Ela Keyserlingk is a retired textile conservator who worked at CCI from 1976 to 1997. Originally from Germany, it was love that first brought Ela to Canada, but it was curiosity and determination that led her to an internship opportunity at CCI, which blossomed into an exciting career. In this episode, you will hear Ela tell us what it was like to work on some of Canada’s most important textile objects.
Ela Keyserlingk: textile conservator
[Music: “We Don’t Know How it Ends” by Lee Rosevere from the album “Music for Podcasts 6.” Style:
Ela Keyserlingk (EK): I remember, I was sent with Jane Holland. We were sent to a museum in Mirachimi.
Both of us were textile conservators and we were sent there and this was the museum for chainsaws!
NNM: I’m Nathalie Nadeau Mijal and this is CCI and CHIN: In Our Words.
Ela Keyserlingk is a retired textile conservator who worked at the Canadian Conservation Institute (CCI) from 1976 to 1997. Originally from Germany, it was love that brought Ela to Canada. But it was curiosity and determination that led her to an internship opportunity at CCI, which blossomed into a fascinating career. In this interview, you’ll hear Ela tell us what it was like to work on some of Canada’s most important textile objects. I asked JP Davidson, who’s been working on the podcast behind the scenes, to help me out for this interview. We began by asking what Ela knew about conservation before getting into the field.
EK: I actually didn't know anything about it. When I was at university I sometimes joined my father on his research trip to the Monte Gargano area which is at the Adriatic Sea and he was researching there a settlement or actually a pilgrimage place which had been used by the Greeks and the Romans and the Christians and I got in trouble with my father because we found in an old goat shed, I found a Roman head covered in manure and I got all excited so we asked the farmer, “What is this is all about?” and he said, “Oh! You like it? You can have it!” and I said, “Oh! Yes, wonderful!” and my father immediately said I had not a fat chance to ever get it and that it was really… this was cultural good and unregistered cultural good cannot be taken out of the country and he would lose all his permits of being there and doing research in this area. So I had to leave this beautiful young Roman behind while I actually—and that was the first time I kind of realized that this was an important thing, cultural good even if it was in a goat shed. So that was my first realization that there's more value than just being pretty.
JP Davidson: And when you say Roman head… statue head?
EK: It was a bust! It was a bust, yeah. Oh, it wasn't a real one, no I would not have listened to my father if it would have been a real one but anyways, no.
NNM: And how old were you at that time?
EK: I was in… I must have been about 20.
NNM: The importance of those of that of that cultural artifact was impressed upon you?
EK: It was very impressive. I mean we had the Greek and Roman history at school, but to see it and you know, put your finger on was really quite impressive and nearly own it was even better, but anyways.
NNM: So that awakened an interest in you for cultural heritage?
NNM: And then what brought you to CCI?
EK: Ah… what brought me to CCI [is] that I met a Canadian in Glastonbury. I was working after I had finished my studies, I was working for the chalice well trust in Glastonbury. Anyways but we got married in Europe and because then he was studying at the London School of Economics and he got a job offer from Ottawa University and so he went home and I came with him and started a new life in Ottawa and then we started our life together and we didn't have much and I looked around for used furniture and I met lots of Victorian bits and pieces everywhere but then I discovered sometimes in the back at this time there were pine, much older furniture and they were just quite beautiful. I liked them more. They attracted me more than the Victorian period. So I collected them and but then I noticed that I had no idea what to do with them. Was all very well I mean I could have stripped them but my instinct told me that this might not be the right way and somebody told me that there was a conservation program at Algonquin College and so I enrolled in the program because… but I had children. So I took evening courses there. So I think it took me about five years to get anywhere but and finally when my children were all in school, I was able to take advantage of their internship programs.
JP: So you were collecting antique furniture.
JPD: And that took you to a conservation program at Algonquin. Most people would go to the hardware store and say, “How do I clean this?” Like what… what is it about you that made you invest yourself so heavily?
EK: I think what perhaps a difference with me and other people is instead of going buying a stripper to deal with this furniture, I think having worked with my father or visited my father and then there was much more respect, I think, of aged things and I learned that if you—pine furniture, the Pioneers or whatever. That's what they had in the beginning! I was really interested to learn how to do it the proper way.
