Natalia Teteriatnikov (ICFA Interview)
This interview was undertaken as part of the ICFA Oral History Initiative.
Natalia Teteriatnikov was previously interviewed by the Dumbarton Oaks Archives (DOA) on June 24, 2013.
RR: Okay. Good afternoon. The date is June 25, 2013, and today we have the great pleasure of interviewing Natalia Teteriatnikov, correct?
RR: Who was a former Dumbarton Oaks Junior Fellow in early 1980s and a curator for the Byzantine Photographs and Visual Archives, or the Byzantine Visual Resources, now known as the Image Collections and Fieldwork Archives, from 1986 to 2007.
RR: This interview is being recorded for the Image Collections and Fieldwork Archives and the Dumbarton Oaks Archives of the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, located in Washington, D.C. Before we begin, do I have your permission to record this interview?
NT: Yes, please.
RR: For the record, please state your full name.
NT: Natalia Teteriatnikov.
NT: Well, I was born in Russia, in a place called Kamchatka a small peninsula, in the city of Petropavlovsk on Kamchatka currently Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky. This place is actually—it’s a little peninsula, which is across the United States, across Atlantic; Correction: Pacific Ocean. So, I always think that it was my destiny to be born across the United States, and then finally come here.
RR: Do you have any siblings? how many siblings?
NT: Yes, I have one brother.
RR: And what did your parents do?
NT: My mother was a doctor, and my father was an engineer, and the reason they came to Kamchatka was that after the university, it was a practice in Russia: everyone should go to the North and work there at least three years, so, and then people come back. My parents worked a little bit more, and then they came back to Moscow. I was five years old when we arrived from Kamchatka to Vladivostok, and then we took trans-Siberian express. And it took us about eight or nine days to get to Moscow; and for me as a child it was a extraordinary shock and experience, and I remember it so vividly that it stands in my eyes, when we passed the Lake Issyk Kul.
RR: So, how did you get into Byzantium? Your father was an engineer, and your mother was—
NT: A doctor.
RR: —a doctor.
RR: So, how did you become interested in Byzantium?
NT: That is a good question, but I think it also relates to my history. When I was a child, and when we came to Moscow, in a few years I developed rheumatoid arthritis. So, I practically hardly walked to school. So, my mother took me every year for three months—for two, three months—for, uh, to Crimea and then to Georgia. And she traveled with me and my brother to see all the monuments—churches in Georgia. We played in a place called Chersonesos; Russian: Xersones, an archaeological site with wonderful monuments. When I had a Fulbright in ’89 from—Dumbarton, —and arrived to Bulgaria first, and then I went to Chersonesos with the Fulbright program. I obtained photographs of the walls—fifth—fifth and sixth century walls and various monuments of this wonderful city, because I knew it so well since my childhood. So, at that time—I took of—I just loved archaeology and I loved monuments and art, and later on when I finished school I went to Moscow University, I think in 1965.
RR: For college?
NT: Well, the University has a different system. It’s a five-year system. It includes a college and Master program, so my degree was equivalent of Master’s degree, and I wrote a thesis, I think, St. Nikita Trampling the Devil, on an icon from the Tretyakov Gallery, and later on published here, and that allowed me to get to New York University. Back to Russia—when I went to Moscow University, I wanted to study in the evening program, because I wanted to work during the day and have more experience, and for three years I worked in the central conservation laboratory. It’s called VTSNIKR: State Central Laboratory for Conservation and Restoration of Art Objects. So, it was extremely important experience, and I learned conservation of icons and painting, and I learn about conservation of frescoes and other object, though I didn’t do other objects except icons and painting. And then, there I met my husband, who was a chief—a head of the conservation department of objects of art. And since we both worked together I decided that it’s better to move to work in another place, and I came to the historical museum in Moscow, which is almost on the Red Square, and I worked in the department of icons as an assistant curator. The curator—Katherine Ovchinnikov—was a very interesting scholar. She published a lot, mostly on Russian but also on Byzantine icons, and I learn a lot from her, and also from conservators who worked there. The department had four thousand icons. But the place was very conservative and since it was on Red Square it was always uncomfortable. I remember the situation when Professor Lazarev came, a very famous scholar—you may come across one day his publication, his famous two volumes—the Storia della pittura bizantina, it’s in Italian and in Russian but it’s history of Byzantine art, actually two volumes. And he was very famous and very well-known scholar. So, when he came to the department and my boss—actually Katherine Ovchinnikov was not there—I was in a strange situation because he asked me to look at some icons. I didn’t know what to do, but I decided since Lazarev came and he was so important I showed him these icons. But then in a few hours, the curator came, she prodded him out [?], and I wasn’t—because, you know, the policies of the museum are so, so strict and so—so, I worked there for two years, and when I finish my degree, I went to a very interesting place called the Museum of Andrei Rublev, museum in the name of icon painter Andrei Rublev, and worked there until I left, and it was a wonderful place. Everybody were young, a little bit older than me at that time, and I worked as a research assistant. It was very exciting time. It was sort of—everybody except the Director were obviously against Soviet regime, and I really liked that atmosphere. The only Director—she was a nice woman but, you know, she was a Communist, obviously. But the museum did a lot for the public, and we had a lot of interesting people coming to us, we did very interesting lectures which were not really regarded as a sort of politically correct. So, I really enjoyed to work there. So, my first project there was, I did the first exhibition in Russia on the metal crosses and icons, and I collected eight hundred objects for this exhibit. I did it in two years, and it was open. I don’t remember now, I think it was ’72 or ’73, but I have a poster of this exhibition here, so I can check it out. Unfortunately, we didn’t publish the catalogue because there was no time and obviously the money, because the museum was very poor, and the museum was started from scratch. In the monastery called Andronikov Monastery was a church—fifteenth-century church, where, according to the legend, the icon painter Andrei Rublev was buried. So, this was extraordinary experience for me to do this exhibition, and in 1975 we left—Russia.
