Fire, flood & quakes – when disaster strikes

A series of unfortunate events one summer was a timely reminder for the gallery that disaster can and does strike – and that, by taking a few simple precautions, you can mitigate the otherwise potentially devastating effects. 



At the end of 2013, ZIMMERMAN experienced two sudden floods, just weeks apart. The first was caused by a burst pipe behind the gallery office. Water streamed into our storage room – but fortunately we were in the gallery at the time, and able to keep the flood at bay until the plumber arrived. The second (and more extreme) flood happened two weeks later, when pipe-work in the upstairs air-conditioning system failed. Water poured down into the gallery, creating the bizarre spectacle of a sunny day outdoors and a deluge inside. Thanks to the work of a hastily assembled team of volunteers, we removed every artwork within minutes, and incredibly before any work suffered water damage. Within 48 hours the gallery was clean, dry and open to the public again – the only ongoing reminder of the flood being a few water-marked ceiling tiles.



Not so fortunate in rescuing their artworks from disaster were Taranaki art patrons John and Lynda Matthews. When their home went up in flames in January 2014, the Matthews’ lost everything in the blaze, including an art collection worth millions that the couple had built over the last 50 years. Widely acknowledged as the largest loss of significant works of contemporary New Zealand art, among the irreplaceable pieces destroyed in the blaze were works by late artists Colin McCahon, Ralph Hotere and Tony Fomison.



Also in January 2014, a 6.2 quake centred in Eketuhuna resulted in many lower North Island artists and collectors picking up the pieces, after finding their treasured objects shattered on the floor. The media highlighted the plight of one artisan, Carterton potter Paul Melser, who reportedly lost around a fifth of his stock. The effects of the quake also rippled through Wellington and the Manawatu, with several collectors sharing stories with us about glass and ceramic pieces lost in the surprise shake.

Key Tips


There’s no foolproof way to protect your precious objects and artworks when disaster strikes. However, there are a few simple things you can do to assist in protecting your treasured pieces, and in preserving their value should the worst happen.

* Quake-safe small objects – Small objects can be effectively secured in place by using plastic putties such as Blu Tack, or special purpose products such as QuakeHold! (a museum-grade putty). Simply place several small balls of the putty evenly around the base of your object, and press the object into place. The object can be removed at a later time with a gentle upward twist.

* Secure hung works - For artworks hung on your walls, a simple but effective way to avoid works jumping off their picture hooks is to push the hook closed once the work is in place. As to how many hooks should be used, EQC advises that a single-nail picture hook hammered into a stud is fine for light pictures. Weightier works should be hung on a two- or three-nail picture hook, or possibly several hooks, and very heavy pictures or mirrors may need something stronger (eg; marine cleats).

* Store yet-to-be-hung works off the floor – Always keep paintings off the ground, to avoid damage from water seepage or flooding. If you don’t have an appropriate shelf on which to store works not yet hung, then you can temporarily raise the works above floor level by sitting them on blocks of polystyrene or on padded wood strips.

* Know which fire extinguisher to have to hand ... and how to use it – Every home and workplace should have a fire extinguisher. The appropriate type and size of extinguisher will vary, but a general purpose extinguisher for home and office use is a 2.5 kg dry powder extinguisher. It is just as important to know how to use the extinguisher you have – take a few moments to check the use instructions on your extinguisher, so you will know exactly what to do, if and when the worst occurs.

* Keep in touch with your neighbours – When ZIMMERMAN was hit by flooding, the quick and generous assistance of staff from neighbouring businesses meant our artworks were whisked out of the gallery before suffering any water damage. If disaster strikes, it can make an amazing difference having friends close by.

* Insure valuable works – Should the worst happen, and you lose some or all of your works as a result, would you regret having no insurance for them? While some collectors may be willing to take the risk, collectors who would want to be compensated for the loss of some or all of their treasured pieces should ensure the works are covered by an appropriate insurance policy.


For further information contact ZIMMERMAN - www.zimmerman.co.nz / This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.