Sunday, January 22, 2012

Portraits in Preservation - Jeff Peachey

I'm pleased that Jeff Peachey agreed to be the 2nd participant in my Portraits in Preservation project. Please let me know if there is someone you would like to see profiled (or would like to volunteer yourself - don't feel shy).

Portrait of Jeff at work
BIO Jeffrey S. Peachey is the owner of a New York City-based studio for the conservation of books and the inventor of conservation tools and machines. He is a Professional Associate in the American Institute for Conservation and was Chair of the Conservators In Private Practice. For more than 20 years, he has specialized in the conservation of books and paper artifacts for institutions and individuals. He is a consultant to major libraries and university collections in the New York City region and nationally. He was the 2011 Sherman Fairchild Conservation Research Fellow at The Morgan Library & Museum. Current research interests include the tools, techniques and structures of eighteenth century French bookbinding. Jeff's blog is at:

Describe an experience that was particularly influential in your professional development.

One of the first part time jobs I had in conservation as a technician was making protective enclosures, but occasionally I got to do something slightly more advanced, like cloth case rebacks.  After a number of them, I distinctly recall the first one that I ever made that looked like something I hadn't made. In other words it looked more like it belonged to the book rather than to me.  I'm not quite sure how to describe how it looked; it looked different than a sympathetic treatment or even well crafted repair.  Even though I had made it, looked like something I had nothing to do with -- more objective than subjective -- neutral, subservient to object, rather than an example of my craft or treatment skills.  There was something unselfconscious about it.

I still get this feeling when I look at some treatments, both mine and others, and strive for it.  It is an entirely subjective perception, although perhaps no more that what is a judged to be 'sympathetic' treatment. Ironically, a current philosophical movement in book restoration, TomorrowsPast, seems to want to do just the opposite. They seem to advocate suffusing historic objects with various iterations of their personality and artistic vision.

When working on a book how do you understand your relationship with, or responsibility to, the person(s) who originally crafted the book?

Since most books are products of anonymous craftsmen, it seems the 'intent' of the craft object has to be determined from a larger knowledge of the cultural production of the time, rather than a specific worker. I guess there would be some distinct workshop practices, however, that one could develop a relationship or in-depth knowledge with.

How do you think working in preservation has shaped or changed your worldview?

It is difficult to say. Likely it produces a disconnect with current culture because of my hyperawareness of the importance of physical objects -- a bit out of step with current cultural assumptions concerning our virtual or digital existence.  Or maybe it is just working alone most of the time! The past does seem a lot closer when you spend a lot of time working on older objects.  I'm never sure quite how to respond when someone starts telling me about a 'really old' book from 1910 or something. Or when Apple recently announced that the ipad 2 is more durable than an old fashioned paper book. Huh?
What part of your preservation work most excites and engages you? Give specific examples.
At this point I seem to be following the typical trajectory: before conservation, more interested in visual arts, then bookbinding, later book conservation but most enthusiastic about doing treatments.  Now I seem to have a more compelling interest in historical issues about bookbinding history and connoisseurship: how an object was made, what it meant to a culture and society, etc...   Because we are on the cusp of most books shifting from primarily functional objects, we have a duty to not only conserve the objects, but what remains of the still alive craft . I really get a kick out of researching, writing and teaching about these issues.

If you were teaching what you do to a student, what would you say is the most important thing to learn in order to do your job well?

Looking, then making. Documenting, which not only records, but helps us to see more. Also, I'm always amazed how much a good teacher can help us see more. After careful observation comes making models, period bindings, reproductions, facsimiles, mock ups, dummies, replicas, maquettes, or historical reenactments -- whatever you want to call them, all in an attempt to understand more about a book's structure, function, material nature and mechanics. 

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