This month’s #HangoutWithAPOYOnline is with APOYOnline volunteer Hilda Abreu de Utermohlen:
1) We believe that a person so consolidated and with so much knowledge in the field of preservation as you do not need presentations, but, please, comment briefly about you and your trajectory from your own vision and experience:
My beginnings in the field of conservation 40 years ago were for me the natural consequence of the application of my vocations in art and science. Thus, after having studied chemistry and visual arts in my native Dominican Republic, I learned about conservation as an interdisciplinary career dedicated to the preservation of patrimony and decided to pursue training in this area. Since there were no training programs in my country, I investigated universities in the United States. I soon realized the difficulty of completing the requirements of these programs, due to the limited availability of the required courses and pre-conservation volunteer opportunities. Finally, I was admitted to the program offered jointly by the University of Delaware and the Winterthur Museum and had the privilege of being the first Latin American to graduate with a Master of Science in Art Conservation from this prestigious and competitive program. Upon my return to the Dominican Republic, I established my private practice, where for 33 years I provided services in the treatment of paintings and preventive conservation of collections. Last year I moved to Houston, Texas, where I continue to be involved in conservation as an independent advisor and collaborating with APOYOnline.
2) How would you define the current moment of the Latin American preservation field in a nutshell?
In general, I perceive an increase in the number of professionals who are working in the region. I can see this in the presence of Latin Americans who attend and present their work at professional conferences. A reflection of this is the growth that APOYOnline has experienced since its founding, in response to the needs of students and professionals for training, communication, and professional development. Not only do I see a greater number of participants from the Americas and Spanish and Portuguese speaking countries, but also a higher professional level. Despite the current growth in professional quantity and quality, in my opinion there continue to be local disparities in all areas of activity in the field of preservation. Thus, there are regions where opportunities for training and professional exchange are non-existent or scarce, as is the case of the Dominican Republic and the Caribbean region.
3) What do you expect for the Latin American preservation field in the next 30 years?
I expect a continuous growth in all aspects of the professional field, and a decrease in the gaps of communication and knowledge, which would make it possible for people to thrive and fulfill the mission of preservation. To these ends, people will need more support. And in my opinion, APOYOnline has a key role to play in accompanying those who work in the field of preservation, creating bridges of communication, and through all its projects and programs.
4) Could you indicate three publications that guided your career in the field of preservation?
A publication that marked a turning point in my approach to cultural property preservation was the Canadian Conservation Institute (CCI) poster: Framework for Preserving Heritage Collections, which summarizes the top 10 threats facing heritage collections. It provides recommendations for their protection and presents the phases of control through preventive conservation measures, grouped according to the location of the collections.
The updated version also considers sustainability and climate change issues. https://www.canada.ca/en/conservation-institute/services/preventive-conservation/framework-preserving-heritage-collections.html This valuable tool has been translated by APOYOnline into Spanish and Portuguese.
Another publication worth highlighting is the book: Manual of Museum Planning: Sustainable Space, Facilities, and Operations (Barry Lord (Editor), Gail Dexter Lord (Editor), Lindsay Martin (Editor). Altamira Press. 2013). https://www.amazon.com/Manual-Museum-Planning-Sustainable-Facilities/dp/075912146X/ref=monarch_sidesheet. It has been very useful for me to comprehensively introduce standards and best practices for conservation and collection management, in my work as part of the diverse team of professionals who are involved in the planning, design, construction, renovation, or expansion of museums.
Finally, I want to mention the book: Museum Basics, The International Handbook (Timothy Ambrose and Crispin Paine. 2012. Routledge. https://www.routledge.com/Museum-Basics-The-International-Handbook/Ambrose-Paine/p/book/9781138292475. It is a basic guide to all aspects of museums, which will serve the museum professional to widen their museum knowledge beyond their specialty. Produced with special collaboration from ICOM, it constitutes a valuable training manual.
5) What message would you like to leave for young people working in the field of preservation ?
Despite the training challenges that exist in many regions, I believe that a career in preservation offers many rewards, including developing your areas of personal talents and skills, as well as contributing to the preservation of the identity of the people in your region. In my case, even though it took me two additional years of study in my country and in the United States to meet the requirements, and despite receiving negative responses, I obtained the desired conservation training. Thanks to this, I have been able to pursue my professional career according to my vocation, with many satisfactions, and in my humble opinion, I have contributed to the preservation of the heritage and professional development of the Dominican Republic. Today, the world is more interconnected, and there are more support resources than then. I therefore urge young people to persevere in their goal of obtaining training in heritage preservation.