CASE STUDY: How To Move An Elephant, by Woody & Lisa of Wood-Lee



Wood-Lee International Art Handlers are often called in to do the impossible.

In this case, the Cleveland Museum of Natural History needed to have their taxidermy mount of an African elephant head removed from the Museum (de-installation), and placed into storage. The specimen was being removed as part of the Museum’s Centennial Project, a major expansion and renovation project that will transform the Museum’s campus. The removal of the piece along with various Ice Age skeleton mounts was necessary to protect these objects during the construction of a new parking garage being erected outside the exhibit gallery.

Here, in their own words, Woody Melton and Lisa Holly (brother and sister), describe how they used all their knowledge, experience and skills to get the Elephant Head off the gallery wall and out of the Museum:





My brother Woody and his assistant Brian went to visit the Cleveland Museum of Natural History to view how the elephant head was mounted and find out when it was mounted at the Museum. The piece had been installed in the Museum’s Kirtland Hall of Prehistoric Life in the 1970s. We came up with a plan based on our experience and education gained through classes we had taken at the Campbell Institution of Historical preservation.


Elephant Angle CMNH

Much preparation goes into the de-installation and transportation of this type of artifact. Prior to the de-installation, our company, Wood-Lee, called the rental company to ensure that they had an extra-wide lift that would allow us to lift the piece from right under the tusks.  On the day of the move, Woody and Brian made sure that we had all the equipment needed to remove the elephant head safely.


On the move day, we started just before the Museum closed for the day so we would not interfere with the visitor experience. The key to success was all about three things: Safety, Safety and more Safety. This focused on the safety of our crew, the safety of the artifact, and the safety of anyone in the vicinity.




We used a lift to raise under the elephant head to see where and how it was mounted. We made sure it was under the jaw, not touching the tusks.  At this point, a second lift was used to remove the head from the wall. We used the lift to move the head sideways so we could get behind the head with the second lift to see how the ears were attached to the head. Fun fact: the huge elephant ears were removable!



Elephant Body CMNH

Finally, we lowered the head to the ground. (Hooray success!!!)

We lowered the ears separately from the head with tusks. Waiting on the ground were two very large rolls of bubble wrap and pads to accept the head and ears. All six staff on the job, working with exhibits specialists at the Museum, were in place to hold the head. An exhibits specialist from the Museum pulled the lift out to the side. Communication is essential with a move like this so no one was allowed to speak except Brian, who provided instructions and told everyone exactly how to place their hands on the head as we removed it from the lift.



Elephant tail

Once the head was down, we had to prepare the cart for transportation with bubble wrap and pads. All six staff lifted the head and rolled the cart underneath. We had to make sure that we used bubble wrap on the head as to not disturb the hairs on the artifact.

Once this was all secure, the team rolled the elephant head through the Museum’s front doors… the only nearby doors big enough for us to fit through.  We secured the cart to the wall of the climate truck.


Once inside the offsite storage facility, we used the lift to set the elephant on its neck to secure it upright and store the ears upright as well. The Museum’s registrar came to visit us the next day and commended us on the great job we had done. We are thrilled that the Museum entrusts us to safeguard their unique and historic collections. We are ready to collaborate on other important moves in the future.


Elephant View CMNH


Wood-Lee International Art Handlers

Telephone: 866-892-7619

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