During my stay in Buenos Aires in March this year I visited the Fondo Antiguo de Jesus, on Callao Ave, in the centre of Buenos Aires, close to my apartment. I had walked past this Jesuit church and college many times, little realising what lay hidden behind its façade.
The Fondo Antiguo is a Jesuit boys’ college, housing primary and secondary school pupils as well as a very extensive (15000 items) collection from Jesuit monasteries and also assembling items from private collections.
It was Dina Amoli, president of EARA, the Argentinian bookbinding guild, who introduced me to the department. I was quite taken by their efficient use of space. Despite the size of the building, much of it being taken up by the school and large chapels, the lab is quite small. Space being at a premium, they cleverly divided their space into 3 different areas. They have a state of the art wet room, with paper pulping machine and suction table; they have a dry area for works in progress, and the front of their space is used for conducting courses.
The Fondo is a cooperatively funded organisation, between the Italian and Argentinian governments. Many years ago its collection was found abandoned in a poor state, and thanks largely to an ex-student who lives in Italy and is a conservator, things were set in motion to raise funds and address this sad state of affairs.
Thus the equipment resources available to the Fondo are amazing. Once the project of conservation, restoration and re housing the collection was well under way, they opened their doors to community courses; basic bookbinding skills, as well as more in depth courses and advice to collectors and archives. This provides them with a link to the outside community, giving back help to people of various levels of expertise.
The team consist of the Chairman and Susana Brandariz, plus contractors (up to 6) who work at various times according to needs and requirements. They only work on books and works on paper, sharing their respective knowledge and skills within the lab.
Unlike the Biblioteca Nacional, theirs is a space full of light, well set out and the work they do is top class. Conservation rather than simple access to the public is foremost. However they do not have climate control; in a country where humidity and temperature levels are quite high, there is no air conditioning in their space, only a few evaporative air coolers, and open windows.
I was amazed by the set up of the wet room. We use pipettes for leaf casting; Dina proudly showed me the pulping chamber and how the leaf casting machine worked.
In speaking with Dina and Susana I got the impression of a sense of achievement. Not only was the collection saved, but their willingness to share information across a range of people gave them a sense of participation within their community.
In a country where funds are usually tight, the Fondo Antiguo is a success because of the vision of a few dedicated professionals.
I left feeling privileged to have had a glimpse of such a successful organisation; one that was not willing to lose ties with the community, and whose mission it was to open its doors, physically and metaphorically, to people who required conservation help.