JP: And did you… Were you thinking it would be a career?
EK: No, no. It hadn't occurred to me. I just did it because I wanted to know and then slowly discovered that I really liked it.
NNM: And you felt that textiles were going to be where you were going to continue working?
EK: It's the area I knew the most about so it was a natural area to follow up.
JP: Sorry, how did you know about textiles?
EK: Well I had done I had done some studies during my teachers’ time. I had taken some—my teachers training. I had taken some courses in art history and then my father always trotted us to museums. So this was not a new experience but I had never seen the museum from the behind the scene. So that was really… it was just wonderful.
NNM: Do you remember seeing it for the first time?
EK: Well, the textile collection, I slowly saw because, you see, that was a time when National Museums started to discuss to building a new building and new exhibits and there was a great push on looking how immigrants arrived and so we looked at what they brought over on clothing and I remember—and my family teased me no end because I came home always talking excitedly of having washed underwear [laughter]—all the beautiful underwear and their construction. Somebody actually in the history of the division wrote an article about it but I was known, “Oh, yes. Ela has a job. Now she washes underwear she didn't have enough of them at home.” [Laughter]
JPD: And you washed those underwear much more slowly?
EK: Much more slowly and it was much more complicated and so on and it was there that they talked about CCI in the textile lab. So that isn't… so I decided my next internship I should try to get it at CCI and I did.
NNM: And that was in the… 1978-1979?
EK: Yes, it was I think it must have been ‘76 or something like that that I had my first internship here.
NNM: Do you remember your first day?
EK: Yes, it was memorable because I went to the textile lab and there was Eva Burnham who was Swiss and anyways—my first day and Sharon was there and Sharon was beautiful and terribly well-dressed always and I walk walked in. It was the first time—I had met Eva before but it was the first time I met Sharon and she gave me the once-over from top to bottom and I had a homemade top and a homemade skirt on and she later told me that my tailoring abilities would just be passing but my choice of fabric was completely out of the court because a textile lab only dealt with natural fibers and that wasn't only in regards of textiles but it was in regards of your own clothing.
JPD: And you were you were dressed in polyester?
EK: And I was dressed in polyester. I thought very nice polyester but I learned better.
JPD: Is the position of women in the organization something that you've seen change over your time here?
EK: Well I think the culture changed and we felt more empowered to say, “Sorry, we show you how to sew on a button or a badge but this is how far the cooperation goes.”
JPD: Right. Hmm, yeah.
EK: That was a bit of a problem because when you belong to the textile lab the men were inclined to think that we were the “needle women,” you know, and if there's a button missing on their shirt, they could come down to us and you know and it took a while to explain that this wasn't really in our job. I mean we never said so much, but we might have kept the shirt a bit too long or whatever but that was… We were always very conscious that we had, as Sharon Little said, we had to look “business-like but alluring” so said these things would not happen to us.
JPD: “Business-like but alluring” in conservation! The conservation lab is not a place for our fashion show!
EK: No, but it certainly was in the textile lab.
EK: You know we were, certainly, nobody ever showed up in jeans or shorts or anything like that. That was kind of… and we needed that because it's very hard to ask somebody well-dressed would they please sew on a button.
NNM: Yeah, a lot of things have changed from the story that you just told but, I mean, that's why we want to hear these stories and see what things used to be like, so.
JPD: We've heard from other people that those early days… the organization was, I don't know, like a rambunctious teenager or something. It was not you know maybe more pinned down as it is today. What can you tell us about that?
EK: I mean, it was just wonderful, I mean there was always something going on and the parties were unbelievable. I had never seen anything like that they were so creative and there was always a competition somehow. You know, the creativity and people… I mean it's, it just was wonderful and it was very sharp too. There was an edge to it. You know which kept everybody really laughing and enjoying it and some people might have ended up slightly hurt but it certainly was worth every second of it and we had competition for Christmas: the best Christmas decoration and oh! It was just it was really astoundingly enjoyable, and the working together and the friendships and the affairs… [Laughter] I won’t tell about the affairs, but there were lots of people who married each other in the Institute so it wasn't… You know so there was a certain enjoyment of being together.
JPD: And it sounds like a tech startup nowadays, just everybody working long hours and coming together.
