

It takes a specialized knowledge to pack this kind of sculpture, he added.

Another important skill is getting the paperwork done.

Daniela Dimeco applies for export licenses, builds relationships with shipping agencies in other countries and takes care of all the formalities with Italy's Ministry of Culture.

"We have a lot of papers," she said.

Crucial to the success of the company are the Maranelli brothers, Marco, 28, and David, 23, who pack the art in the crates.

"Their uncle is the chief restorer for sculptural marble in the Vatican Museum," she said.

"They are artists," Dimeco said. "They have big, strong hands, but can do the smallest details. It is incredible to see them work with tiny jewels."

A picture is easier to pack than a marble statue, Montenovi noted.

Continental Airlines, carrier of the art, is equally careful in its plan to protect the valuable frescoes, which will arrive in Houston by air and make the journey to Lubbock by truck. Vatican Museum personnel will be on hand to supervise the unloading of the art.

Security precautions include using decoy planes and trucks, so that no one would know which one is carrying the art. Each truck will have a full complement of guards, said Andreas C. Gutberlet, director of Cargo Europe and Middle East for Continental.

Continental Airlines also is a major donor for the exhibit.

Beth Pratt can be contacted at 766-8724 or bpratt@lubbockonline.com

The exhibit has ended
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