When an elderly Spanish woman noticed that a 19th century fresco in her church was deteriorating, she grabbed her paint box and went to work on restoring it.

Once she was finished, the painting of Jesus was unrecognizable. One BBC correspondent described the finished product as resembling "a crayon sketch of a very hairy monkey in an ill-fitting tunic."

It became an international news story in summer 2012 and served as a cautionary tale about who should be performing restoration and conservation work.

There are about 14,000 published books spanning roughly from the 1500s until present, which are housed on the fifth floor of the UCF library, and Christopher Saclolo is their keeper.

Although he's missing the long white beard and wizard hat you might be picturing from a scene out of The Page Master, Saclolo — bespectacled, well dressed and soft spoken — is the book conservator for UCF's special collections.

"I make sure that our collection is accessible to anyone who comes in as a patron. The way that I do my work is that I construct and fabricate book clamp shells, and because we're dealing with rare books, they have to be protected somehow for future uses," Saclolo said.

On average, he spends two to three weeks on each book, repairing bindings or creating custom boxes to house and protect the books from his nook in the corner.

"Conservation work is really, really important because what we're trying to do is we're trying to keep these materials for future generations. Chris removes all the rusty staples or clips or anything that causes permanent damage to the primary source materials," said Senior Archivist Burak Ogreten.

Saclolo's desk faces a window giving him, and his overgrown philodendra plant, the perfect lighting. There are various tools littered across his workstation, from a large clamp, to brushes and rulers.

"It really depends on the condition of each book, but mostly I try to do one book at a time because there's so much detail and so much involvement into each particular book. There's no same kind of scenario," Saclolo said.

Becoming the book conservator was sort of a happy accident for Saclolo. While attending UCF as an undergrad, he took a rotating class called book repair and restoration on a whim due to his interest in book arts, books made specifically as a form of artwork.

"The senior archivist at the time was trying to come up with a conservation program here because they had all these books and they were falling apart. They needed help for conservation work and so she decided to bring out one of the students from that class and it just so happened that I was recommended by my professor," Saclolo said.

He ended up working in the special collections part time for a year and then graduated from UCF in 2009 with a degree in studio art.

Next, he got an MFA in book and paper arts from Columbia College Chicago and, three months ago, returned to his post at UCF, now as a full-time member of its staff.

Students and members of the general public are welcome to visit the archives and special collections to view materials as long as they have an appointment set up so the staff knows exactly what they'd like to browse.

"There are five collecting areas for special collections and these collecting areas support the curriculum on campus. Those five collecting areas for special collections are: African Americana; [Bryant] West Indies — so the Caribbean islands; Floridiana — so anything Florida, mostly Central Florida; Travel and Tourism; and then the Book Arts and Typography; and there will be a sixth collection type added soon based around botany," Senior Archivist Mary Rubin said.

The books are stacked behind a wall on the fifth floor. The staff monitors the temperature and the moisture level of the room, and the lights are always off to ensure the books aren't damaged. This area is closed to the public.

"I get to work with a lot of books that don't necessarily get handled quite often or looked at and it's kind of a privilege to see this collection," Saclolo said.


Alex Wexelman is a Senior Staff Writer for the Central Florida Future. Email him at

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