RR: With your husband?
NT: With my husband and my son, who was very little at that time. So, when we arrived to New York, and we had to leave, we came through the Tolstoy Foundation who help us through Vienna, and then we went to Italy. First we came to Vienna and then we came to Italy, and we spent three months according to the customs, American customs, so then we got all the permissions to get to New York. And we were very excited, of course especially my husband, because he knew everything about the United States and he loved American jazz and had the best old records of all American jazzmen. Anyway, so, we arrived to New York, and the first months the Tolstoy Foundation help us, but we immediately had to find a job. And we went to the store—we knew about it—called A La Vieille Russie. It’s on the Fifth Avenue, and the corner, I think: 59 and Fifth Avenue—very famous and very luxurious store of Russian objects of art. And of course we immediately got a job, and we were very friendly and knew Peter and Paul Shaffer—the owners of the store—and their mother. So, it was very interesting. We did the work for them, and they were very happy about it, and my husband later on continued to work for them, although he had independent, at that time, conservation studio. We live on 86th Street, between First and Second Avenue. And it was a wonderful place, not far from the Institute of Fine Arts. But first I was planning to go to study, but we had to work, and I helped my husband, because I had Green Card, but I didn’t have the citizenship yet, and I was not able to get the grant. So, we had to pay for the University. First, I went to Columbia University, to Professor Frazer, and he was a specialist on Roman and Late Antique art. And he was very nice and generous and told me that, with my interest, I will be better off if I go to the Institute of Fine Arts and study with Professor Thomas Mathews. So, I did. I translated my Master’s on St. Nikita and gave the translation to Tom Mathews. He liked it and he called me and he said that he want me to apply to the Institute. And I apply, and I applied for PhD program directly, so I was not here in college. It was advantage and disadvantage, of course—disadvantage, of course: it took me a while to get used to the language and understand seminars and so on and so forth, so it was hard time. But, of course, the Institute was a wonderful place and not far from my home and I enjoyed Professor Mathews’ lectures and other professors. It was a different system from Moscow, because here they were interested in seminars, whereas there, there were only lectures. So, it was a totally different system. So, everyone would write and give a paper and get the critiques. So, for me, it was new and challenging, of course. I—
RR: What did you study with Thomas Mathews? What did you study when you went to New York University with Thomas Mathews?
NT: Right! That is a good question. Thomas Mathews, of course—I wrote one paper for him on the screen—marble screen—on the south gallery of Hagia Sophia, and he gave me the whole suitcase of his black-and-white photographs, just at home, that I can look through—
RR: His own photographs?
NT: His own photographs. I think we have copies in Dumbarton Oaks of all his photographs. But these I think he kept for students. He was very generous in this case. And it gave me an opportunity to go through all the photographs, wonderful photographs, of his, through the entire church, and I understood at that time that the floor of Hagia Sophia, because of earthquakes—the floor curved, and the screen, which was attributed to the sixth century, and the panels were sixth century. I think it was a bit later, after the earthquake,—because the floor was curved, and there were spaces between the screen standing on the floor. And the spaces in between the screen and the floor were filled with, you know, some sort of cement or whatever, and on top of the screen there were also pieces which were added later. So, I sort of dated this screen later than he dated in his own book, and I think that was good and he was really—he wanted his students to come up with new ideas. And that, I think, was wonderful to me, because sometimes you will come to him and tell him what you come up with and he is clearly bored. And when you see his face, you realize, well, that you did practically nothing. And, yes—and his reaction to what you are doing, with all his students, really appreciated, and his criticisms too, because that was important, when you criticize and you see that you have to adjust and you have to find new way of dealing with the monument. I passed the two-hours exam, which was oral exam, and the professors would show you any slide on the screen and try to trick you—so, Tom Mathews showed me Bodrum Camii photographs from the thirties, that I couldn’t recognize because then this church was restored and you can hardly see that it is the same church. So, there were things like that, but I enjoyed that actually. And then he suggested me to write two-weeks paper, and he gave me several choices and I choose to write on Leo’s Bible. And so, you have to write a chapter of a book during two weeks. And that was challenging, even to edit this paper was—needed that time. And he left—I don’t remember where—but he was not in his office; and when I went to Freer Art Gallery to see the book which was published on Leo’s Bible, I realized that it was in black-and-white. And I needed to write on style, and I needed color. So, in color—it was not published at that time in color—so, I went to the administrative office and asked to open Tom Mathews’s office, because I knew that he had original slides he made himself from the Leo’s Bible. So, people were very generous and supportive of me and they opened the office and gave me the slide. So, I was able to finish the paper, because otherwise I was so nervous—how can I write on style without even seeing the Bible and without understanding color? So, I completed the paper, and I think Tom Mathews suggested me to write a dissertation on the subject, but I choose not because I thought that I came from Russia, and I didn’t travel much, so I really dream to see the monuments, and I choose another subject on—to write on the program of the apses of Cappadocian churches. So, this was of course ambitious project—
RR: —Because you wanted to travel?
