Preserving Ottumwa's Legacy: Erin Naylor's Entrepreneurial Journey in Paper Conservation

Preserving Ottumwa's Legacy: Erin Naylor's Entrepreneurial Journey in Paper Conservation Main Photo

8 Dec 2023


Unveiling History One Artifact at a Time

Professional paper conservator Erin Naylor founded Heron Kross, LLC to save historical documents, artworks on paper, and family heirlooms and to bring new life to old things. Armed with a Master's Degree in Art Conservation from Queen's University in Ontario, Canada, Erin specializes in preserving the delicate narratives woven into paper artifacts. From revered documents within esteemed institutions to cherished personal memorabilia, each item tells a unique story—an aspect Erin passionately embraces.

A Conservation Artisan's Vision

"Every day I am surprised at what kinds of things people have that need conservation — historical diaries to old letters, all of the artwork on paper, etchings, woodblock prints, watercolors," she said. "You've got maps and books and photographs. And I think that is what drew my interest there – the variety. I'm just one conservator, and so many things out there that need to be saved," Naylor says.  Heron Kross is currently the only private paper conservator in a 200-mile radius.

"Whether it's maps, photographs, letters, or art on paper, Ottumwa's history is waiting to be conserved," Erin explains. Despite her initial clientele hailing from beyond Ottumwa's borders, she's eager to extend Heron Kross's services locally. Her expertise covers a broad spectrum, instilling vitality into Ottumwa's rich historical tapestry. “So far, most of my clients come from outside Ottumwa, but as people learn about Heron Kross, I hope to serve more people from this area. Ottumwa is full of history, and I’m excited to conserve it!” Erin says.

Erin provides conservation assessment, treatment of paper objects, collection inspections, and surveys, allowing her to provide detailed recommendations and knowledge regarding the health and needs of each collection and work with clients to create plans to improve and maintain the integrity of their valued possessions. 

Navigating Challenges with Ingenuity

Entrepreneurship is a journey riddled with challenges, and Naylor's path was no exception. The hurdles she faced in educating Ottumwa about her unique services prompted innovative solutions. Her decision to diversify Heron Kross into a vintage store and print shop wasn't just a business move; it was a strategic step that mirrored her adaptability and creative problem-solving skills.  Naylor's approach aimed not just at preservation but also sustainability. The diversification has helped to fortify the business's foundation, ensuring its resilience. “Conservation is a fairly small profession, so one of the challenges is educating people on what services I can provide. Because raising awareness is an ongoing process, and I didn’t want to rely solely on one revenue stream, I diversified,” Naylor says.

Pioneering Preservation: A Holistic Approach

Beyond conservation, Naylor adopts a holistic approach—offering assessments, treatments, and collaborative planning. Erin's American Institute for Conservation membership underscores her commitment to staying at the forefront of her field. Her holistic approach doesn't merely stop at conservation; it extends to comprehensive assessments, treatment, and collaborative planning with clients. This ensures the long-term integrity of cherished possessions, whether for private individuals or revered institutions.

"My ultimate goal is to build a regional conservation center,” Naylor says. Erin Naylor’s journey exemplifies how entrepreneurship, driven by passion and a commitment to preservation, can transcend mere business. It's a testament to how individuals like her become custodians of a community's legacy, ensuring its stories endure time.