California-based Blackbird Art Services specializes in installation and packing, exclusive transport, and collection management. Fine Art Shippers had the pleasure of interviewing the company’s co-founders, Misha Dawson and Amber Stucke. They discussed how their passion for art translates into quality art services and shared stories about the company’s origins and their experiences in the field.
Blackbird Art Services: Driven by Passion for Art
What inspired you to start a company focused on fine art handling?
Misha Dawson: I always saw myself as a revolutionary and whatever I ended up doing would be to that end. I have worked in this industry for more than a decade and figured to try my hand at the wheel. A living wage, a work force that looks like Los Angeles, real customer service, and best practices put into action to begin with; after that, let’s see what else we can do.
Amber Stucke: As an artist with an MFA working alongside my practice in this industry for also more than a decade between San Francisco and Los Angeles, fine art handling, transport, installation, and collection management seems to be only a clear choice in the focus for our art services company.
Where does the name, Blackbird Art Services, come from? What is its meaning?
Misha: I am a film fan. Huston is my favorite director, and the Maltese Falcon is my favorite film that he directed. When we were trying to name our company, I handled the original Falcon prop. In the film, Bogart refers to the Falcon as the Black Bird.
Amber: Adding to Misha’s thought about the Maltese Falcon, I wanted a symbol as a logo for our company that was the idea of a fast bird—something smart, quick, and accurate like a falcon or hawk —and so Black Bird Art Services LLC came into being.
With both of you bringing such diverse expertise to Black Bird Art Services, how do you blend your strengths to create a cohesive service offering?
Amber: With my background as a Registrar and Misha’s as a Lead Art Technician, the two fields together create a good marriage, both literally and metaphorically. Both of our passions for art and experiences in teaching at a university level at some point have also given us an educated eye and appreciation for all of the details connected to each project that we take on.
Misha: She sings, I dance, it makes a whole show.
How does your company ensure the safety and security of the artworks during transport and installation?
Misha: Good packaging, stout locks, air conditioning, and plenty of insurance. All that and years of experience.
Can you explain the role of insurance in art transportation and how it affects both service providers and clients?
Misha: Insurance is everything. Before you set foot on the property, you need Workers Comp. Before you collect or deliver an expensive piece of art anywhere, you need to have Cargo Liability. It protects both the carrier and the client—you really cannot stress this point enough.
Amber: One of the roles that I play in our company is a Courier for high-value shipments, where this role is solely used and placed in regard to insurance. Having the knowledge of what my role is to the art that I protect in a given shipment, domestic or internationally, allows me to understand the power of insurance and its agency for the client, for the art handling company, as well as for the artwork.
Misha, you’ve had a fascinating range of experiences, from working as a cowboy to handling art by masters like Botticelli. Can you share a memorable story related to art handling?
Well, I don’t think I would pass as a cowboy to most people. I am really more of an academic with passions for rare books and vintage British cars, but on occasion, I have worked in a saddle and on a commercial fishing boat.
Growing up in Southern California and handling art in Los Angeles has offered endless opportunities for good stories. LA used to be a factory town that made films like Detroit made steel and automobiles. I still marvel at the sheer number of iconic props that move about in the city. Some of these props that I have handled include the Ruby Slippers, a light saber, a helmet from 2001, Scarlet’s first new hat after the War, Pee Wee’s bike, a Dalek, and of course, the Maltese Falcon!
Amber, how do you feel your background as an interdisciplinary artist influences your business approach?
All artists are business owners of their own practice. I have been a business owner of my art practice since 2002 and a business company owner since 2022. Some of the biggest artists such as the late Christo and Damien Hirst are really good business owners of their own works that they create, sell, and even buy back. As an interdisciplinary artist, I use multiple mediums such as sound, language, performance, installations, drawings, prints, and books to capture the same foundations and ideas in my work. Having a diversity of hats and tools allows me to understand many parts from different angles and also allows for different perceptions of how I can solve problems and create new projects. Being a company owner is no different than being in charge of multiple projects with budgets and overseeing that everything goes smoothly between art handlers, fabricators, property managers, designers, and art advisors. If anything, having two businesses will sharpen my skills even more to be ready for any challenge in the future.
Interview by Inna Logunova
Photo courtesy of Blackbird Art Services