NT: Yes, because I wanted to travel, but of course I wanted to do the project as well, because it was interesting. And you have to see a lot when doing this project. So, I applied for a grant—of course, at that time, I already got the traveling grant because I was already a citizen, I got a fellowship to go to Turkey, and then to study. So, I went to Turkey, but I had to get a permit to work in Cappadocia, so I went to Istanbul first, and I met wonderful people in the Archaeological Museum of Istanbul. The Director at that time was Nusin Asgari, who was—who is a very famous scholar. She is still there currently retired.
RR: What year is this? Late seventies…
NT: It was—I came here to Dumbarton Oaks as a fellow ’82-’83. It was ’81-’82. And it was wonderful. She was extremely helpful. She told me many—she gave me lots of information on the marbles of Hagia Sophia. Her articles on the system of how the marbles were cut and how revetments of Hagia Sophia got this wonderful book matching patterns. And I got many friends. I met wonderful conservator, Revza Ozil, who became a friend. When I went to Cappadocia and met her there, she showed me frescoes of Karanlik Kilise on the scaffolding, and I was able to photograph. I have excellent photographs from the scaffolding of Karanlik Kilise. So, later on I will give them to Dumbarton Oaks these photographs, because I photograph with a tripod and Rolleiflex. The reason I had Rolleiflex, because when I was in Istanbul, I was photographing with my Minolta automatic camera, and in Bodrum Camii, I jump and the camera slightly touched the wall or something. So, that automatic system died, the camera—I was not able to use the camera. So, I went to all the shops and everyone told me that it is not possible to fix it, but to purchase a camera in Istanbul, I—first of all, I didn’t have enough money, second, it was dangerous thing to do. So, I went to the German Archaeological Institute, and the photographer, Dr. Schiller, also suggested not to buy the camera, but he said, “I will give you my own camera, which my wife was using. She’s not here right now. You will bring it back when you finish.” I purchase the film, and I never use this camera, so he taught me how to use this camera. So, I got my best pictures with this camera. I even developed—I brought with me the chemicals, and I developed some film in the bathroom, to make sure that things will come out. Finally, I went to Ankara, to get my permit, and it was—oh, not yet. In Istanbul, Nusin Asgari told me that the General Director of Antiquities of Turkey, of all museums, he supposed to give me a permit, is in Istanbul, for a few days. And she suggested to make sure that I will get a permit, I should see him in Istanbul. And I said, “How?” Well, miraculously telephone number was discovered, and he was staying in the palace on Bosporus, an extraordinary eighteenth-century palace. So, I call him from my hotel, and he was of course surprised. I explained him that, when I apply for the permit, I had my Green Card. I didn’t have the passport yet, but now I have my American passport. So, I didn’t get the permit in the United States, and I hope I will get it in Ankara. So, he wanted to see me and to see the passport, so he said, “Can you come right now to the palace?” I said, “Of course, yes.” I took a taxi, and I took a huge file-folder filled with the files for each church in Cappadocia, and the plans and everything which I prepared for my project, to show him that I’m not just simply a Russian immigrant who wants to go to Cappadocia for whatever reason, but I want to study. So, I came to the palace and I was sort of—there was security there, obviously, and I was invited in a very beautiful room, and I was waiting for him, and then he came. And he looked at my passport and I showed him some folders, so he actually realized that I do have an American passport. And he was extremely nice and we had tea, and he said, “Okay, well tomorrow I will see you in Ankara.” I said, “Okay.” And I immediately let everyone—all my friends in Istanbul know that it looks like that I’m going to get a permit. So, I went to the bus station; I got the ticket overnight (that’s how I traveled there). And I took all my very heavy suitcase with all these folders. And when I was in Ankara, I check into hotel, and I went to the Ministry of Culture. Of course, it was a huge line. It’s impossible to get to see the general director there, so I tried to let everybody know so—I was told that I have to come back in three days, because now there was vacation time and there was some kind of a holiday and all that. So, I went back to my hotel. When I came to the hotel, I saw that all my suitcase were opened, all the films were opened—I mean, not the film was open but all the cases were open. So, they really wanted to check me out, which was fine with me, because except Cappadocian plans, I had no other secret. So, I waited for three days, and finally on the fourth day or fifth day—fourth day, probably—I saw General Director, who said, “Oh, don’t worry, no problem. Here you’re getting the permit, everything is fine, if you need my help, please let me know.” He even suggested some places to stay around Göreme. So, he was very nice in general. And then I came to Göreme, and it was magic place, of course, and I stay in the hotel, which is little bit far –I had to walk three kilometers to the actual museum. When I arrived there, to my surprise, there was Ann Epstein—Ann Wharton Epstein there—with her photographer, and they were photographing the Tokalı Kilise, which you have, actually, which we have in our department. I was so happy, because I didn’t drive, and I still don’t drive. Somehow it’s happened. So, Ann, of course, had a car, and she invited me to travel with her everywhere. And that was marvelous, and since she of course knew Cappadocia, it was good for me to travel with her, and I help her to measure the plan of the burial chapel, which is under the floor of the Tokalı Kilise, which she published in her book. And I was able to make my own photographs of the Tokalı Kilise, which is not as good as her photographs, because her photographs were done by the professional photographer from her university, with special equipment, special lighting, and so forth, because inside the church is very dark, but still I have some decent photographs which I was able to use.
RR: What was your focus—when you photographed the interiors there?
