August 27, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Valeria Orlandini has made a career of preserving works on paper and photographic materials, many of which are proudly displayed in fine homes and museums worldwide. Ensuring that the rich stories, family memories, and important lessons they convey live on for future generations is a job she takes very seriously.

Q: Tell us about your work as a preservation specialist. Who are your clients? 

A: Orlandini Art Conservation was established in 2004 to provide the highest quality conservation treatment and preservation services for a broad range of paper-based objects: historic manuscripts, prints, printed documents, watercolors, drawings, paintings in all media, collages, contemporary works, pastels, and posters, as well as parchment, ivory, and photographic materials. Regardless of whether you’re a discerning collector or a family seeking to preserve precious documents, my goal is to provide all clients with the same exacting standards required by major art and archival institutions. My clients are mid- to high-end collectors and custodians of artistic and valuable and irreplaceable historic materials from holdings in museums, archives, libraries, private owners, and corporate businesses. I work in a wide range of projects and budgets.

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Q: Where did you receive your education and training in art and art conservation?

A: I hold a B.F.A. from the National School of Fine Arts in Buenos Aires; a M.F.A. from the National School of Fine Arts in Buenos Aires; and graduated in 2002 with a M.S. and a Certificate in Art Conservation in Paper and Library Science at the University of Delaware/Winterthur Museum Art Conservation Program in Newark, Del.

Q: When did you first discover your love of history? Why are you so passionate about preserving it?

A: I have always been an art and history geek! I grew up with artists in my family, and as a child I would dig for old artifacts at my grandparents’ homes. I think that from that very early age, I became aware of how real history can be. Also, I come from a family of collectors and art and architecture lovers. Just about every member of my family collects old artifacts and memorabilia of previous generations. I grew up with a real sense of the importance of the past.

Every day, the vision of artists, the identity of people, and the very evidence of history all threaten to disappear. Left alone, old buildings will crumble, the Declaration of Independence will disintegrate, and the photographed faces of battle-weary Civil War soldiers will fade away, among other artifacts. The cultural patrimony, so painstakingly created over thousands of years, is surprisingly ephemeral with the ravages of time and the indifference of a disposable modern culture its biggest enemies.

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Q: How does your work interplay with home interiors and historic home preservation? 

A: As a collections conservator, I work very closely with interior designers, architects, engineers, and maintenance personnel to secure the building envelope where we protect objects from extremes and fluctuations in exterior temperature and moisture as well as light, dust, and gaseous contaminants. We frequently assess and measure temperature and relative humidity characteristics of air surrounding collections, as well as patterns of use and handling protocols. The conservation mission recognizes the need to preserve the unique character of both historic structures and artifacts. No two collections are identical.

Q: What have been some of your most interesting past projects?

A: While working in a number of studios and labs, I’ve had the privilege to treat an array of fascinating objects: Old Master paintings; Japanese woodblock prints from the Edo Period; ancient Korean rubbings and manuscripts; original newsprints from various American cities upon Abraham Lincoln’s assassination from April 1865; John James Audubon’s “Birds of America” folios; original documents of the Founding Fathers; and many others.

Most notably in 2010-11, I participated in the conservation treatment of the Thomas Jefferson Bible Project at the National Museum of American History, at the Smithsonian Institution. I worked with a team of conservators and scientists, conducting materials analysis, assessing aqueous stabilization treatment options, considering appropriate micro- and macro-environmental conditions, and a variety of other tests to help preserve this national treasure.

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Q: What projects have you worked with since moving here?

A: I have treated several objects from the Durham Museum. This museum stands as a magnificent reminder of a bygone era and allows generations to come together to learn, to share, and to remember.

Also, a very rewarding project that I carried out last fall was the treatment of an original Wright Brothers Patent Document [No. 821,393] for the “flying machine,” circa 1903-06 that was brought to my care from a private collector in Iowa. This was a really interesting study piece about the history of aviation and contains five original signatures hand-inscribed in iron gall ink by the Wright Brothers: Orville (1871-1948) and Wilbur (1867-1912), witnesses, and attorney.

Q: What advice would you give those looking to preserve family heirlooms? 

A: The American Institute of Conservation and Historic and Artistic Works (AIC) has developed guides for caring for your treasures at conservation-us.org. There’s also a book by Heritage Preservation entitled Caring for Your Family Treasures that can provide folks practical advice and easy-to-use guidelines on how to polish silver and furniture without diminishing their value, as well as creating safe display conditions for artworks, ceramics, dolls, quilts, books, photographs, and other treasured collections. These are tips with clear and understandable information on how to care for beloved family treasures.

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