EK: And you know the astounding thing… Especially I can't tell so much from the scientists, but the creativity and the ability of the conservators was absolutely stunning! I mean, the real admiration for beautiful handwork, which it is in the end. You know with knowledge obviously. It was… I mean mind-blowing. There wasn't anything that you would have said, “Oh. Oh, I think they could have done that a little bit better.” Everything was 100% perfect and I must say I was just astounded how a group of people could have very good parties but also produce the most beautiful work.
NNM: A lot of talented people.
EK: Really talented people and you know with talent comes also a little bit of individuality sometimes, but I mean I never cared about that. You know because the end result was absolutely beautiful.
JPD: I'm curious about the shift of CCI from those crazy teenage years to more of an institution that it is today. What can you tell us about that shift?
EK: We made a bigger wave inside of Canada. I mean we had the mobile lab! I mean that was… Sorry to go back to that, but that was a wonderful… I mean even the first start of it. Nathan Stolow had the idea to found CCI. Nobody else in the world had that idea and I think one should remember him well for that brain wave. It was excellent and the mobile lab was a wonderful thing. It was very good for us as conservators because it was a real reality check. I mean, we were sitting here a little bit in an ivory tower, you know, treating, but the best of the best or whatever but you know and we could dictate the speed. It's not like being in a museum where they need it for tomorrow for exhibit and you better do something, you know? Or you have to get in a big fight with the curator or whatever. You know but this that we had time and peace and encouragement to do it. These were big, big things and I'm sorry it's not quite like… I mean I'm just sentimental so you mustn't take it too personal but we had an impact on the country and every little museum knew about museums. We wrote endless reports and every little museum in Canada knew about what museology is about and what conservation needs are and we helped and we gave them advice and I did with Tom Stone together and others. I was the first one and then I always was sent up to the Yukon again and I absolutely fell in love with the Yukon! You know it was wonderful trips I ever took! All of this, all the museums in the country knew about us. They might not have liked the federal government and we always had to say you know, “The check is in the mail and we know that and but we are proving that this is not the case. That we really mean it and we are here to help you and work it out.”
NNM: I'm glad you mentioned the mobile labs because we almost didn't talk about that! But, do you remember any trip in particular you mentioned going to the Yukon?
EK: I remember I was sent with Jane Holland who then went over to the Ontario museums organization [Ontario Museums Association] and we were sent to a museum in Miramichi. Both of us were textile conservators and we were sent there and this was the museum for chainsaws. [Laughter] They were very sweet because they looked us both up and down and said, “Oh, these two babes don't know a thing about the chainsaw.” And they were absolutely right, but you know even that they didn't take, you know, I said look we take all your environmental measurements. You can live with that and we get, we find out from our scientists what the best RH [relative humidity] should be for chainsaws and should there be oiled or not. I said otherwise we could sit and sew for you cotton covers what a chainsaw but we are not quite sure if that's of much help. So they even took us out for dinner afterwards and they got a report and next time I think somebody was sent there.
JPD: That knew more about chainsaws…?
EK: Knew more about chainsaws than us two. So these things did happen sometimes.
NNM: So do you want to maybe tell us about one of the projects that you worked on that was very important for you?
EK: First of all I have to—as a base I have to tell you—and that reflected on our treatments, that when I
entered the field there was a division in the textile field in Europe. A very clear division and there was Sheila Landi at the Victoria [and] Albert Museum who had decided to glue textiles and they had old textiles and then there was Mrs. Flury [Mechthild Flury-Lemberg] who would absolutely despise glue and she would—and when these two people met, or their disciples met at conferences they would not talk to each other. It was a serious break and when I came here, we followed Mrs. Flury's approach, which was sewing with silk thread and putting things on new backings and washing textiles. Anyways, all of this—it always turned out beautifully but then the problem started that the Europeans started collecting textiles from the 1850s on and these were the textiles who had serious problems because the Industrial Revolution had discovered new chemical methods. They used dyes which were not stable. All dyes before that are usually stable and these dyes were completely unstable and then they also discovered that if you treated silks chemically, you could increase their weight and that became terribly important because the weight made—the textiles were sold not by yards but by weight and so the textile industry made lots of money by treating them chemically and so were… Then came all the costumes because they were heavy. The silks made a wonderful noise when you walked and then when they were chemically treated and so they appeared in Canadian collections and they became a real serious problem and that was that you couldn't sew them. You couldn't do anything with them because if you sewed them or by nature already by aging they didn't… the fibers didn't break, they turned into dust. So you couldn't pierce them with a needle and the Canadian collections were full of these textiles. The Europeans started to collect them, but they had such a backlog with their old textiles as they didn't consider them serious. So that is when Jane Down, at the same time, Jane Down started her adhesive research and so we got together and Jane Down was easy to work with. So—at least she was really interested to see what conservation did downstairs and how she could help. So she started her adhesive project and when I asked her—or the textile lab asked her, I don't know who asked first, but anyways, we asked her to include textile—known textile adhesives into her research program and that is really what saved our treatments.