NT: Yes, that is important. That I learned in Cappadocia, because I tried to get as much more coverage as I could of each monument, I photographed exterior, interior, general view, I got wide-angle first, and I brought one wide-angle with me and that was very important to get the entire picture. So, you see the liturgical arrangement of all the churches I saw. Of course, my project was first just on apses, but I needed the interior of churches. For example, Tokalı Kilise had three apses separated by a templon screen and so on. I had good coverage of the church, and then I photographed some details. Of course, my film was limited for my specific project. I did not photograph completely everything. The time was limited, the money and the film.
RR: How long did you do the project? How long were you at Cappadocia?
NT: Oh! The first year, probably three months. But Cappadocia is very large, hundreds and hundreds of churches—thousands! Thousands. So, every year I went to Cappadocia, and I spent a long—walking, basically. Occasionally, I took taxis and I took people with me and sometimes children, as a protection especially against dogs, and in some cases not only dogs but—it was dangerous. I had a few serious cases when I realized it was really dangerous. Therefore I preferred to have somebody with me. So, I did photograph a lot. One year I had with me Claudia Vess, who worked here with Charlotte Burk, and we were good friends, and Claudia worked here as a cataloguer. So, we travelled together, and we had wonderful time, so she also photographed and—so it was really pleasant—it was very pleasant to have her. Of course it was sometimes difficult for her because I had my project and I had to finish so I had to pressure—put some pressure on her to follow me, but she was wonderful.
RR: So, while you were doing this project in Cappadocia, you received a Fellowship, a Junior Fellowship, in Dumbarton Oaks?
NT: I had a travel grant, and I also received the second year a Fellowship at Dumbarton Oaks, and the next year the Metropolitan Museum—I had another year and a half.
NT: I think in ’87, because when I was about to finish, I got the job immediately at the Princeton Index, and I worked there for one year, finishing my dissertation, working on a new job and learning the job, and working on a project for an exhibition, “Byzantium at Princeton.” I wrote the entire section on the manuscript collection of Princeton University Library, and I worked together with Professor Ćurčić, of course, who was extremely helpful; Archer St. Clair, who was professor at Rutgers University; and Professor Weitzmann’s, who was extremely nice to me at that time. I think nobody wanted to work on this project, because it was difficult project and because Weitzmann was an authority on Byzantine manuscripts.
RR: The Index, you mean.
NT: No, the manuscripts—
RR: The Weitzmann manuscripts.
NT: Yes. I got it the project probably, I think, because of that. But Princeton Index job was also demanding job. It was a difficult job because Princeton Index, as you know, had a different and difficult language, the way it was—the way the data described in the Princeton Index, it was very specific, and to learn this language—it took a while. And of course the editor Adelaide Bennett, she was extraordinarily wonderful woman, absolutely wonderful. She helped me a lot and we really got along very well.
RR: What did you do for the Princeton Index?
NT: My job was research associate, to work like everybody else, to do the description, and to enter materials in the Princeton Index. So, that’s how I learned the Princeton Index, and I think I’m grateful to the staff and especially for Adelaide Bennett, because she was brilliant. They all were scholars, and we had also some days, extra days, for the research. Everyone who did research had some extra days for personal research, because everyone supposed to publish. Those who didn’t publish were not able to continue. But after a year I got the telephone call from Charlotte Burk who knew me when I was a Dumbarton Oaks Fellow, and she actually suggested that I apply for the job, and I applied because I really wanted to be at Dumbarton Oaks, and the collection was interesting. I already knew the collection because I worked with it when I was a fellow.
RR: So, was that the time when you were the curator here already?
NT: Yes. I think that Professor Kessler suggested this project to install the copy of the Weitzmann Archive here in Dumbarton Oaks. And it was certainly logical to have it, because we had many scholars who consulted the manuscripts and it would be really easy, but I also looked carefully at the manuscript collection, and I realized it was interesting, phenomenally, because it reflected the interest of Professor Weitzmann starting from 1940s till it was finished. The original archive was at Princeton University in the library in his cage—it’s called “cage”—and it was sort of there. And originally some people whom Weitzmann give permission to use it, were able to use it, not everybody. So, Weitzmann also had his own restrictions, which is understandable. So, he had also—some negatives for this archive, but when we started to do the archive, and I asked him for the negatives. To make the prints from his negatives, it was virtually impossible, because he told me that, you know, over the years, he used these negatives of manuscripts for his own publications. He gave somebody the negatives to print and things did not come back, so not all the negatives were matching their actual photographs. So, I’ve realized it would be very time-consuming to sort out what was published, what was not, and the idea was to re-photograph the entire archive and print the photographs here in Washington. So, I hired the photographer—I’m sorry I forgot the name, I have to look it up, or you can look it up in some of the budgets, his name is there, or in the grant. We have—actually, my grant is there somewhere in the files. So, he—I had to find him an apartment at Princeton, and he was extremely nice person, and he got along. Weitzmann liked him, and he was able to re-photograph the entire archive.
RR: So, the goal was to have copies here at Dumbarton Oaks?
