18 May 2015

Shipping advice

One of the topics that always comes up when we discuss entering non-Canadian shows concerns the mechanics and cost of shipping. I recently consulted several Canadian artists whose work often appears in international exhibitions about how they ship their artwork. These artists have achieved recognition and increased sales through the exposure they have received in SAQA and other shows. Everyone provided detailed and encouraging responses to my questions. Here's a quote from Pamela Allen, one of Canada's most successful art quilters. "You must tell your members that it is easy peasy to ship work to shows if you know the protocol." And Mary Pal offered "I have shipped quilts to the USA, England, Taiwan and New Zealand without any difficulty. Haven't lost one or had one damaged yet."

I have summarized their comments below.


It goes without saying that you should do a thorough and professional job of packing your artwork. To minimize wrinkling, consider wrapping your quilt around tissue paper or a muslin covered pool noodle. Create a muslin bag which can hold and protect your quilt when it is being moved and handled. Make sure that the bag and all of your packing materials are clearly marked with your name and the title of the piece. Secure the muslin wrapped quilt in a plastic bag which you can seal against moisture intrusion. Then pack that into a sturdy cardboard box which also contains sufficient 'stuffing' to reduce movement inside the box when it is handled. Mary Pal uses 48x6x6" boxes which she purchases from http://www.uline.ca/. She cuts them down to the proper length since each inch/cm of box dimension adds to the cost of shipping.

Shipping methods

My respondents use Canada Post when they can because it is the least expensive option. Mary Pal has applied for and received a Canada Post Venture One card which saves her even more. Pamela Allen recommends that people use the online "ship and click" service. You'll get the info printed out on an official label and won't have to wait at the post office. Canada Post also offers the advantage that parcels are cleared through customs in the destination country without going through a broker. You can arrange for tracking and insurance, although the tracking goes dark while the item is in Customs.

If you must use a courier, Elaine Quehl has found that in her part of the country (Ontario) UPS is a less expensive option than FedEx.

Declared value

One of the important issues concerns the value you place on your package when it is shipped. I am quoting some different responses below.

Elaine Quehl says: When I ship I list the value of my package at less than $50. In fact, I usually list it at $40.00 to be safe. This ensures that no brokerage fees are levied to get my work into the US. Also, it avoids the package being held up at customs.  

Pamela Allen: I put only 50-90 dollars as value.

Mary Pal: I declare the value at $99. 


For how much and how should you insure your quilt?

Elaine Quehl: Of course when I list the value so low, I cannot turn around and insure the package for a higher rate. If people want their work insured while in transit they need to have their own insurance policy for their quilts that includes exhibitions. I will confess I have no insurance policy and take a lot of risks. I've been doing it this way for a very long time without incident (touch wood). I am willing to take a few risks to have a career and avoid having to go and find a conventional 9-5 day job ;-).

And Mary Pal's approach: I always under-insure because I think it would be a nightmare trying to collect on the insurance and because I made it once and could make it again if it mattered that much to me.  

Pamela Allen: I don't bother insuring. Couriers give only the value of materials if lost and the post office needs an appraisal to give anywhere near the true value. I am fatalist about it. If it gets lost, I can make another one. After 12 years NO problems so far.

What to write on the label

You will note that there is some variation and disagreement on this point. But each of these people has experienced success using their method.

One person told me:

I say wall hanging instead of "artwork" or "quilt" so as not to catch the attention of would-be thieves.
Here's another viewpoint: 
Also, you need to make clear on customs forms that the work is not for sale.  This is what I write. 
"One of a kind textile art work, for exhibition purposes only, to be returned at end of show".
 I declare auction donations as 'gift', and show entries as 'art for exhibition and return'. 

And another:
First of all I NEVER refer to my work as anything other than ART. Thus the declaration on the shipping form: 
" Art for exhibition and return. NO commercial value. Made in Canada by sender."

Additional documentation

From Pamela Allen: As a further expedient I always send the package with a PRO FORMA document. It is for customs and has the same declaration on it. For some reason they want 4 copies. I oblige and put it in a separate plastic sleeve on the outside of the package. People can get it online on several sites.

Pamela sent along a copy of the pro forma invoice that she uses. I have put a copy at the end of this text.

Return arrangements

Work you have sent to exhibitions outside Canada will eventually be returned to you. You should take as many precautions as you can to ensure that it is shipped with the appropriate value and documentation. This will increase the chances that your work will not be charged duty and taxes when it re-enters Canada. To improve your chances you should ask that the parcel be returned to you through the postal system.

Elaine Quehl: It is important to advise the show you are shipping to that they need to use the low value on your package when they return your work so you don't get charged a brokerage fee. I'm pretty sure SAQA knows this. 

Pamela Allen prepares an insert which accompanies the quilt:

Which brings me to my final "insurance"  When I send a quilt to a show...that will be returned...I have made up a little insert for the committee with instructions on how to send it back to avoid brokerage fees and customs hassles.  Here's an example. I put it IN the box so the quilt angels will see it. Mostly they do. Sometimes they don't....

Insert used by Pamela Allen (used with permission)

You'll note that she includes an image of the accompanying artwork. I would probably throw in several of them, might reproduce it on the muslin covering and would also tape one to the inside top flap of the original shipping box.

If, in spite of your best efforts, your package does get charged duty and taxes you can recoup them. Go here http://www.cbsa-asfc.gc.ca/import/courier/crp-prio-eng.html. In the upper right box click for the form B2G.

Sometimes it works another way:

Mary Pal: Many galleries in the US (not SAQA) demand a completed Fedex or UPS form for returning quilts and that is just not an option for us in Canada. To those venues I send my Visa number and their staff have to complete the Fedex form. 


I hope this information helps you to make the decision to enter shows outside of Canada. It is clearly feasible when you adhere to some basic guidelines and assumptions. You may still experience some sticker shock but it is a small price to pay for the experience and exposure.

Chris Nielsen

1 comment:

  1. Excellent information, Chris! Many thanks to Pamela Allen, Mary Pal, and Elaine Quehl!