A brief history of art show transport bins and cases
A photographer friend asked me over on Twitter to elaborate on the boxes I use for shows. Since an explanation was too long for a single tweet, or even a series of tweets, here goes.
I have three basic types of boxes that I use for transporting framed and matted work to shows. None of them are light; all of them are on some sort of caster system, and all them fit somehow onto my rather large show trailer. The designs can be modified to fit a van, and require a minimum knowledge of woodworking and tools. Rather than go into that, I’ll talk about the designs.
Design 1 – 1/2″ oak veneer plywood, held together with #6 1 3/4″ square head screws. The boxes in the first shot were made when I started doing shows — I had two of them, about 30″ high and 22″ deep, and about 15″ wide. A hinged door on the 30 x 15″ side allowed access to the work inside. These were used to transport 20 x 26″ framed pieces; each holds about 12 when fully loaded. Handles on both the 15″ sides and casters on the bottom allow these boxes to ride up a ramp and onto the trailer, and dolly down the street. I used 2″ casters — not heavy duty enough, really, but sufficient for light use.
Inside, the floor and walls are covered with basic gray Home Depot indoor/outdoor carpet. I use artgarters to pad the corners and keep the frames from rubbing on each other. I found that artgarters worked better than cardboard separators, foam-core, and were easy to remove once the art is hung. Once at the show, the boxes doubled as pedestals to hold two large bins on top, which were also made of a single box, 33″ x 15″ x 24″, cut in half on the diagonal using a table saw. These are no longer in active duty in the booth, having been relegated to use as storage containers. The second iteration sat on a platform constructed on propanel extensions — lighter, but cumbersome. I replaced that with a plywood construction for a time, which was heavy and took time to assemble. All of these pieces got too finicky to move and assemble, so I built the magilla bins (Design #3) More on that later.
Design 2 – a box similar to a kitchen cabinet, with a hidden structure of 1×4’s, and skinned with 1/4″ masonite. You could also use heavy duty corrugated plastic, or coroplast. Called a “web” frame, these are made to transport fairly lightweight canvas pieces, where a full 1/2″ plywood box would be extremely heavy for the cargo inside. Basically a skeleton is made by joining 1x4s using pocket screws. Two side frames are fastened to a base plate of 3/4″ plywood, and a third frame is secured between the two sides using countersunk #8 1 3/4″ square drive screws. Glue isn’t necessary here, as the masonite skin will hold the assembly square and tight. The top is either 3/4″ plywood, or 1/2″, and a door frame on hinges allows access via one of the long sides. The box sits vertically upright — my small canvas box is 52″ tall by 24″ x 24″, and carries about 12 48 x 20″ pano wraps, or a combination of 48″ and 36″ wraps. The floor is carpeted, and the canvas wraps are individually bagged in handmade fleece bags. It helps that my wife can sew. Joann Fabrics has fleece on sale quite often, and it takes about 2 yards of 54″ fleece to make one pano bag.
I’ve used this design for inside storage as well as unskinned to make rolling transport for taller canvas. Since I can’t store 6″ canvas vertically on the trailer, I use a smaller roller to move them around in the studio. The roller is about 24″ x 24″ x 36″ tall, and runs on 3 1/2″ casters.
A variation on this is the 1×8″ skeleton. I’ll cut 1 x 8″ or 1 x 6″ a couple of inches longer than the framed dimensions of a piece, then skin it with 1/4″ masonite. The masonite gets screwed down with 1″ sheet metal screws. Inside, the box is padded with pink 5/8″ pink foam insulation — makes a good solid case for shipping canvas wraps. The advantage of these over cardboard is that you make it to fit whatever you’re shipping and they are reusable. Green!
I also use this basic design for the tent “coffin”, which is a heavy duty version of the skeleton framed box. Made out of 2×4’s, the coffin is about 8′ x 24″ x 24″. It isn’t skinned, but is just a heavy frame with 3/4″ plywood covering both ends. All of the tent poles and three large duffel bags with canopy roof, walls and awnings fit within this. It rides on 10″ pneumatic casters. The frame was glued together with biscuit joinery, and galvanized framing reinforcements screwed to all the major joints. It is very solid. I did lose a wheel at Naples this year, dollying out of the park at night, because a lag bolt holding the wheel worked its way loose and came out. We managed to get the cart onto the truck and on the road.
Design 3 — the big magilla rolling bins. Some of you might have seen these at a show. I have two, one that is about 60″ long x 24″ deep x 45″ high. This carries 25 framed pieces and most of the 11×14 and 16×20 matted work. It’s still a box, but divided into compartments. It’s really three boxes in one. The bottom box has a door on both ends, and an internal divider that splits the bottom into two compartments. One compartment handles the 20×26″ framed work, and the other carries spare prints. The upper box is divided longitudinally, and has two gull-wing doors that fold out and down to reveal the matted work, ready for display.
The other box is simpler. The lower box is divided into two equal compartments with doors that lift up on hinges for storage of lights, hanger hooks and other booth stuff. The upper compartment is sized to display 20×26 prints, and has two lids. One folds down and covers the lower compartments, and the other folds back on a double piano hinge and lies flat against the back of the bin. This box measures about 60″ long by 18″ wide by 45″ high.
Both boxes ride on 8″ pneumatic wheels. The front wheels rotate, but the rear wheels are fixed. Heavy duty handicapped bathroom handles are affixed at both ends to facilitate moving them around. They are trimmed in oak, and covered with a couple of coats of polyurethane.
A smaller variation of the big magilla is the small office magilla. Same basic box, with multiple compartments that carries a few extra 20×26 pieces, all of the office supplies and hold two rolls of clear bags. This box sits behind the booth and serves as a wrap station. It’s big enough to fix a frame on in a pinch, and makes a convenient office when writing up a sale.I use basic variations on all these boxes for matted prints, storage closets, small print bins, dollying to shows. Where does it all fit, you might wonder? This system was designed to work within a double booth. A lot of it sits behind the display walls at a show, but the two big bins serve up prints, one in each 10×10 space. The office box sits behind the booth, and the other pieces fit in storage behind two walls. If you’d like to see how it all works, stop by at a show and ask me. These designs are not lightweight, but they are very durable, infinitely customizable, and make dollying into a show much easier.
If you like these designs, feel free to modify them to fit your own needs. I owe fellow photographers Ron Neihoff and Darren Olson a tip o’ the hat for sparking new ideas on how to build these and what might be useful.