NT: Yes, copies here in Dumbarton Oaks, that everyone can consult, but also we obtained the permission through Angeliki Laiou at that time, because when the project was—when we began the project, Robert Thomson was the Director and he helped me to do the application, because it was really serious grant. We received ninety-four thousand dollars for this project, and Robert Thomson and Judy Siggins, the Assistant Director, helped me a lot. So, and of course Herb Kessler. When the project was finished, by that time, Angeliki Laiou was the Director, and she, of course, was the—negotiating the permit, and negotiating the policy regarding the use of the archive and the negatives with Princeton University. And the result, of course: I wrote together the policy for this archive. Also, I didn’t mention yesterday, but I wrote many other policies, as you know, for various archives and everything, because that was a necessary thing to do. But our scholars got the benefit, because we were able to provide photographs from this archive, because it was very difficult to get images from Mt.—and still now—to get images from Mt. Athos, from Mt. Sinai, from some monasteries in Tur Abdin in Turkey, or some monasteries in Syria or Greek Patriarchate in Jerusalem. And this archive actually have good coverage of monuments. For example, we had a scholar who came and she asked me—she studied the Princeton Index—she studied the subject of leprosy in medieval art. Her name is Christine Boeckl, I think. She visited the Princeton Index very often, but I also advised her to look at some Byzantine Job manuscripts, which we had in the Weitzmann Archive, because it’s a kind of old tradition. He was covered with sores, you know, this leprosy. So, this is old biblical tradition. So, she can look at this tradition in Byzantine manuscript, and I think she did. So, the archive was extremely useful for various reasons, and scholars who worked on manuscript archive like—or manuscripts in general—like Annemarie Weyl Carr and Nancy Ševčenko and many other people—for example the Italian scholar Bernabó, he consulted the Weitzmann Archive very often during my time, and many other scholars. I don’t know how it is now. Now, of course, the situation changed, and many archives are online or—but not all. And I think Weitzmann Archive may be still of use. And still even handy to go and check: if somebody ask you about some manuscript, you can just go to Weitzmann Archive and check because it is organized by the cities—that’s how the manuscripts were organized—collection, manuscript type, and so on and so forth, and then by the folio.
RR: So, this was the first major project that you did when you got hired as the curator of the archives?
NT: Yes, yes.
RR: The Byzantine Fieldwork Archives?
NT: Yes, yes.
RR: How long was that project? How long did it take?
NT: Well, this project was, you know, it lasted, actually, two years, but, you know, one year preparation and the writing the grant and finding the photographer. Also you have to find—get the supplies decided. You have to do all planning because all this planning had to be discussed in the grant project. So, there was a lot of work on this. And as you—I mentioned yesterday—the photographer printed seventeen thousand photographs and all of these were assembled in the notebooks. Of course in those days, we used non-archival notebook like everybody else, but that was handy especially in our very small space and the way scholars used it because they used it by themselves. It was easier to maintain them. Wipe [?] them out and keep them in good condition. So, that was a project.
RR: So, what was the mission of the Byzantine Fieldwork Archives when you got hired as the curator?
NT: Well, at the beginning there was no specific mission. First, I had to be acquainted with archive and it took me really several years to understand what it is all about. To familiarize myself and—the first thing I just hired the staff, and my first assistant who was a brilliant person, John Koehler, we started the project on the identification of each color transparency and cataloguing of the large format color transparencies of the North Adriatic Collection. We had three volumes—I hope they are still there—three volumes with a description of all color transparencies. And then all this information later was put by Katherine Hill on EmbARK. But together with John, we wrote all identification of the subject, where this particular subject is located, in Palermo, Cappella Palatina, in San Marco and so on. We did full description—just check for these notebooks. I hope they are still there. They were. We did further polishing, who was also my assistant later on. When John did the project, but I just want to say a few words about John because he was a brilliant person. John knew computer very well. He had his own five [?] computer set up at the time, and even at that time he even taught the staff of Dumbarton Oaks how to use computers and he wrote a special program and he practically computerized the entire black and white collection. We have a long notebook—somewhere you have to look. When I left, it was there, long notebook with a sort of—kind of—primitive computerized version of the Black and White Collection—it was like a pilot project. Using his program to computerize our archive. From the very beginning, that was also my goal. He was a perfect person for this. Later on when he left and I remember Michelle Savant was my assistant. We hire a special program maker who did also sort of a program to computerize our slide collection because we wanted to start. I think Michelle put a lot of slides on this program and later on when we got EmbARK the information was transferred from this program into EmbARK.
RR: Do you remember what program…? From Access? Did you use Access?
NT: Probably, probably. I’m sorry. At this moment, I don’t remember. Occasionally I don’t remember some detail because there are so many things later on that I occasionally may not remember.
RR: Who did you report to? Who was your supervisor?
NT: Right…first, I report to Robert Thomson when I came. Then when Angeliki Laiou…
RR: And he was then the director?