JPD: Was that a difficult shift because you were disciples of the ‘no adhesive’ world?
EK: Yeah! But the first one so we're faced that you couldn't sew them! All right? There was no way when they were well disintegrated if we wouldn't have done an adhesive treatment if the text I was still in good and the Europeans hadn't experienced that.
JPD: So this was an opportunity for CCI to innovate in conservation?
EK: Yes, yes and so we started this and then it was wonderful because the scientists connected with lots of museums especially you know also the European and then the Americans. So I could… I start… Nobody wanted to treat flags and that became a little bit my specialty and every museum has flags and if there is a male museum's director, he will ask for conservation of the flag before he will ask for costume. You know and there were trade banners and firefighter banners galore and they were all made out of weighted silk.
JPD: So how did the… how did CCI come together around this problem?
EK: Well they Jane just took this on. You know and I think… and we were very keen on it and CCI even sent me to Switzerland where they had done a different treatment than Sheila Landi had and they had treated a number of flags. So I stayed there for a few weeks and looked at all their secrets and got them all for CCI. I mean they didn't mind at all. They knew I was doing it and then we tested their adhesives and so and then slowly as it developed—because it's not only the adhesive you have to be able to handle the adhesive. The adhesive mustn’t… must support the textile but must not be drawn into the textile. You know because otherwise you have a plastic artefact.
NNM: Right, yeah.
EK: So we worked on that together and then we were asked to give papers and then I gave papers and Jane Down gave papers and then and slowly we actually got the Europeans to see that there was an answer to textiles they had ignored and then there became rid… and so this fight between the two groups… and so we spread peace a little bit between the… I mean everybody still thought their way is the best way but you know there was some understanding but it was always tinged with jealousy, because we had the only Institute where scientists and conservators worked together and all the workshops we gave at CCI, you know, the scientists were involved and they were there and we talked about the handling properties and… but the jealousy of CCI of being the only place in the whole world where both of conservators and scientists work daily together. I mean a lot of them had connections to university, but this daily working together and kind of battling out sometimes. You know, “yes chemically it's the best adhesive but I can't work with it! You know, I can't apply it. It doesn't work properly.” It stiffens the artefact or whatever it was which changed from laboratory to laboratory but that was… So, I think we added greatly to—with a good shot of jealousy but we added greatly to CCI's reputation during that time.
NNM: That’s really interesting that a point of tension between conservators and scientists is actually seen throughout the world as a strength.
EK: Absolute strength.
EK: You know and that the tensions came more from administrative problems, you know, then from knowledge problems in each other's fields and it got much better, you know.
NNM: So, we were going to talk about perhaps one of the objects in particular that stands out to you.
EK: Well, I think the first one was kind of fun because it was Lucy Maud Montgomery’s wedding dress and that was very, you know it was just historic and everything and I liked when we had finished it that Air Canada gave us a seat for the dress, to fly it home with Eva Burnham together [laughter] and I think even in their magazine there was the treatment of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s dress by CCI and how Air Canada had flown it back to its own province so that was fun. The other one was the Carillon Banner and the Carillon Banner… The trouble with the Carillon Banner was that it's not… it never was a beautiful object but its significance made absolutely up for its lack of beauty. It was…
JPD: What is this thing?
