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Small Business Preserves History on Paper

July 5, 2023

Heron Kross in Ottumwa is a finalist in Iowa's 2023 Open 4 Business Contest competing for a $20,000 grant to support business expansion.

Erin Naylor, owner of Heron Kross
Saving customers’ special family heirlooms and historical documents is very rewarding. “When I get the opportunity to see their reaction it’s very fulfilling for me to help with something so meaningful,” said Erin Naylor, founder of Heron Kross paper conservatory in historic downtown Ottumwa.

One of her most memorable projects was repairing an old immigration document from the 1800’s, which marked a great grandfather’s entrance into America. The paper was in rough shape. It had been folded and refolded many times and taped back together. “Tape degrades. I was able to remove the tape, remove the tape stains, and put the pieces back together,” Erin said. “It was very special for the customer,” she continued. “She didn’t cry, but she got choked up when she saw it. Particularly with that treatment it was a very drastic visual change, because of how much tape was on it and how bad the tape staining was. It was like a night and day. She was just very touched." This special family heirloom had vast visual improvements. But now thanks to its chemical stability, it will last for hundreds and hundreds of years and be enjoyed by generations to come.

In addition to the conservatory, Heron Kross houses a thrift store in the front of the building, filled with gems Erin has picked up over the years. She eventually plans on offering printmaking workshops using her antique printing press. The variety of work keeps Erin happy and on her toes.
Heron Kross storefront in Ottumwa and Erin Naylor
“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, wood block prints, watercolors,” Erin 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 there are so many things out there that need to be saved,” Erin said. “My ultimate goal is to build a regional conservation center.” 

Heron Kross is currently the only private paper conservator in a 200-mile radius. Erin got her bachelor’s degree in art history and her master’s in art conservation, with a specialty in paper. She has worked in nine different conservatory labs, including those at the Universities of Kansas and Michigan, Queen’s University in Ontario, Canada and the State Historical Society of Missouri, which she designed. 

Competing in Iowa's Open 4 Business Pitch Contest
Heron Kross is among five finalists competing for a $20,000 grant in the 2023 Open 4 Business Pitch Contest. The Open 4 Business contest, hosted by Main Street Iowa, is a statewide entrepreneurial contest that provides funding for business expansion projects to small businesses located within a designated main street district in Iowa. The winner will be named after the pitch contest, taking place in Sioux City on August 1 and held in conjunction with the Iowa Downtown Conference. The event is a celebration of small businesses and includes short business pitches, business videos and check presentations to the winners. The five finalists were selected in June by a panel of judges after interviews with all applicants.

If named winner of the 2023 Open 4 Business contest, Erin would use the grant funds to purchase items that will expand her paper conservatory and print shop. The equipment, tools and ductless fume hood would enable her to safely use chemicals to treat damaged paper items that she currently has to turn away. She would also hire a social media specialist and local videographer to build her online presence.