Interview with Richard L. Kerschner

Rick Kerschner is the Director of Preservation and Conservation at the Shelburne Museum, a position he has held for 28 years. He was invited to the museum to build a conservation lab and establish a conservation program, where he says, "there is still plenty of work to do, the work is still challenging and Vermont is a nice place to live". Rick is well known for his innovative and practical approach to managing the storage environment in a wide range of historic structures. He has been a generous and honest advisor to the field of preservation for many years. We at IPI often rely on his insight, experience and unique perspective.

Richard KerschnerName:
Richard L. Kerschner

Where were you born?
I grew up in Drums, a small town in a beautiful valley about 2 miles from where Interstates 80 and 81 cross in Northeastern Pennsylvania near Hazleton.

What was your professional training?
I received an undergraduate degree in Secondary Education with a concentration in Chemistry from Bucknell University. I left the Army in 1979 to attend the Cooperstown Graduate Program in Conservation and interned at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Corning Museum of Glass.  

What was your very first job?
I went through Bucknell on an ROTC Scholarship and earned a commission in the Army Chemical Corps. My first job out of college was as a Weapons Assembly Officer at a Nike Hercules missile site in central Germany. That meant that I was in charge of the team that mounted nuclear warheads onto the missiles. Our warrant officer who really knew what he was doing always joked that the most dangerous thing in the Army Air Defense Artillery was a Second Lieutenant with a screwdriver! I'm sure he was joking. On returning to the States, I was assigned to the Army's Chemical Systems Laboratory as a research chemist working with nerve agents. Fun.

What would your dream job be?
I am fortunate to be working in my dream job. Shelburne Museum is twenty-seven collection buildings on forty acres all filled with fine art, folk art, and Americana, everything from a large collection of straight razors to hooked rugs to Impressionist Paintings. There are fascinating and crazy artifacts and historic buildings that present all kinds of interesting challenges when it comes to conservation and collections care as well as professional colleagues who know their stuff and are fun to work with. I also do private consulting in practical environmental control for collections in historic buildings. It is challenging and rewarding to be able to advise historical societies and historic house museums on how they can preserve their collections within a budget they might even be able to afford with a bit of grant funding.

How did your partnership with IPI begin?
Shelburne Museum was chosen to participate in the early tests of the Preservation Environmental Monitor and Climate Notebook. I have been on board with that program ever since.

Why does the preservation of museum and library collections matter to you?
I love old buildings and old artifacts and hope I can leave my mark on a small portion of the world by extending the life of some beautiful, interesting, and strange objects for future generations to enjoy.

What is your favorite work of art or your favorite artist?
I really enjoy decorative arts from the first half of the 20th Century, give or take...the aesthetic movement, Art Deco, industrial design. My favorite artist is the Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi with Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava running a close second.

What other hobbies or significant interests do you have? 
My family, wife Sally and daughters Beth (22) and Margy (19), restoring my 1900's house, my garden (especially pear trees and raspberries), serving on the local school board, serving professional organizations AIC and IIC, working on committees at our local Congregational church, and traveling, especially in Germany and throughout Europe.

What book (or books) would you take with you to a desert island?
Any novel with time travel as a theme. Timeline and The Time Traveler’s Wife and the Thursday Next novels by Jasper Fforde are some of my favorites. 

What is your most treasured possession?
A toss up between my roll-top desk and my 1930's glass accent lamp shaped like the planet Saturn, although at this time of year, my John Deere tractor with a snow blower attachment is right up there!

What is your greatest indulgence?
A nice bottle of Nahe Rhinehessen Muller-Thurgau "Qualitat" Wine, or three, or four, shared with good friends in Germany.

What was the most surprising thing to you about IPI?
How Jim Reilly can be speaking at several places at the same time, still run IPI, and be as productive as he is.