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Shipping Raw Clay Sculptures

By Lynda Sappington


If, like me, you don’t live near your foundry, you might have various ways of getting your work there.  I have a friend who sculpts life-sized children and dogs.  She uses plastilene, just as I do, so she has the same “shipping soft clay” problem to deal with.  She attaches their rebar armatures to palettes before she starts sculpting.  She’ll do several pieces, then secure them in her horse trailer and once or twice a year drives them from Ohio to Colorado to have the molds made and the bronzes cast.  That works for her.

I also live in Ohio, but my foundry is in eastern Oregon.  It’s a good choice for me for a lot of reasons and I’m very happy with them.  It’s just a challenge to get the work there sometimes.

I build the cost of shipping to and from the foundry into my commission prices and only charge a separate amount for shipping the piece to the customer.  The bronze has to come back to me rather than being shipped directly so I can inspect it and get it mounted on a base made by my basemaker, Diane Soper of Sistermaide Woodworks (  Inspection is a necessary step since I can’t easily go to the foundry to do it, because once in a rare while there’s a crooked ear or something and I have to send the bronze back to have something changed.

So how do I get soft, raw clay sculptures to my foundry and keep the piece intact?  Carefully!

I used to ship my clays this way, and it’s still a good way to do it:  The horse’s armature was secured tightly to the wooden (never particle board!) working surface by BOLTS, not screws, in the floor flange (screws can back out from vibration).  Then the working surface and sculpture are put inside a roomy, sturdy cardboard box, matched with another piece of wood on the outside of the box and BOLTS are secured through the outside wood and the bottom of the box to the working surface (bolts go through both the cardboard and both pieces of wood and then are tightened).   Be sure to wrap your clay in plastic before drilling the holes in the working surface so no sawdust gets on it.  Unwrap it when the drilling and cleanup are over.

Use strong tape across both the inside lid and the outside lid of this box so the inside lid won’t fall down and touch your sculpture.  Then double-box it, using 1” Styrofoam boards around all six sides between the boxes.  Seal up the second box and it’s ready to ship.

Your sculpture will ship safely this way probably 97% of the time.  Unfortunately, there’s that 3% . . . .  Since the box is “just a box” to UPS or whoever is shipping it (even if it’s marked “FRAGILE” and “THIS END UP”), they will toss it around, it may fall off a conveyor belt, etc.  As my sculptures got more valuable (more time, larger, more detail, etc.), I got concerned about these problems.  I’ve had such vibration damage pieces before (bend a fastened leg slightly, lower a raised leg, etc.), and I wanted to prevent any more damage.

This is how I ship things now:  The box is made up just as I said above, but I take it to a shipper who fastens it to a skid.  Then a forklift picks it up gently and puts it in a freight truck where it is handled as nicely as you could please, because that skid is protecting it.  I have not (knock wood!) had any problems at all shipping this way.  It is expensive!  But to make sure months worth of work get there intact, it’s worth it to me.  For my average 1/8 life-size pieces, this costs me about $300-400, but my pieces are intact, their legs exactly as I sculpted them, and I think it’s worth it.  I build those costs into the sales price if it’s a piece I’m doing myself, or if it’s part of a commission, that price is built into the commission price.

[ngg_images source=”galleries” container_ids=”13″ display_type=”photocrati-nextgen_basic_slideshow” gallery_width=”600″ gallery_height=”400″ cycle_effect=”fade” cycle_interval=”10″ show_thumbnail_link=”1″ thumbnail_link_text=”[Show thumbnails]” order_by=”sortorder” order_direction=”ASC” returns=”included” maximum_entity_count=”500″]Then there are the extreme weather situations:  I once had to rush ship a trophy piece (horse and carriage shown above) to Oregon when it was 100 degrees here and 100 degrees in Boise, Idaho, where the plane would land.  After that, it was to ride for six hours in a brown, not-air-conditioned UPS truck in that 100 degree heat.  So, what do we do now?  (My customer paid for all this, by the way.)

My husband and I packed the horse as we normally would, then lined the outside box not with Styrofoam, but with plastic-wrapped dry ice.  To protect all the delicate carriage parts, I actually hand-sewed them between thin (1/4”) sheets of Styrofoam insulation board.  The wheels looked like blue (the Styrofoam) and tan (the wood) Oreos!  All the little metal harness terrets, the Liverpool bits, the carriage stirrup, the spring hooks, etc., were sewn to the surface of that same kind of Styrofoam, as shown in these pictures.  The carriage was in a separate box.  It was fragile because the wooden armature was covered in clay to make the soft curves of a 17th century Friesian sjees, plus there was the clay driver sitting in the box.  Everything was packed in dry ice and air freighted overnight to Boise.  Dry ice is considered hazardous cargo for air freight, so I had to pay an extra fee for that.  This job cost $400 to ship back in 2010, but it was worth the cost.

If you have any great shipping advice, I’d love to hear it!  I’d like to publish them, with your permission, in the newsletter or perhaps another blog post.  Let’s learn from each other!  Send your advice to me at  Thanks!



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