Interview with Rachael Perkins Arenstein

Rachael Perkins Arenstein agreed to complete the interview questions for this issue of Climate Notes at the last minute, which we really appreciate. I’m sure as an active professional and a busy mom she is used to getting things done at the last minute. It took a bit of persuasion since she felt she wouldn’t be interesting enough. WRONG!! We call on Rachael frequently because of her wide range of experience and I’m sure we aren’t the only people who do. Rachael cheerfully and generously gives her time and knowledge to the preservation field – if you read any number of professional distribution lists you have probably seen her contributions. Rachael is active in several organizations in the field of preservation, is a Professional Association member of the American Institute for Conservation (AIC), functions as e-Editor for AIC, and is Co-Chair of the Integrated Pest Management Working Group. In November she will oversee an edit-a-thon for the AIC wiki (www.conservation-wiki.com). Contact Rachael if you would like to contribute content related to preventive care – rachael@AMArtConservation.com

Rachael ArensteinName:
Rachael Perkins Arenstein

Current Title:
Partner in A.M. Art Conservation, LLC, a private firm that help clients preserve their art and cultural property for future generations through preservation consulting, hands-on conservation treatment, collections management services, education and training.

Quick Overview:
Before founding A.M. Art seven years ago, I was the Conservation Lab Manager at the Bronx Research Branch facility of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian Move Project.  I also worked at the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard University and was the Exhibits Conservator at the American Museum of Natural History.  Before entering conservation I worked in the Ancient Near Eastern Art Department at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Where were you born?
New York City

What was your professional training?
My conservation degree is from University College London. My interest in conservation grew out of my experiences doing field archaeology as a Near Eastern Studies and Archaeology major.

What was your very first job?
My first real job at age 15 was as a milkmaid at Philipsburg Manor, a historic restoration that is part of the Historic Hudson Valley.  My duties included milking cows and caring for the other livestock on the working farm, tending the gardens and fields, demonstrating spinning, weaving and open hearth cooking and giving tours of the site – all while wearing 18th century period dress.  I worked at the site for three years during summers, holidays and weekends.

What would your dream job be?
My dream job would have me working on cultural heritage material of national or international significance.  I would love to work someday for the National Park Service or maybe UNESCO

How did your partnership with IPI begin?
While working at the Peabody Museum in 2000 I participated in one of IPI’s first training sessions for the original PEM and Climate Notebook.  Later, one of my first work related activities in private practice (and four months after having twins) was to participate in IPI’s Train the Trainers workshops. That workshop gave me an excellent foundation for building a private practice that has a strong focus on preventive care issues.  I have been fortunate to participate in other IPI programs ever since.

Why does the preservation of museum and library collections matter to you?
I think our material culture and collective knowledge as it is stored, preserved, and shared in museums and libraries brings incredible richness to our lives.  I am always amazed that individuals and cultures that have undergone disasters of horrific scale surprisingly quickly turn their attention towards preserving what remains of their cultural heritage.  I enjoy being a small link in the chain that preserves works of value for future generations.

What is your favorite work of art or your favorite artist?
This was a surprisingly hard question to answer! If I had the resources to build a collection of one type of art I would choose to collect art from the First Nations of the Northwest Coast. If I could time travel and choose a work of art, I would commission a family portrait painted by John Singer Sargent. If I had a fabulous house and unlimited resources I’d want to install a ceiling by Dale Chihuly. In writing this I realize that my aesthetic tastes are pretty eclectic and it is probably just as well that I can’t decorate in this manner!

What other hobbies or significant interests do you have?
When I get a moment to myself I love to read.  When I have free time with my family we love going to museums and historic sites. No matter what time it is I love to cook and eat!

What book (or books) would you take with you to a desert island?
Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver, City of Thieves by David Benioff, Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen, and The Source by James Michener.

What is your most treasured possession?
I think a treasured possession would be something you’d be devastated to lose.  While there are many things that I find meaningful around my home I had a hard time deciding what could be the “most treasured” one.  I tried to think of what I would grab in a fire.  The answer many people give is their photo albums.  As conservators we frequently hear that the loss of family albums is what saddens people the most after a disaster.  I suspect that I am like a lot of 21st century parents now – with my photographs on my computer.  While I do backup regularly, those backups are still on-site, I think the thing that I’d probably grab in an emergency is my hard drive!

What is your greatest indulgence?
Highlighting my hair to restore my inner blondness!

What was the most surprising thing to you about IPI?
In the beginning of IPI’s rollout of the PEM and Climate Notebook I was surprised that a research institution was interested in a project that was so practical in nature and time intensive in its implementation.  Over the past 10 years I have been impressed by IPI’s commitment to the topic of collection monitoring and sustaining its ventures in a field that does not bring lucrative recompense.  It is no longer surprising to me how accessible the IPI staff is to questions and suggestions.