“If your house was burning, what would you grab as you escaped?” An inquisitive photographer and filmmaker named Foster Huntington asked this question in his Tumblr feed turned book The Burning House. Nearly 5,000 people answered. Some chose practical items: car keys, deeds and insurance policies. Others wouldn’t pick up anything because their favourite thing is always in hand: a wedding ring. Still others would rescue items of paltry monetary worth but great sentimental value: stained sneakers, stuffed animals, a child’s art project. Some choices are head-scratching: lip gloss, an apple, a stick.

None of them surprise Paul Davis. “We never assume which items are worth the most to people who have experienced a disaster,” says Eric Hebert, Contents and Mitigation Estimator for Paul Davis. “We take our cues from what they tell us and our technicians handle those belongings, no matter what they are, carefully with specific procedures.”

If a precious painting has been damaged by a flood, fire or smoke, Paul Davis calls in special help: independent restoration professionals. “We rely on a trusted group of art experts because we are familiar with their work on other Paul Davis projects,” says Hebert, adding that Paul Davis asks insurance companies to assess value, costs and labor needed to restore damaged art. “Often local art restorers are highly skilled, economical and faster than hiring distant experts.”

Before touching the painting, these professionals investigate the piece’s history and locate images of the work prior to the disaster. They study what types of materials the artist used; restoring paper painted with acrylics requires different methods than those used for oil on canvas.

They carefully document the piece’s condition. Did the artist apply paint thickly, creating texture? If so, restoration demands building layers with putty or spackle in addition to cleaning the image. How much damage of what type has occurred on the painting and frame? A painting that has been soaked requires different techniques than one coated in soot. Will the cleaning techniques and solutions interact with materials in undesirable ways?  Many artists mix pigments with substances that are soluble in solvent cleaning solutions. Others add organic materials like iron, risking rust if water is used.

Professional judgement is essential, too. Many restorers carefully avoid creating new work on a piece unless directed to do so. They may ask owners, “how shall I treat areas where materials are missing?” Some owners prefer new paint that improves the image’s overall appearance; others elect to fill missing areas with neutral treatments or to leave them bare. Sometimes, owners leave damage untouched if restorers believe that restoration risks degrading the work further.

The goal of this meticulous process? To take a damaged reminder of a horrifying disaster and return a treasured possession to beautiful condition. For Paul Davis, art restoration specialists are part of a carefully curated team taking extraordinary care of people in their time of greatest need. This Is No Time For Second Best®.