Stephen Zwirn

Oral History Interview with Stephen Zwirn, undertaken by James Carder, Erik Fredericksen, Gabriela Santiago, and Francisco López at the Dumbarton Oaks Guest House (Fellows Building), on June 19, 2012. At Dumbarton Oaks, Stephen Zwirn was Assistant Curator of the Byzantine Collection 1986–2012).

JC: It’s Tuesday, June the...

SZ: Nineteenth.

JC: Nineteenth, thank you, 2012. I’m here with Gabriela Santiago and Erik Fredericksen and Francisco Lopez in the living room of the Dumbarton Oaks Guest House to interview Dr. Stephen Zwirn on the eve of his retirement. Stephen curated the Byzantine Collection for many decades; he’s also a recognized scholar of Byzantine art history. Stephen, thank you for being here and agreeing to this interview.

SZ: A pleasure.

JC: Stephen, let’s start with your first recollections of Dumbarton Oaks and your first arrival here.

SZ: My first recollections go back to a decade or more before I started working at Dumbarton Oaks. My graduate advisor at New York University was Hugo Buchthal, who was a well known Byzantinist specializing in manuscripts, and he would periodically go off to Dumbarton Oaks – summer fellowships or semester breaks – and it was always a mystery about just what Dumbarton Oaks was. And finally he invited some of his students to come down to one of the spring symposia, and we did, and he was living with his wife in the East Cottage. And we were all bowled over, because we had no idea that Dumbarton Oaks was a building in the midst of lush gardens. We expected it to be something like the school where we were at, which was just a – well, just a mansion on Fifth Avenue – with no surrounding grounds at all. And we also had no idea that there was a pre-Columbian element or a garden and landscape element to it. I remember very distinctly that it was April and the tulips were in bloom, and they were very aggressively red. And it was just a wonderful experience. So from that moment on, I had a very different idea about Dumbarton Oaks – not as a place where books were published and a Byzantine library existed, but that it was a broader and more interesting place than I had anticipated. So it was with great hesitation that I applied for the position of assistant curator some twelve or thirteen years later in the mid eighties, thinking that it was too good a place for me, [laughs] I have to admit, and even more surprised when I did get the job.

JC: Could I ask one follow-up question: was Elizabeth Bland still here when you came as assistant curator?

SZ: No. I don’t know exactly when she retired. I think Susan Boyd had become curator in 1978 or ’79, so that was almost a decade before I arrived.

JC: And there was no assistant curator until your –

SZ: There had been. There had been one or two, whose names I saw in the papers, which I can’t recall.

EF: And before you came as assistant curator, you worked on the Corpus of Mosaics in Tunisia? Is that right?

SZ: Yes.

EF: Could you describe what you did on that project?

SZ: That was also an accident. I was just finishing up my master’s degree at New York University, for which I had to write two papers. New York University thought it was old-fashioned to have students write one master’s thesis and become too specialized too soon. So we had to write two papers in two different fields. And one of those fields was the fourth century A.D., and one of the readers of the paper was Irving Lavin, who was a professor at NYU then, before he went to the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton. He was also one of the – what would you call them – directors, as a board of directors, for the Corpus of Ancient Mosaics in Tunisia. And after he read my paper, he asked me if I wanted to go to Tunisia for a semester and, you know, he needed to know right away, because it was beginning and it was clear that he hadn’t found anybody else. And I thought, “Well, am I just a default person?” But it was a very exciting prospect, and I said yes, because I don’t think anyone else was going to invite me to go to Tunisia soon. So I did go and what I did along with another graduate student was to aid and abet Margaret Alexander’s project, which was to publish at various sites in Tunisia the Roman mosaics – Roman and early Byzantine mosaics – not by doing any excavations but by measuring them, trying to reconstruct the houses that they were a part of in discussion with two archaeologists and an architect, who were part of the team. And I went over in February, which was one of those moments that are imprinted on my mind, because as the plane approached North Africa, it was very clear to me that there was a green belt from the Mediterranean inland – I had no idea how deep – and then there was just sand. You know, you could just see the difference and how various parts of North Africa had been the breadbasket of the Roman Empire, which had always been a curiosity in my mind. So between February and April we worked in Tunis, because it was cold and rainy. And one day we woke up and the sun was out; it was bright and warm, and that’s when we moved to a city called El Djem, where there is a big amphitheater. And we worked in various houses in the Roman quarter around the amphitheater, which lasted until June. So that was my experience in the field.

EF: And you mentioned that Margaret Alexander was the co-director of that.

