Saving and Preserving Collectibles, Heirlooms and Memorabilia from Montecito’s Mudslides of Interest to the New York Times

The New York Time’s Visit to Santa Barbara and Their Interest In The Story of Saving and Preserving Collectibles and Heirlooms from Montecito’s Mudslides

by Phillip Justice, Guest Blogger


The New York Times recently toured and interviewed Fine Art Conservation Laboratories as part of their interest of developing a story and articles focused on the recovery of family heirlooms and memorabilia by The Bucket Brigade digging out of the Montecito debris flows and their subsequent preservation and restoration.

New York Times reporter and photographer document and interview the clean up processes for family heirlooms salvaged from the mudslides

After the horrific Thomas Fire and Montecito mudslides, this group of angel volunteers – The Bucket Brigade – sifted through the ash, rubble and residue in an attempt to locate family history items and other valuable collectibles (among other important things… like even clearing out mud to save trees). The Time’s reporter was enthralled with this process.

Very often, it does not matter how extensive or brutal the destruction seems to be, there are always treasured things which can be recovered. However, the recovery and restoration process will be a lot more successful when professionals are used. After an item has been removed from 3-4 feet of mud out of a family home, its not only possible to recover a valuable painting but also often restore that painting to its original condition. The Times investigated several volunteer clean up operations and their methods for restoring heirlooms and had high praise for this grass roots effort. The professional approach to the sensitive work of preserving collectibles was also of great interest.

There is always hope

Items to be worked on professionally are much safer and suffer much less collateral damage. Where possible, such items can be partially or fully restored depending on the type of object involved and also the level of damage which was suffered. Helping families to recover objects of sentimental value, things which would have been permanently lost, has been a story that pulls at the heart. Professionally trained technicians know exactly how to handle valuable items where destructive fires have raged and where tons of mud has been deposited in residential homes. The reporter was surprised what can be accomplished when you have professional preservation experts on the job. It is quite possible that many of the things which were thought to have been lost may be recovered. An important issue, also, for fine arts insurance policy claims agents!!

Scott Haskins, Art Conservator and Andrew Jacobs, FACL Disaster Response Coordinator explain issues with mud damaged items.

Getting closure

In the middle 1990’s, Santa Barbara lost over 600 homes in the Painted Cave fire. A friend was the third house to be lost in the San Antonio Creek area. I was standing next to her on Goleta Beach at the time watching the fire come down the mountain. The evacuation was so sudden that people barely escaped with their lives. All my friend had left in the world was her beach basket, a towel, bathing suit, a cover-up and her wallet. That’s it.

But she was insured for a complete rebuild and refurnishing and they did exactly that: an exact rebuild and the same decorating scheme. It seemed weird to me, you’d think they would have made some changes. But anyway…

After 20 years, she still cries and anguishes over the family photos, the art from her kids, the keepsakes. She has no evidence or items of remembrance of her kids growing up, family history, anything to document the family’s heritage.

One of the best remedies for severe trauma is simply to get closure. Having your home damaged in a natural disaster is traumatic and the process of searching for things of sentimental value and recovering those things, if possible, can speed up the recovery process and help the family to resolve that chapter of their lives.This is just another reason why the saving and preservation efforts of collectibles and keepsakes (including old photos, genealogy etc) are so valuable and why the professional art conservation services have to be seriously considered in the aftermath of a natural disaster.

The NY Times and the accompanying local scholars were particularly interested in Scott M. Haskins’ work as an author to help people save their stuff after a disaster. He has now written several books in his Save Your Stuff series. Click on this link to download his latest online multi-media digital book, Save Your Stuff – Collection Care Tipsfor free.

Scott M. Haskins, Virginia Panizzon, Oriana Montemurro,

Art Conservators

805 564 3438


About Scott M. Haskins

Scott Haskins has been in professional art conservation since 1975, specializing in the conservation/restoration of easel paintings, murals and art on paper. FACL, Inc. is known nationally for doing A+ work no matter the size or difficulty of the project. We are happy to do a quick cleaning on a family heirloom. Our client list and resume is also full of very satisfied clients of large, difficult/complicated projects at remote locations. Excellent services are also available as an Expert Witness/Legal Testimony in art related matters. Consultation on art related projects occur regularly including extensive insurance evaluations for insured or insurer. Services are offered worldwide. Scott M. Haskins is also author of the "Save Your Stuff" series, educational information, materials and supplies to help people protect and save their treasured family heirlooms and collectibles at home and office. He can be reached at 805 564 3438. Video and written testimonials at
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19 Responses to Saving and Preserving Collectibles, Heirlooms and Memorabilia from Montecito’s Mudslides of Interest to the New York Times

  1. Scott M. Haskins says:

    Thanks for the feedback Isabella!

  2. Ella Oscar says:

    I agree that the remedy for having a damaged home during a disaster is saving valuable family collectibles and keepsakes. It keeps you at ease and helps soothe your pain most times.

  3. Birdie Hoffman says:

    Scott I love the amazing, fascinating work you do! Thanks for the updates!!

  4. Alma Dickart says:

    That’s a meaningful and exciting project….Awesome Scott!!! A terrible mess, but I am sure you well be able to put them back to life.

    • Scott M. Haskins says:

      Thanks for your vote of confidence Alma! We are not worried about doing an A-1 job, its the sad situation that’s ever present… but inspiring. We have found people to be very resilient and positive minded about what is important in their lives.

  5. Georgeanna Weygand says:

    Great Scott! Wonderful news! You are amazing and it helps us to appreciate art.

  6. Etienne Gallone says:

    Bravissimo sei!!!

  7. Rowan Curenove says:

    Bravo Scott e elegantissimo!!!! Stai bene in Zegna.

  8. Gullielmo CUELLO says:

    Genial Scott, e vero, un caballero !

  9. Nicola Lane says:

    Great article and work that you do. How wonderful! But so sad. They’re lucky to have found you. Hopefully some can be restored. Good luck

  10. Frances Stewart says:

    Scott M. Haskins you are such an inspiration, good on you sir! And it must be very satisfying to work with such talented people as you have on your team.

  11. Betsy Stubbs says:

    How wonderful. You preserve art and history, stories and memories. You have your work cut out for you.

  12. McKenzie Rudolph says:

    We just rehung our beautiful coastal scene oil painting! It was perfectly restored by the amazingly skilled and talented team at FACL, Fine Art Conservation Laboratories! Thank you so very much!! I’m so happy to have it back and restored in perfect condition!!

Comments are closed.