100 Creatives 2013: Jan Burandt, Paper Conservator for The Menil Collection

Jan Burandt at the Menil Collection
Jan Burandt at the Menil Collection
Photo by George Hixson

We're pretty sure Jan Burandt is the first among our 100 Creatives to ever "create" a hurricane. It was while designing a packing crate for art that she experimented with the weather. "We built several [crates] and then put them through fake hurricanes to how the inside of each frame responded to the exterior environment," Burandt tells us. After some trial and error, the team was able to design an economical frame and packing process that insured the safety of the art work while in transit. "Any time one of our artworks leaves the museum to travel it's always sealed in this way so that no matter if it's in a crate sitting on an airport runway in the rain, it'll still be completely protected."

Burandt is a paper conservator for the Menil Collection, a job that requires her to be equal parts detective, scientist, artist, storyteller, historian and art aficionado. It was a career path she started early on. "I've loved art since before I was old enough to know what it was," she says. As a child, she'd spend hours examining stereo cards in a home viewer or leafing through a book of photographs. "That was when I first fell in love with the visual image. One day my grandmother put all of her grandkids in a row, pointed to each of us and said, 'What are you going to do when you grow up?' I was five years old and I said 'I'm gonna be an art teacher.'" While not completely accurate, the five-year-old Burandt wasn't too far off the mark. As a paper conservator, she does teach others about art, though not in a classroom setting.

What she does: As a paper conservator, Burandt is responsible not only for preserving and restoring the museum's art works on paper, she's also tasked with understanding the artist's original intent and presenting the art in a way that's most in line with the artist's vision.

"[We] try to figure out, as best as we can how things should be. One example is Kurt Schwitters' works that were on exhibit here not too long ago. A lot of the collage works that he produced were bits of paper fairly loosely attached to a support so that there was a lot of life in the little artwork, they weren't just flat pieces. So making every effort to preserve the freedom of the bits of paper and protect them as they were lifted off the sheet is something that's very important. You wouldn't want to secure the bits of paper by pasting them down because that's not how he wanted them to be seen."

Why she likes it: "I'm surrounded by art constantly. There's nothing in between me and the art. I'm handling the art, I'm seeing the fronts, the backs, I'm seeing it under a microscope. In preparing [the current] Wols exhibition, I had occasion to put all of the drawings under a microscope and look at every square inch of the drawings. I have to tell you that as wonderful as these drawings are to see in the frame, when you have the opportunity to look even closer, you feel as if you have a connection to the artist in some way. It's a fabulous thing to work with a microscope and art."

What inspires her: "I can get excited looking at blank pieces of paper, especially early Italian papers with beautiful watermarks and fibers," she laughs. "I'm always saying that paper is a three-dimensional object. I never think of paper as something that's flat. The third dimension of paper is so thin, a fraction of a millimeter often, and that's where so much of my interest lies. It's one of the less obvious aspects of it, but it's one of the things I most love. I'm always thinking of that third dimension and the impact that it has on the final appearance of the work.

"The fiber structure that paper has will impact the way that a medium lies on top of it. Artists have always been very sensitive to the differences in paper finish and what that will give them as an end result in their work."

If not this, then what: After having a job that includes creating hurricanes, we can imagine that it might be difficult to think of a second choice for a career but Burandt doesn't hesitate when she tells us she'd like to be an organic farmer or a document examiner in the criminal justice system.

If not here, then where: Paris and Vienna come to mind as alternatives for Houston. "[I'd like to work] in the conservation lab of the Louvre or the Albertina Museum working with art of the Old Masters."

What's next: Burandt is looking forward to working the Menil's new Drawing Institute which will be a separate building on the museum campus.

More Creatives for 2013 (In order of most recently published; click here for the full page). Deke Anderson, actor Craig Cohen, hockey fan and host of Houston Matters Mauro Luna, Poe-Inspired photographer Trond Saeverud, Galveston Symphony Orchestra music director and conductor Khrystyna Balushka, paper flower child Christina Carfora, visual artist and world traveler Sara Kumar, artistic director for Shunya Theatre Kiki Maroon, burlesque clown Gin Martini, fashion designer Lacey Crawford, painter and sculptor Homer Starkey, novelist Jenn Fox, mixed media Shohei Iwahama, dancer Erica DelGardo, metalsmith Bob Clark, executive director Houston Family Arts Center Kerrelyn Sparks, bestselling romance author Lindsay Halpin, punk rock mad hatter Drake Simpson, actor Shelby Carter, Playboy model turned photographer David Matranga, actor Crystal Belcher, pole dancer Daniel Kramer, photographer Blue 130, pin-up explosion art Nina Godiwalla, author and TED speaker David Wilhem, light painter Tom Abrahams, author and newscaster Browncoat, pin-up pop artist Kris Becker, Nu-Classical composer and pianist Vincent Fink, science fashion Stephanie Saint Sanchez, Senorita Cinema founder Ned Gayle, thrift store painting defacer Sameera Faridi, fashion designer Greg Ruhe, The Human Puppet Sophia L. Torres, founder and co-artistic director of Psophonia Dance Company Maggie Lasher, dance professor and artistic director Jordan Jaffe, founder of Black Lab Theatre Outspoken Bean, performance poet Barry Moore, architect Josh Montoute, mobile gaming specialist Ty Doran, young actor Gwen Zepeda, Houston's first Poet Laureate Joseph Walsh, principal dancer at Houston Ballet Justin Garcia, artist Buck Ross, dilettante and director of Moores Opera Center Patrick Renner, sculptor of the abstract and the esoteric Tomas Glass, abstract artist and True Blood musician Ashley Stoker, painter, photographer and Tumblr muse Amy Llanes, artistic airector of Rednerrus Feil Dance Company Bevin Bering Dubrowski, executive director at the Houston Center for Photography Lydia Hance, founder and director of Frame Dance Productions Piyali Sen Dasgupta, mixed media artist and nature lover Dean James, New York Times bestselling mystery novelist Nicola Parente, abstract painter and photographer Cheryl Schulke, handmade leather pursemaker Anthony Rathbun, Alternative Lifestyle Photographer David Salinas, computer-less analog photographer Danielle Burns, art curator Alicia DiRago, Whimseybox founder Katia Zavistovski, contemporary art curator Ashley Horn, choreographer, filmmaker Amanda Stevens, scary book author Peter Lucas, film and video curator, music lover and self-described culture-slinger Ana María Otamendi, collaborative pianist and vocal coach Billy D. Washington, comedian Michele Brangwen, choreographer and dancer Kristin Warren, actress and choreographer Kelly Sears, animator and film maker Colton Berry, Bayou City Theatrics' artistic director jhon r. stronks,dance-maker Joe Grisaffi, actor, director, writer, cinematographer

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