SZ: She was the field director for the project.

EF: And did you have much personal interaction with her, or –?

SZ: Oh, a lot. In fact, when we lived in Tunis we lived all together in the same house, one of these courtyard houses, and so we saw each other every day.

EF: So, I guess you talked about when you first came here, that you had heard about it or sort of had some idea of D.O. Was there a sense of a sort of public knowledge of D.O. or a sort of awareness outside of the Byzantine community at that time at all?

SZ: That I had, or out there?

EF: Did you have a sense that there was a sense of outreach or any general public awareness of the institution?

SZ: Quite the opposite.

EF: Quite the opposite?

SZ: As I met people in Washington, they were all confused, I would say, or basically ignorant in the best sense of the word. They would say. “Oh, do you work in the gardens?” I said, “No. I work in the museum.” And they said, “Oh, Pre-Columbian?” I said, “No, Byzantine.” And they would say, “What’s that?” And to this day a lot of people I meet don’t know what Byzantine means. You know, it’s part of the – I wouldn’t say part of the image of Dumbarton Oaks, but part of the academic background of most people in the United States, that Byzantium is a black hole, you know, that they can’t define in terms of chronology or topography or – and certainly not art historically. So I go into my teacher shtick and, you know, in five minutes give them a lesson about what it is. It’s surprising here, that it happens in Washington, D.C. all the time, because people have heard of Dumbarton Oaks, but they don’t quite know the breadth of its supported academic endeavors. Outside of Washington, one can’t even expect people to know what Dumbarton Oaks is.

EF: But it seems like in recent years there’s been more of an effort to do a little bit more of that sort of outreach or – I don’t know if publicity is the right word, but to raise awareness, maybe. Is that right, at least from a museum or collections standpoint, or is that not –

SZ: What are you referring to?

EF: I’m just curious about the general shift, maybe, to trying to establish itself more as a presence that the public might know a bit more about.

SZ: Well I think there is some effort to do that. Facebook, maybe, is one thing: making the Museum exhibition programs more known to the public and inviting more people into the openings, on a mailing list that we established – we being the Director of the Museum. So, and I think by word of mouth more people are coming in and do know about Dumbarton Oaks. And that’s just a general statement that I can’t back up, but I would think it’s true. But it’s still a relatively small audience.

JC: There’s also a website that’s more recent than not that publishes the collections and makes them broadly accessible to the general public.

SZ: Absolutely true. I don’t know how we can tabulate how many visitors come and look it up before they come to Washington. We hope, you know, that they do.

EF: And then, I guess moving to a more, not necessarily social, but sort of interactions between different areas in D.O., I was curious as to – now that the collections are separated from the Byzantine Studies area and the library – how much interaction there is between those separate areas. Or is it more difficult now that they’re institutionally distinct?

SZ: Well, the character of Dumbarton Oaks certainly changed to a degree with the building of the separate library, which opened in 2005. When everything was in the main building, there was always the possibility, which was inevitable, that you run into the fellows – Junior Fellows, Senior Fellows. You know, our offices, that is the Byzantine Collection offices, were right behind, in the first corridor after the front hall, so, you know, just opening the door over the period of the academic year, you’d become familiar with who was who and say hello and you’d see them again some place else and establish some kind of rapport. Now that all the Fellows are housed in the library, that doesn’t happen. More effort has to be made to keep up with who the Fellows are – unless they’re interested in looking at our objects. And I find that I don’t go to the library as much as I used to because it’s over there, you know, it seems like I have to make a special effort. Or I save things up and do them all at once instead of just wandering down the hall and upstairs or downstairs to the library area that I needed. So, whereas I think the building of the library was a great improvement for the Fellows and for scholarship – because everything is ordered and more easily found and it’s run in such a way that things are – searching for a word here – I guess, more easily found. Before, you had to know if the book you wanted was on the third floor, the stacks, the basement, or in one of the closets. Now, you don’t have to think about that, you know. It’s very easy to find on the shelves, in the basement, or the first floor, third floor. And when I go to the library, I spend far less time searching for books, you know, because they’re easy to find. So I would say that’s an improvement in the professionalism of the physical plan of the library.

EF: And, I guess, on a slightly broader level, have there been many interactions – I guess, when you first came here you weren’t aware that there was a pre-Columbian aspect to Dumbarton Oaks. What’s the cooperation like between – interaction like between the Byzantine Collection, the Pre-Columbian Collection, and the Garden and Landscape area?

SZ: The difference between then and now?

EF: Yeah, that would be great.

