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Preserving historical drawings

Full size details small flags for upper East Terrace. (shows a caravel and a seahorse). Architectural Drawings Collection, Vizcaya Museum & Gardens Archives, Miami, Florida.

It’s all in the details

Vizcaya has over 2,600 historic architectural drawings that document the estate’s design from 1910 to 1925. These drawings range from the highly technical—such as those depicting the pipes and pumps that operate the garden fountains—to the highly artistic—those detailing plasterwork and woodcarvings in the Main House.

Delicate, and immeasurably important

The drawings are very fragile, including works on linen and brittle blueprints. This fragility is aggravated by the fact that many of the drawings are large and cumbersome, measuring as much as 113” by 65”. They are, however, immensely important resources for every preservation project, as they contain incomparable information about Vizcaya’s original appearance and construction methods.

Preserving history

The project to preserve these drawings for ongoing use was elaborate.

Realizing that protecting this collection and making it accessible was a key step in advancing Vizcaya’s preservation program, in 2007 we started the process by organizing and cataloging all of the drawings and putting them in archival containers in a climate-controlled environment. We then embarked on the major task of copying them to protect the originals against further wear. We couldn’t use a scanner to digitize the drawings due to their fragility and size. So, in 2008, we hired imaging specialists experienced in this work to photograph each of the drawings.

The photographic process involved the acquisition of very specialized equipment and the construction of a mounting system on which to place the drawings during the photographic sessions. Each shot was meticulously planned and, as necessary, adjusted to ensure that the resulting digital photograph was as close in color, scale and clarity to the original drawing as possible.

Extraordinary results

The project took approximately one and a half years to complete under the supervision of our archivist. As the photographs in the photo gallery on this page show, the end results are extraordinary. Individual drawings that were a short time ago nearly impossible to locate and deeply vulnerable to ongoing use can now be found through a keyword search and examined closely, electronically or as prints, without any risk to the originals.

Photographs add to the story

On a much smaller scale, we also digitized ten albums of photographs taken by local photographers during Vizcaya’s construction. These albums presented similar issues of access and preservation, and the resulting library of digital photographs has provided easy use of this amazing resource.

Vizcaya’s architectural drawings and construction photographs provide essential information about the estate. Now that they are digitized, we can readily consult them to ensure the accuracy and integrity of all our preservation and conservation work.

Support Vizcaya

Give in support of Vizcaya’s preservation and conservation. Make sure this National Historic Landmark continues as a community resource. 

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Students engaged in learning with a Learning Program Facilitator in the East Loggia