Interview with Heida Shoemaker

Heida Shoemaker is a professional paper and photograph conservator. She received her Masters in Science from the University of Delaware and Winterthur Museum Master’s Program in Art Conservation in 1996. Since starting her private practice in Berkeley CA in 1998, she has worked with the general public, framers, and museums to care for their fine art on paper and photographs, family photographs, and archival material. Heida has also held a Getty Advanced Fellowship in Paper Conservation at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 1997-1999, and a yearlong fellowship at the Palace of the Legion of Honor, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. Heida traveled to Mali three times between 2011-2013 to perform research, teach photograph conservation, and care for Malian photography collections.

Heida Shoemaker

Heida Shoemaker

Quick Overview:
I have been in private practice since 1998, focusing on treatment and preservation of photographs, both vintage and contemporary, and art on paper. I work with the general public, framers, galleries and museums. I am the contracted paper conservator for the Cantor Art Center, Stanford University. After many years of practical “bench” work, I branched out to initiate capacity building and training workshops in Mali, West Africa, in photograph preservation. Last year I took on the role of being the Conservation Specialist for a specific negative preservation project for the archives of four Malian photographers (read the full article). My first teaching experience, my first project management, my first grant-writing, my first over-seas collaboration – quite a lot of firsts, and quite a long journey, but worth every minute of it.

Where were you born?
I was born in Berkeley, CA. Although I kept trying to leave (Paris the year after high-school, Santa Cruz for part of my under-graduate studies, Delaware for graduate school) I keep coming back to Berkeley!

What was your professional training?
I studied art history at the University of California, Berkeley, graduating in 1989. After a few years of getting practical conservation experience, I attended the University of Delaware and Winterthur Museum Master’s Program in Art Conservation, where I earned my Masters of Science in 1996.

What was your very first job?
My first job, before conservation, was selling clogs at a store owned by an elderly Swedish woman in downtown Berkeley. My first job after conservation school – a post-graduate fellowship at SFMOMA – I loved working with contemporary artists, especially on issues of installation and artist's intent.

What would your dream job be?
To be a forest ranger. That's kind of my “in another life” dream job. If I stayed in conservation, I don't know if I'd change anything – maybe to work in an awesome contemporary art museum that completely supported preservation and research and travel!

How did your partnership with IPI begin?
Doug Nishimura used to come down to Winterthur to give guest lectures when I was in photo block with Debbie Hess Norris. When I had questions about cellulose acetate negative deterioration during my Mali Photo Archive project this year, I contacted him. He writes the most amazing emails! Funny and informative. Then, as noted in my article as well, I used the AD strips, designed by IPI, that he recommended for monitoring acetate negs.

Why does the preservation of museum and library collections matter to you?
I think art is one of the fundamental ways that people communicate, between each other in present day society, and between historical cultures, by experiencing art from the past. Being a part of preserving this visual form of communication is really important to me.

What is your favorite work of art or your favorite artist?
The first time I remember really being hooked on art was when I was traveling in Europe when I was 6 or 7 looking at the details of early Northern European panel paintings depicting the underworld. I loved the rich details and the dark imagination of the artists centuries ago. I also really like Gerhard Richter and Robert Irwin.

What other hobbies or significant interests do you have?
Photography – I think it's what I enjoy doing most when I am doing anything I love to do – hiking, exploring with my kids, seeing live music, visiting a foreign country, watching the ocean.

What book or books would you like to have with you if you were marooned on a desert island?
Robert Irwin's “Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees”. I could keep learning more every time I read that book. I would probably appreciate the light coming off the ocean from my desert island if I had that with me.

What is your most treasured possession?
My family, of course.

What is your greatest indulgence?
Sleep, traveling to new places, a nice glass of wine.

What is the most surprising thing to you about IPI?
Their dedication to doing scientific research and creating amazing tools to help the field of Art Conservation. And the ease with which, and time, they spend sharing their knowledge.