SZ: I would say, then there were separate librarians for each of those areas, and there tended to be the different cliques, you know, among the people who were here, although everyone was expected to have lunch together – in fact, in this building, in the room behind us – and to intermingle. I think that was one of the ideals of the Blisses, to bring together scholars from different fields and help each other or discover ways of thinking about different things, you know, from different angles. I think that’s something that’s inevitable, since we all learn how to do our work from traditions in different fields. I don’t know – that’s a question I sort of can’t answer, because I don’t know how they interact in the library, since that’s the place I’m not at. But in the refectory, where they meet, I think there is some, maybe occasional interaction. I myself have benefited from people in the Gardens section and the Pre-Columbian section, when areas of interest or research have overlapped, you know – whether it’s the presentation of status or narrative or the use of certain materials – you can really get the ball rolling in terms of exchanging information. So I’m sure that to some degree that always happened and I’m sure – am I sure? [laughs] Is anybody sure about anything? – that there were always opportunities to share information. Different personalities interact with other personalities in different ways, every year. And I rest [laughs] my argumentation on that.

EF: And how about the relationship, your relationship, with the Director? Maybe, how relations between directors and the Byzantine Collection in an official capacity changed with different directors?

SZ: Mhm. I’ve been here through, let’s see, I guess it’s four different directorships: Robert Thomson was director when I arrived, and then Angeliki Laiou became director; Ned Keenan after her; and now Jan Ziolkowski. The first three of those directors I would say had a laissez-faire attitude toward the Museum and the laissez-faire attitude was that the Museum could keep on going the way it was, that is on its own momentum, with no change encouraged and no change expected. But you also have to understand that there was no unified museum. Each part – Byzantine and Pre-Columbian – had its own curator and its own assistant curator and there was no, as there is now, museum director to bring the sections together. We certainly talked to each other, but the sense of unity as a museum did not exist. And in fact, the term “museum” did not exist. That only happened with, I think, Ned Keenan, if I remember correctly. When he pulled all the three libraries together and put them in a common library building, he thought bringing the curatorial sections together under the leadership of one museum director would change and streamline and encourage the Museum in ways that it hadn’t been able to develop before. So, did that hit the question?

EF: Yeah, that’s good. Maybe now we could get into talking about the acquisition process and the curatorial committee and what the process is in terms of hearing about and locating a potential object and vetting it.

SZ: Dumbarton Oaks doesn’t collect very many things anymore and I think there is a total moratorium on pre-Columbian objects, because of the evidence that anything that’s pre-Columbian comes from Central or South America and no objects are legally exported from those places anymore, so acquisitions therefore are limited to things that have been in private collections, which is much the case with the Byzantine Collection. When I first arrived, in the late 1980s, there were a number of art dealers who would send photographs or make telephone calls to our department and ask if we were interested in things. And sometimes we were and sometimes we weren’t, but that was just the time – the late eighties, early nineties – when museums in the United States were becoming more interested, if not acutely interested, in provenance: where did an object come from and was it exported legally from the country it purportedly came from? Or, if it had been in private hands since at least the early seventies, which was the time of the UNESCO convention, which set forth that no objects of importance to a country’s history, i.e. its patrimony, could be exported. So objects needed to be vetted in terms of their location in time and their ownership in time, which further minimized the ability to acquire things. Now, that vetting process, which fell on my shoulders or the shoulders of the curator of the collection at that time, Susan Boyd, was to hit the books and see if, let’s say, what a dealer was saying could be corroborated. Or we would make an appeal to one of the lawyers at Harvard University to see if the information was credible enough to go forward in a purchase. The purchasing process was fairly straightforward. A document had to be written, itemizing the importance of the object to the collection, its background, its provenance as far as we knew, and consideration that its value, i.e. its money value that was on it, was within the realm of, uh, realm of...

JC: Reason?

SZ: Reason, thank you. Reason, considering what the market was, because there were things that we were offered at stupendous prices, which, if the dealer wasn’t willing to move, we said, “Well, it’s just, you know, out of our means.” It just didn’t fit in with what we thought such an object should be valued at or sold for. So, the last two items we have bought that I can remember: one was 1999; it was at an auction in London, but the objects had been in a private collection since the early twentieth century, so we knew that they had been out of their country of origin for close to 100 years. And they were being sold in public, and there was nothing shady about it. And the second object was in 2009. It was a manuscript also sold in London at an auction. And its pedigree went back to the early nineteenth century, so it was a wonderful opportunity to get something, whose collecting history was of interest besides the manuscript itself.

EF: And what was the object in 1999 from London?

