Why Stay?
New Orleanians tell CityBusiness why they’re not giving up on the city.

By Kathryn Jezer-Morton
New Orleans City Business, January 1, 2007

For many people whose homes flooded, the only salvageable objects from their pre-Katrina lives are the paintings and photographs that hung on their walls. Blake VonderHaar, 44, is president of the New Orleans Conservation Guild, where 25 professional conservators have painstakingly restored more than 5,000 of such works of art since Hurricane Katrina struck.

“In the business that I’m in, it’s very rewarding. People come in weeping when they drop something off. They tell you the whole story, of how it was rescued, how long they’ve had it. And when they come back and pick it up, they weep for joy,” VonderHaar said.

Originally from St. Louis, VonderHaar lived in 17 cities and five countries before settling in New Orleans in 1997. She estimates that pre-Katrina the Conservation Guild would restore about 900 pieces of art a year. Since the storm, the operation has become the largest conservation lab in the country.

VonderHaar said that after sneaking back to her Bywater business Sept. 20, 2005, she knew New Orleans was where she was staying.

In addition to the Conservation Guild, VonderHaar also oversees the Bywater Art Market, held monthly in Mickey Markey Park, and New Orleans Art Supply, also in the Bywater.

Before the storm, VonderHaar’s business mostly dealt with museums, galleries and serious art collectors. Today, she sees all kinds.

“From the little guy from Chalmette with his framed LSU memorabilia to the Lakeview art collector, we are seeing everyone,” she said.

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