EK: It’s from the middle of 1735 I think. It was during the battle of the Plains of Abraham and it was carried into battle, which I doubt a little bit because it was absolutely huge. You know, it was over 2 meters high. I mean it was a big thing and in the middle, it had the picture of the Madonna and in each corner it had the fleur de lis and they were the symbol and stayed the symbol for Quebec and it came from this flag. It was the first time these symbols had been used and apparently it was carried into battle and Mary's mantle caught a big cannon and actually most of Mary's mantle and her figure was missing because a cannonball went right through it. Well, that's what the story was, but you know, to get something straight through the middle of the textile, it has to be held taught on all four corners otherwise the textile would be you know injured but a clear hole…? Anyways, but it's a wonderful story, it doesn't matter, you know, the myth is more important than reality and this flag was carried I think close to 100 years in Saint Jean-Baptiste parades and when it started falling apart, the good nuns said, “Oh! We fix it.” And they glued it with potato starch to a new silk backing and then it was carried again and then it looked very tattered again because even the silk backing gave in and they lost more and more bits and pieces. So they rolled the flag up and still carried it in parades and it just stayed rolled up and then there were some curators at the Museum of Civilization in Quebec City and they decided this had to be unrolled. I don't know if they were disappointed, but they applied to CCI and so we went through the very painful way of slowly unfolding the banner and then we had to remove the backing which the nuns had added because that was completely torn too and so it, I think it took me… It took us actually, it took us a few months to draw… to use overlays and draw exactly where each fragment is because we knew when we would remove the back it would be very hard to, you know, to keep the fragment exactly where there were. So we did that and then the fragment, we had to remove the starch from them. So all the fragments turned—the only comparison I have—into little tomato peels. You know when you peel a tomato after you dip in hot water? It all curls up. So it was a painful, slow process and then we had the real problem that the flag was of such historic importance that we had to find the treatment which was completely, utterly, reversible. So in 50 years or 100 years from now somebody who knows better than we did could treat the flag without any problem.
JPD: Which is essentially helping the future conservators undo your “potato starch.”
EK: Yeah, our tomato peels, you know! [Laughter] Anyways, so even to then we had to flatten its fragment and try to remove and Season Tse and Helen Burgess were very helpful and finding a way how to do it but… and because of the reversibility you know which is one of the creeds in conservation that it has to be reversible and we felt in that—these circumstances it had to be truly, utterly reversible. Anybody could reverse it later on so we devised a treatment where we sandwiched the flag between two layers of fabric: the bottom layer which was silk, which was dyed and the color of the original of the flag and then we covered it with “Stabletex” and then, well first the silk backing, then with the drawing—the position drawing we had we've returned all the fragments, you know, they were all numbered and they were all in little groups.
NNM: How many pieces were there?
EK: You know, I kept myself from counting because I would have probably quit my job at that point! [Laughter] It was just… no I mean there were teeny little perhaps the biggest was perhaps a centimeter and a half.
JPD: How long was the project?
EK: Even that I have erased from my mind, how many hours it took.
JPD: But this is months, years?
EK: Oh, months! I think it was well over, I mean other things happen too, but I think it was well over a year the textile lab and it was huge it took so many tables. So, finally and so what we did, we sandwiched it between a new backing, the fragments, then the silk crepoline and “Stabletex” which also had to be dyed, you know, so it wouldn't look different and then we sewed around each fragment. So we created a pocket between each of the… around each of the fragments. So they would stay there and not lose their position but…
NNM: And there was no glue!
EK: And there was no glue and you just—and it was done with silk matching thread so you could see it looks a bit quilted if you look sideways at it but you could unstitch everything and you would have all the fragments back.
NNM: How did you feel when it was finished?
EK: It was a glorious day. It had a sleeve on top and I remember we were in the area where the artifacts came in and left. It had a mezzanine up there because it was so high. So we all were lying on this mezzanine to sew on the top sleeve and it was hot and I think we finally took our sweaters off and then the t-shirts came off. [Laughter] The door was locked… because it was so hot! You know and you had to… you know you had to hang over it, it was, anyways, it was one of these things it was done and then went back and then a funny thing was one of our interns we had who was from Germany. She is now the head of the conservation lab of the biggest textile collection in Germany at the Bavarian National Museum. She came over… 2014, I think, about seven years after I retired and she came over and said, “Oh! Come on, Ela we go to Quebec City and we have a look at this monstrosity again and admire and see what happens.” I mean, seven years is already quite a time and it never was on display either. You know, so we decided first time we should go and look at it and Charlie Costain arranged and we went and we saw it and two conservators with critical eyes is not a good thing, but we both agreed: it was holding up very well and considering the prerequisites and all that, that the treatment was certainly a success.