SZ: A pair of kolty. Do you know what kolty are?

EF: I do not.

SZ: No, I didn’t think so. They look like large earrings, but they were probably hung on chains. Some people call them temple pendants, but that sounds like they were part of a 1930s movie, you know. Temple being the side of the face, rather than, you know, some smoky place in the jungle. They derive mostly from, from what we can tell, Kievan Rus, where present-day Kiev is in the Ukraine. Some were probably made in Constantinople. And they were large enough to be hollow on the inside and it’s thought – but there’s very little proof – that perfumed cotton or cloth would be put inside, so that when people – and men have been buried with these kolty, so we know that men as well as women wore them – they would perfume the air. And they were – all the ones we know of – were made of gold and enamel, so they’re very luxurious pieces.

JC: You might want to mention, if I remember correctly, that when you went to London it was actually to look at a different object. Is that correct?

SZ: [Shakes head: “no”.]

JC: No?

SZ: No. Because they were being auctioned in London, it’s very unsettling to bid on anything that nobody has seen, that nobody at least at Dumbarton Oaks has seen. So I happened to be going on vacation to Scotland that year in July. And so I stopped off in London, as part of my portfolio, to go to Sotheby’s to look at these kolty and see if they measured up to what the picture said and what the documentation said. And I phoned – I phoned from a phone booth, I think, at the airport – it was really great, you know; that was the movie part of it – and said, “Yes, yes, yes, they are really terrific, they’re in good condition, and I think we should bid on them.” And then somebody else did that. I went off to Scotland and, even though it was July, froze through my vacation. It was so cold. But that’s another story.

EF: And, so who has the final stamp of approval on a purchase? Is that the Director?

SZ: I think, yes, the Director. It has to be approved by the Director and he – and in one case she – does get the approval of the – I don’t know what it’s called – the Trustees for Harvard University, the entity that oversees Dumbarton Oaks. That’s usually a nod. I mean, if we’ve argued very strongly for the purchase of the objects and everything seems right and appropriate and the Director approves, then the Trustees will also go along with it.

EF: And, I guess, related to acquisitions would be loans. So, if you wouldn’t mind talking a little bit about the process of deciding whether to loan an object for an exhibition elsewhere, what you look for in an exhibition, or how you evaluate applications for that?

SZ: Up to a certain point in its history, Dumbarton Oaks didn’t lend very much, because it didn’t want to create gaps in the presentation to the public. But that changed in 1977, a banner year, because it was the year of an exhibition entitled “Age of Spirituality,” which was curated by Kurt Weitzmann, a very well known Byzantinist at Princeton. And he had been for thirty-five or forty years a consultant to the Blisses for purchases, especially ivories, which was one of his many specialties. And he requested, I think, about twelve items for the exhibition in New York, at the Metropolitan Museum. And I think they were all approved because this was a special situation. And that was a watershed moment, because after that other museums realized that Dumbarton Oaks does, in fact, lend to exhibitions, and we started receiving many requests – so many that just at about the time I came to Dumbarton Oaks, which was 1986, the curator of the Pre-Columbian department, Elizabeth Boone, suggested that we have a list of priorities against which we measure the value of lending an object to an exhibition. So – does it make sense? I think you mentioned something like that. You know, is it in good condition? Has it been out of the collection recently? You know, so that the same thing doesn’t go out over and over again. Is there – one of the things that was always a kind of trick question is: is there anything else that the borrower might borrow from another collection that would do just as well? So it would get us out of the embarrassment of having to say no, if we felt like saying no, and we’d send them off to another museum. So, gradually the number of loans became a steady, small trickle of objects, which I would say has increased to a great extent with our becoming a museum, first of all, in 2004 or 2005, just after our present Museum Director, Gudrun Bühl, came to Dumbarton Oaks. She came from Germany, so she had a strong European background and many European contacts, and I think for that reason many European museums then applied for loans to us, because they knew her and they knew Dumbarton Oaks’ reputation and they knew that we were lending. So one thing led to another and we now have a stronger loan program than we ever had before. James can attest to the mileage he is racking up, because one of the rules, I would say, that most museums have – it’s not just Dumbarton Oaks – is that when objects are sent they’re accompanied by a staff member from, you know, door to door and usually door to door and then the door of the case in which the object is being displayed, just to oversee its physical well-being. So curators have travelled frequently to take care, I would say, take care of the objects.

EF: I think I saw some correspondence from the nineties sort of debating whether to send a courier business class or first class with the object. It’s funny to think of the physical transport.

