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Training Russia's first photograph conservators

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    • Hermitage conservators learning to construct storage enclosures for photographs
    • Hermitage conservators with completed storage enclosures
    • Hermitage conservators surface cleaning photographs

Four conservators from the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia will visit the Conservation Center for Art & Historic Artifacts (CCAHA) today through June 17 to learn the technicalities of photograph conservation—a field that does not yet exist in Russia.

Their visit is part of a $3.4 million initiative funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and managed by the Foundation of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works.  The four-year project, which began in 2010, is establishing a photograph conservation department at the Hermitage and providing department staff with educational and research opportunities.

The initiative began with the design of the conservation laboratory (which will include a digital imaging studio) and the purchase of needed equipment and materials.  The project also aims to expand current photograph cataloging practice to include digital images and to create a Russian-language library of essential photograph conservation and collection management texts.

Training is the primary goal, however, and consists of on-site lecture and lab sessions as well as off-site study at leading US institutions, including the University of Delaware, CCAHA, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Harvard University Library’s Weissman Preservation Center, Paul Messier’s photograph and paper conservation studio in Boston, MA, and the George Eastman House.

Three of the Hermitage staff members arriving today first spent several days at CCAHA in July 2010.  Tatiana Sayatina, future head of the photograph conservation lab, is trained in objects conservation; Natalia Laytar is a paper conservator; and Natalia Avetyan works as curator of photographs in the Hermitage Russian History and Culture Department.

Last July, Sayatina, Laytar, and Avetyan worked with CCAHA staff to develop basic hand skills while treating photographs from CCAHA’s study collection.  They learned to create storage enclosures and prepare treatment proposals and estimates, and they also became familiar with digital documentation.

This time, Sayatina, Laytar, Avetyan and Hermitage objects conservator Evgeniia Glinka will each treat a study collection photograph from start to finish.  Senior Photograph Conservator Barbara Lemmen, who has helped develop the training program at CCAHA, and several other CCAHA staff members will help with different aspects of the treatment projects.

Founded in 1764 by Empress Catherine the Great, the Hermitage currently holds over 472,000 photographs, many of them rare and culturally significant.  Thousands of photographs were destroyed after the 1917 Russian Revolution, and there is now great interest in those that remain, kept safe in the Hermitage through several wars.  Holdings include elaborate 19th-century photo albums and family pictures belonging to Czars Alexander III and Nicholas II and gift albums to the royal family from around the world.

The new photograph conservation department—with Sayatina as head and Laytar and Glinka as photograph conservators—will first focus on the Russian History and Culture Department, responsible for the largest and most important collections of photographs in Russia.  When the most urgent needs of this department have been met, the conservation lab will begin treatment of other Hermitage photograph collections.

View or download a PDF of the press release here.

Images, first to last: CCAHA Senior Conservation Assistant Anna Yates Krain demonstrating photograph storage construction in July 2010 / Avetyan and Sayatina with their completed storage enclosures / Avetyan and Sayatina surface cleaning photographs