NNM: Did they ever bring it out for another parade?
EK: No. Oh, they couldn’t, I mean.
JPD: Was it emotional seeing it again after so long?
EK: Yes, yes, it kind of was, you know, closure? So that I wouldn't dream about it anymore and I mean it was very good, because it really tested our patience and it proved that you can do a completely reversible treatment. I mean considering the importance of the banner, that's actually what it deserved and nothing less. So it was a successful, highly successful treatment from that point of view.
NNM: It's a great story.
JPD: Yeah, it is. I love that.
EK: The other artefact which I would like to see, but just for sentimental reason and that was the Gondar Hanging in the… from the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) because that was a world famous artifact which came from Ethiopia. It was war booty which is actually not quite allowed but they were taken by the British Army at the time and they... and one of them emigrated to Canada and gave it then… I don't know when this all happened but quite a while ago and anyway so the Royal Ontario Museum applied for conservation treatment and that was quite a responsibility because it was utterly beautiful, this hanging and it was very big too, again and everybody… Every textile historian knows in the whole world about this hanging because as tablet weaving is a very special weaving style and they had woven this… Nobody ever… it usually is used for ceintures fléchées? They used this method or similar method but not in this huge fashion. So we got a curator from Metropolitan Museum and the ROM specialists were there and I think even Helen Burgess and Season [Tse] were there and we talked about the treatment, well, actually, we let them tell us what to do and then we decided what could be done and what could not be done and anyways we decided it had to be washed because it was very, very dirty. It hung for many years, probably centuries in a church and so.
NNM: Can you describe what it looked like?
EK: It had… It was woven. It was also about—I can't remember, but it was also at least 2 meters again and it had beautiful color combinations going across it and then figures and symbols all over. So it had deep meaning and even the art historian from the Metropolitan was not quite sure what the symbolism was of the whole artifact. Anyways, Stephan Michalski… and that was very amusing because we had to make him build us a huge textile wash table and I think he used his motor for his heating in his house to motorize the washing table. So there were… he was very inventive and wonderful and he created this and it was fun working with him. He had a good sense of humor and we even got a technical draftsman in to record every step of Stefan's invention which he invented while building, you know and anyways.
JPD: And it was… the wash table was as big as the textile?
EK: The wash table was as big as the textile with spare space around it. We were looking at it this morning in the research and I think it was two meters by five meters or something like that, could have been yeah, sorry.
JPD: Very big.
NNM: 5.2 meters by 2.1 meters. [Laughter]
EK: It was just gigantic again and we happen to have contractors and interns at the same time and it was really—well we had to get special water, you know and Helen Burgess and they helped of how we'd… how to set all this up and each of these people had a job and that worked really well. So everybody did their research in their own area and then we all got together every few days and they said, “Well, I need this and I… this cannot be done and how do we rinse the textile? How do we get the water out fast enough without applying too much pressure on it?” All of this! How to connect the water to the wash table, and it was a huge job of preparation.
JPD: It sounds like that kind of teamwork is really something you look back fondly on.
EK: I loved it all right! It was really nice and it was nice because everybody felt responsible, you know for their area and everybody knew exactly what their contribution was and there was never a problem and somebody said, “Well, I'm sorry. It's a good idea but it doesn't quite work with what I have planned.” You know, because this will be there, be hoses in the way of whatever and it was really productive and then the great day came and as the special water bath was prepared and the Gondar was slowly lowered into it. I think even Chuck Gruchy came down to watch this. I mean the lab was suddenly full, which I was a little bit nervous. You know and also I didn't want to have… I mean we needed a lot of space and people standing around and “oohing” and “ahing” wasn’t very helpful to make sure everybody was concentrated on what they had to do, but it went off without a hitch. So and as soon as it got wet, the whole lab filled with the smell of incense. It was just… it was just beautiful!
JPD: Because it had been exposed to incense.