NT: He was the director. Yes, I reported to the director Robert Thomson. Then I reported to Angeliki Laiou. And she was excellent. She was very tough, as I received so many emails especially about the completion of the Weitzmann Archive as I mentioned yesterday, but she was a person who committed to fiscal year budget and she was very tough on that, on the completion of the project, and we of course tried to work very hard everyone. I think that everybody learned a lot during her terms about administration. I remember—sorry about that, I told you my voice went down because of the humidity—when she began her work, I think in a week, she called me at ten o’clock at night and asked me a very simple question. I don’t even remember. Something very simple. But she just called me. It was very nice, just to ask me something about the project or something. But then when the director of studies program began, I reported to Henry Maguire, of course, who was a wonderful director of studies. He was an art historian and of course, he advised on various projects—he was very supportive of the collection. I also want to stress that Robert Thomson and Angeliki Laiou really supported the collection and they understood its importance. And that was very important to me. I always felt their support. Of course, Henry Maguire was obviously supportive of the collection. And he and his wife, Eunice Maguire, were really nice and generous people. After Henry Maguire, of course, Alice-Mary Talbot. She was not an art historian, but I must give her credit and credits for her extraordinary interest in the collection. She used the collection herself, she always asked me for advice and questions, or—for example we did the Tunisian project—
NT: The Margaret Alexander archive–as you know, we received and I put all these materials with Margaret correction: Marie Spiro together in the boxes. But we didn’t work on it because there were many other things. But, there was some requirements from the Tunisian authorities who gave permit to Margaret Alexander to photograph all these Tunisian materials that she had to return the negatives to Tunisia. And since we started the digitization project, I suggested that we digitize her photographs, negatives, and we will give digital images and send the discs to the Tunisians. That way, we will save the Margaret Alexander archive. And so, I work together with Margaret Alexander correction: Marie Spiro, who is a wonderful person and a specialist on Tunisian mosaics as you probably know. Wonderful and knowledgeable scholar because I knew very little about Tunisian mosaics. I mean…I never travelled to Tunisia myself and never studied this. Of course I have seen the materials and certainly I read about them, but I didn’t specifically work in depth on monuments, and therefore it was much more difficult to do this project very quickly. So, Margaret correction: Marie Spiro was very helpful to me. And I, of course, did the needlework to pick up all the negatives. As you know, to look through the stripes correction: strips, on the light table, and to pick up all these images matching them to the images in her books, to make sure that everything was fine and then to digitize them, and Image Delivery of course did the digitalization. So, at that time, I don’t remember. I think Brooke Schilling—either Brooke or Katherine It was Brooke Schilling I just don’t remember at this point —who also helped with this project, and we were able to finish it and send the discs to the Tunisians. I think we have copies still. So, that way the archive is safe and eventually when you decide to catalogue it and put it together in a proper way—but what we did, we did accession of the negatives. And that was a very big job. We did it at the end of my term, and I felt it was extremely important to accession because as you know things can disappear very easily, and things were misplaced especially during the move. I don’t want even to discuss it. But we accession, part time assistants of course did the accessioning. It was really good. Right now, we have all accessioned negatives. So, that would be easier to deal with them. We accessioned also the negatives for the Weitzmann Archive – correction: Van Nice Archive. And there were a lot of them because they were sitting in my office, but there was always no time and almost at the end before we move, we did the final accession of these negatives. But there were no time to work. I did not work on the Weitzmann Archive correction: Van Nice archive, although I work on his drawings. Yes. But not on his papers. I would even like to come and look at the papers because—no time, as you know we did quite a lot. Everyone was busy and therefore it was not possible to finish everything.
RR: What other collections did you acquire while you were the curator? So, we know you were responsible for the acquisition of the Weitzmann Archive and the Margaret Alexander collection. What other collections…
NT: Well, I acquire all the black and white photographs. All…I acquire. I dealt with the photographers, I personally wrote them letters, I did all the budgets, I did all the planning, the planning for all the projects for everybody. I did all the black and white collection acquisitions. Nobody else did.
RR: Did you have to get the permission from your supervisor, either Robert Thomson or…
NT: Right I would usually write a proposal for the whole year, and I’d give the budget to the supervisor and also to Marlene, because Marlene was extremely helpful over the years. She was extraordinary, as a person, generous, wonderful and extremely helpful. I’m sure not only I, but everybody benefited from her help. Especially at the beginning, you have to learn how to do the budget, make sure that it is approved and to make sure that it makes sense. The money was always limited. I discuss, and sometimes my supervisor might also reasonably say, “Why do we need that?” For example, when I came, Dumbarton Oaks was different at that time. And the focus was on major monuments. Minorities were not in favor. Which means provincial art was not in favor because scholars focused on major centers: Constantinople, Rome, Thessaloniki, and so on and so forth. And I knew already by that time how important provinces were, travelling. Not only Cappadocia, because when I went to Cappadocia at the same time I traveled to Israel to compare Cappadocian churches with the churches in Israel and Egypt. And I spent months in Egypt in rural areas, which is very hard to get. And I saw this wonderful fifth- and sixth-century churches. Extraordinary, well preserved, and I understood their importance. And when I was in Russia, I traveled a lot in Georgia, Crimea. How important the Georgian and Armenian churches were, where we have fifth- and sixth-seventh-century materials to compare with Byzantium. So, in my acquisitions year after year, you can look, we, right now, have one of the best collections of black and white photographs of Georgian architecture, sculpture, programs. Armenian less, but Georgian especially. We have also Egyptian materials because I suppose it is the Elizabeth Bolman project of St. Anthony Monastery, and later on her work on Red Sea—I’m sorry on White and Red monasteries where I went during my fellowship years and I saw these churches very well. So, I made acquisition of all of these materials, and now Armenian and Georgian collections—everybody interested. Everyone want to compare. But now we have these materials, I remember during the last years when I about to leave—what is her name. Brooks?