EK: It has been exposed in one of these its European churches which are actually cut into the rock down it's… they're not built above. They’re cut out from the top down, the whole structure and so there wasn't a cool wind breathing through the church from time to time because it is underground. It's not underground. It's, you know, there's an opening around it but it's all built from the top down and it must have hung there for ages. Anyways and then everybody… It became a real CCI project because everybody came to the Textile Lab and checked out how we were doing and how the Gondar was doing and it had to… we had to secure it to itself with stitches and areas because it was broken at some places and it all had to be done lying on a bridge and Janet and Renee were absolute angels. They kept going and doing it and they were just… I mean, they're wonderful conservators. It was just perfect.
NNM: It's really physically demanding because you have to lie down on your front and lean over, right?
EK: And on your stomach you know, how long—and your arms, you know, the circulation is cut off. So it was really and they're both so good I mean it was such a pleasure working with them. They were… oh and the interns too. It was really, it was a powerful… and Jan Vuori was there and she had to fill a hole there was one hole, anyways. It was all… it was a great thing. Janet Wagner and Renee Dancause. Yeah they still here and they are just… You know, they’re both very quiet but God are they perfect conservators and it's so lucky when you get that. They're much better than I ever was, both of them. They're just absolutely perfect.
NNM: Maybe we didn't… something we didn't talk about yet is: did you have any mentors at CCI?
EK: Yeah, I did have mentors. I mean, you know, indirect mentors all the time, because I learned non-stop here. I'm sorry with age I forget a bit because I have done other things after leaving CCI, but it was just… I mean you learn from each other and from the scientists and it was just wonderful and I think especially nice. I really liked Ray LaFontaine, who was a very patient and I think he had a really good feeling for conservation. I mean he could see that what happened in these labs was really astounding and good. Anyways, so and then Charlie was wonderful because when we reorganized CCI, I worked very closely with Charlie together and we got very well on with each other because Charlie is a very organized person and he writes beautiful terms of references. I can attest to that and I think I brought more the psychological needs of the conservators of the Institute, at that time to our planning and reorganizing and writing terms of reference or whatever it was or we had meetings together with everybody, we broke up in different groups and had to make decisions about certain areas and anyways. It worked very well. Charlie and I worked very nicely together, at least that was my feeling. So I profited greatly from Charlie, his organizational skills.
NNM: Is there anything else that you would like to talk about?
EK: I must say, I'm in general—and that was the last thing before I left here. Oh! Yeah, we had the textile conference. That was kind of fun.
NNM: This was just recently in October, the NATCC [North American Textile Conservation Conference] conference…
EK: Well, no because it started 20 years ago. I ended with a big bang, which I didn't know but I… through my professional life I had met a lot of the American conservators, textile conservators and we all bemoaned that we've always a hanger-on of a AIC (American Institute for Conservation) or IIC (International Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works) and so on and we said we need our own group. So, we founded the textile conservation.
NNM: The North American…
EK: The North American Textile Conservation Group and we invited the… and we knew some Mexicans already who worked at the Metropolitan Museum so it became a real… So we had a steering committee and we decided… because at that time the CCI was… and the government, was actually quite generous. Money was a problem, but never a real problem. So they thought it was a great idea and so the first conference was done here in Ottawa and we had people coming all over from Russia and from the Philippines and I think Japan. Whatever, they were from everywhere and it was a really big conference. We held it at the National Gallery. Anyways, so it was a great success and lo and behold… and that was my last big hoorah and I retired afterwards. You know, so that was very nice and the whole thing continued and 20 years later this September they returned to Ottawa again and I got pushed and bullied and I gave the keynote speech to that group and it's so nice to see that these things survive and again Janet Wagner and Rene Dancause organized it down to the last iota and it was again a very successful conference.
NNM: That's wonderful.
EK: Yeah, something surviving for 20 years. That's pretty good.
[Music: “Here’s Where Things Get Interesting” by Lee Rosevere from the album “Music for Podcasts 6.”
Style: Electronic Minimalism]
NNM: Thank you to Ela Keyserlingk and my co-host JP Davidson. ‘CCI and CHIN in Our Words’; is a production of the Canadian Conservation Institute, Department of Canadian Heritage.
Our music is by Lee Rosevere.
Production assistance provided by Pop-Up Podcasting.