NT: No, no
NT: The scholar, young scholar who also studied at the Institute of Fine Arts – Sarah Brooks. She just asked me, “Do you have any parallels?” for some subject she was working on in—she was working on St. Sophia in Trabzon I said, “Of course.” There are Armenian churches and you can take a look at this. Also, I think I left with Gerri—I just donated some photographs of some Georgian metalwork. Somebody gave it to me personally, I just—. And so then…but scholars interested in this because it’s new materials, which they want to incorporate now in their research, and Dumbarton Oaks already have it. Because in those days, I remember even in the library, post-Byzantine art was also not in favor. And even the accession—I remember one book on the fourteenth century art was de-accessioned because Dumbarton Oaks’s focus was on classical period, early period, middle Byzantine. Late Byzantine art was not at that time, at the beginning when I worked, in favor, but later on it was. Because there was an exhibition Byzance après Byzance and a book published, books and articles began to be published on post-Byzantine art, and of course after “Faith and Power” exhibition, which Helen Evans did in the Metropolitan Museum. Of course, late Byzantine art become so important that there is no even question that people would like to have these materials. And the collections are full Byzantine art. For example, in Greece, all museums have huge collections of icons, fifteenth, sixteenth, and even seventeenth century. I did accept some materials, some icons, some frescos, from Romania, for example, which give also very interesting information about the development of Byzantine art. So, I also encourage you to do that. Also, I just want to point out about a few other things which we also work on in our collection. It is the maintenance of all the archives that were done before me. This is, for example, the Census of American collections and Canada. It was—when I came it was very difficult to maintain. There was a decision. And professor Herb Kessler participated in the discussion and we all agreed, that we discontinue to update part of the Census which dealt with pre-historic material, and so on. We only updated materials which had to do with early Christian and Byzantine art. I did include some of the materials and we updated this Census, and included some of the materials. So, there was also a Census of Ivory Corpus, which I think was done, during the time of Charlotte Burk and ivory corpus was I think supervised by Gary Vikan, and who of course knew the materials very well. You’ll see fantastic photographs of Anthony Cutler. We also updated these materials, ordering photographs from various museums. You understand what means by ordering materials from various museums. It’s a needlework. So, you have to write many letters for each museum. Ask for the records, ask for the photographs, and so on and so forth. But the problem was the photographs cost a lot. Some museums charged like forty dollars per photograph, and for us it was not possible to purchase because we paid, I mean, later on ten dollars, but at the beginning three dollars per photograph. So with this money, you cannot go so far. We, I must say, did not update the corpus on—Textile Corpus, which I think is extremely important corpus. And I suggest you to update it. I really suggest that you work on this project, because first the information already fall out. We constantly updated the Site Books, because many materials from the Site Books, just fell down, you know in all these notebooks—these little labels which were glued—they would fall down. Same I noticed with the, not noticed I knew about it, with the Textile Corpus. But we had so many projects and there were no hands and no money to work on it. So, these projects need special budget, special person, who will update them. Especially now, I know the Byzantine collection is interested and planning even an exhibition on textile. So, for you, it would be a very good opportunity to update this project. Textile are very important right now. The last exhibition, as you know, in the Metropolitan Museum, on Islamic art had extraordinary textiles, and the exhibition showed the importance of these textiles. So, if you update this corpus, you will get new scholars. You will publicize it and scholars will start coming to you, because you will have new materials, you see. Even the materials from the Byzantine collection should be probably updated. Of course, you will think about it, but we didn’t have the time for it and these two projects needed to be updated. Because American collections are very important, and we have extraordinary Byzantine art in the American collections. And if you can update those two projects, it would be wonderful. I can even give you some—I worked for Gary Vikan for the permanent exhibition, the Walters Art Museum. It was my personal project. I work on it on Saturdays and Sundays. On exhibition, the permanent exhibition of Russian objects. And Gary Vikan gave me many photographs from that collection of Russian icons and crosses. I don’t think I will ever work on them. I will just give them to you, and you may like to include them in the Census because they are good photographs. I think that is really good project, because right now if you go through various collections in the United States, I think it will give you really new materials because I think people—I even heard, I got email from St. Petersburg that somebody is now working on the project of the Slavic art from the American collections, so you will, I think, have really good advantage having these resources.
NT: Yes, yes. Robert Thomson invited me to discuss the issue. And he suggested me to acquire Robert Van Nice and Byzantine Institute archives. It was in 1993. I was excited about it. So, I wrote a note to Irene Vaslef about the—acknowledging that we are accepting the materials. And as I said yesterday, these materials were given to us—in the beginning rolls, but the tubes later on I discovered, had both: Robert Van Nice and the Byzantine Institute materials. And then I had Van Nice files. And some Byzantine Institute materials. But then later on James Carder gave me materials, and later on some boxes came from the administration. And the Whittemore box, as you know the relic which I treasured, and I labeled it on the bottom. There is a label to make sure everyone knows do not throw it away by mistake because this box belonged to Thomas Whittemore personally. It contained letters, personal letters of Thomas Whittemore to his brother. When I organized his archive, I put all his letters—well, they are there, in sequence and so forth. They are in tiny, small envelopes, beautifully folded and written in perfect handwriting. And I’ve read I think probably most of them. I was curious about him. They were very simple.
RR: Let’s switch a little bit. You did mass cataloguing for all the collections we have. What was your criteria? What kinds of standards did you follow when you catalogued the archive collections?
NT: For the archives?
RR: Yes. You mentioned yesterday that you followed the authorities for the Index of Christian Art as a guide for the…
NT: Oh, yes. This is not for the paperwork.
RR: For the images?
NT: Yes, but this is for the photographs and slides that we used the Princeton Index. It will be also good for you. You can go always check up the subject matter, for example. I introduced the guide books. You have a lot of guidebooks in your collection. I bought or purchased all those guide books. I had this idea, I borrowed the idea, of course, from the Princeton Index because the Princeton Index at that time had guidebooks. Why? Because there was no Library of Congress National Geographic standards. That’s why they kept guide books in order to have consistencies for their city names. Because you know Princeton Index was organized also by geographic locations, and when they cataloged, they wanted to keep the consistency. So, I introduced the guidebooks for our collections as well. It was also useful, because when we changed the cities in our collection—and countries. Countries and cities. It became so useful to have a guidebook of Yugoslavia, for example, and to see—former Yugoslavia—to see what is Montenegro, what is Serbia, or you know other countries because we had to file also by the cities and the cities belonged to different countries. So, guidebooks in this case became very handy. So, you may also like to use them. Also, the Paul Getty standard for art and architecture was extremely useful. But also as I pointed out, I wrote this manual for object terms and architectural terms. Everything what was done was distributed for every person in our department. Every person had it. We all share. It was important. All the city names, all the project which we did, we shared between us. It was helpful for everyone. I don’t have to go borrow it from you, you know. You might like to do similar things because you may not know what is the curator’s office, or whatever it is. I think it is very handy to have all this information which you use on a regular basis. So, and that’s it. Whenever Smilka come across of a new name, she would write me email, “Natalia, please add this name I come across. We don’t have it.” Or Katherine, or Brooke Shilling who was wonderful. She would write to me too, and this was the system that I would update all the object types or city names or whatever, which were on EmbARK. So, EmbARK should be always updated. But now you’re of course not using it. But you can use information from EmbARK.
RR: Yep, that’s what we’re doing.
NT: That’s very good. I’m very glad to hear it. You can polish it a little but, because we didn’t have the chance to do the final polishing because everything needs polishing. But you can sort of polish it and put it in.
NT: I just forgot to tell you—that I did several projects in my spare time. One was this permanent exhibition in the Walters Art Gallery with Gary Vikan. Then I did for Zimmerli Art Museum. I did—there was an exhibition and the catalogue was published. I wrote a chapter “Russian Religious Art from the Riabov collection, and its historical significance.” Mainly, it involved the role of Russian art and about their collection, all the objects I published here. And then I did an exhibition of Russian Icons from Private Collections together with the Juniata College, which travelled in several places in the United States. It was in the Washington Cathedral Rare Book Room here, Juniata College, the Interchurch Center and the Treasure Room in the New York Riverside Drive in New York City, and then Lafayette College and the College of the Holy Cross in Worchester, Mass, as well as Williams Center for the Arts, Easton, and Penn. Oh, so many. Anyway, this was a huge exhibition in our cathedral of the Russian icons from private collections here in the United States and Switzerland. I went to Switzerland and borrowed from the collector, whom I knew. And he brought from Switzerland many beautiful icons. I wrote the catalogue of these icons. It was done, actually—even the Russians when they saw it they were surprised to see this icon of Christ by Symon Ushakov, court Moscow icon painter. That they actually—I proposed, I identified this icon, seventeenth century icon done for the famous Russian person Matveyev, who actually was pro-Western. And at that time, pro-Western art also became popular in seventeenth century Russia, as you can see that the eyes of Christ—the realistic eyes depicted in this image. This was actually done by a very, very well-known icon painter Ushakov—I read all the inscriptions of course and so on. But the Russians—I proposed a church, which was a private church of this person Matveyev court official. But later on, the Russian scholars actually found this church and they said it’s true that this icon was there, but when I borrowed it was in Switzerland, I didn’t know that. I also did attribution of icons as a sort of volunteer working in our department, because lots of people knew that I worked here and I worked on the Russian icons. After, as I pointed out, finishing Moscow University, I worked in the icon museum, the Rublev Museum, where I learn a lot about icons. So, everybody call or wrote emails to ask for attribution or to look at their icon for advice. And I always did it, and I continue to do it also for the Byzantine Collection, whenever they ask me for the Russian or Greek icons. I really like to do it because it is my life hobby. Anyway, these are sort of projects I did at the time. I also published my dissertation as a book. It was published by Pontifical Institute in Rome a long time ago in ’87, I think. A long time ago. But now I need to finish a book. Finishing takes a long time. But I enjoy very much the project because it is on the sixth century mosaics of St. Sophia, which, I owe a lot for Dumbarton Oaks for this project, because there will be a lot of materials from the Byzantine Institute, from the Van Nice archive, and the Byzantine collection also. And they the Byzantine Collection staff were very generous to me, showing all the samples of the tesserae, which helped me to understand the technique of the mosaics. And of course, it is a very difficult project. I work on it almost every day. Sometimes I change to do some other project. I did publish several articles. I will give you some—I will bring it on the disk because the article on the mosaic portrait of the Emperor Alexander was published by Arte Medievale but they sent me very big file on disk. It is hard to send through, via email. I will just give you a disk. I then wrote also on the dome mosaics and the squinches of Hagia Sophia. I hope it will be published. It has been submitted, but I’m just waiting. I also submitted the article a week ago on “When Art and Ritual Clashed, the Salerno Ivory Plaque”, which was also very interesting project. So, do I have—
RR: A lot!
NT: Many projects which aren’t finished. But one day I will finish the paper on the color reproductions. I do have the written text, but it needs to be polished and eventually published.
RR: Is there anything else that you want to add to your oral history? I think I’ve asked all the questions that I need to ask, but is there anything else you want to add that you haven’t said yet?
NT: Well, what I would like to say is that I had a pleasure to work with my staff. Wonderful people. I still get Christmas cards from Michelle and I am in touch with Katherine. I don’t know how Smilka is doing. I hope she is alright. Is she?
RR: I think that Deb Stewart or Deb Brown…
NT: Yeah she got two kids and she’s…
RR: Yeah, she went to Serbia.
NT: Yes, very busy, of course. But it was a pleasure because I had really bright people. I even remember the early cataloguers like Marta Steele. She was wonderful. And Genie Tillisch. So, I always remember.
RR: Well, thank you so much for your time. This was really fun. Thank you so much.
NT: My pleasure. Thank you.