SZ: Right. I hope it came down to business class. [Laughter.]

EF: It was determined, yeah.

SZ: It usually does. If you have the object with you, it’s business class. If you’re not traveling with an object, it’s economy.

EF: And is it also right that, when thinking about lending an object, you look at the exhibition and whether it is a more scholarly –

SZ: Yes. There has to be a justification for the request, not just a, you know, “Great Works of Art of the Twelfth Century” – I don’t think we’ve ever lent to anything like that – but there’s an intellectual substance to the exhibition. Usually there’s a catalogue being published, so that the object is illustrated and written about. And in that way, too, not only is the world informed of more of Dumbarton Oaks as a lender, but as a place.  You know, they may be curious when they see the source and say – you know, because the words Dumbarton Oaks don’t reveal a place or a type of institution – and maybe they’ll just turn the page, but some people will inevitably maybe go to the website.

EF: And when you loan something, is it someone here who has the right to write the entry or description of the object?

SZ: Usually, usually. It’s not been the case 100% of the time. But we can insist on that, if we want to. But it’s not by any means a flat-out requirement.

GS: And in talking about conservation, we just wanted to know: what has been D.O.’s involvement in conservation projects, particularly its own collection? And also, we heard a bit about your involvement with the mosaic conservation that I believe is now in the library. Could you talk a bit about the history of the conservation of those mosaics and what led to their new place now?

SZ: Well, first, because we’re such a small institution and certainly a small museum within a small institution, we have no conservation studio. The only technical support the Dumbarton Oaks Museum has is a full-time photographer. So when anything needs conservation – because it’s weakened, it needs help to be stuck back together, or cleaning or any of the numerable things that objects require – we hire people to come here and address those issues or in less frequent cases, but it has happened, we send objects to the conservation studio where the conservator clearly has all the tools that he or she needs to do the work. One of my least favorite questions that I get from people after they ask me what I do and I say, “I’m a curator at Dumbarton Oaks” – and “What’s Dumbarton Oaks?” of course – and then they say, “Curator? What does a curator do?” They just have no idea. Basically, they think you sit back and look at objects all day and say how beautiful they are and be satisfied. But objects – bronzes are subject to bronze disease, objects that have been treated in the past need to be retreated or have their treatment updated because of new materials, which are better. And the mosaics, which you referred to, are the mosaics that came to Dumbarton Oaks as the quid pro quo of the Blisses’ contribution to the excavations of ancient Antioch. Now that took place in the 1930s, and Mr. and Mrs. Bliss, since this is before the institution of Dumbarton Oaks existed, contributed to the excavations, because it was known that the excavators were uncovering mosaics from homes and villas and more eccentrically placed buildings like, probably, farm villas, in very large numbers. And because they were thinking about establishing a research institution and their interest in Byzantium had been set, they thought it would be advantageous to have some early Byzantine mosaics. So they joined the Committee for the Excavation of Antioch and its Vicinity, which was the technical name in 1936, I believe, ’37 at the latest. It lasted until 1939, so over two or three years they received in return for the money that they gave, I would say, about a dozen mosaics that were lifted and sent across by sea to the United States, as well as pieces of sculpture, pieces of jewelry, glass and silverware. At the time of the opening of Dumbarton Oaks in 1940, there were three of the dozen or so mosaics that they had received embedded in the floor. And they still are: the front hall, which you’re, I hope, very familiar with; the hunt mosaic, which is in what we now call the textile gallery, right off the courtyard, and the mosaic that’s in the middle of the courtyard, the fishing mosaic, which has been moved from its original location, but it was already on the floor. But there was a stack – literally a stack – of other mosaics that were in crates out here in the parking lot with a little shed built around them for protection, which gradually got restored, cleaned, and distributed in different places. The first time more mosaics were added to the public display in the museum was in 1989, when what I’ve just referred to, the courtyard, was built. Because, before then that was an open-to-the-air courtyard and although a very, very large mosaic had been displayed out there underwater, once the courtyard was built, there was no room for that large mosaic and it had been cut up and put in storage. But smaller mosaics could be displayed on the walls of the front hall and the courtyard. And when it came time to build the library, lo and behold, there were more mosaics, which were included in the design of the library. That is, the wall where the three large mosaics hang was designed to support the mosaics. It was not accidental that they wound up there. So we were very lucky to have had those on hand. But there were also some that we knew we could never display – unless we build another building, which isn’t very likely at this moment. And so we sold them, which was very unusual, you know, for a museum to de-accession things. But it was already written into the – I wouldn’t say rules – but into the discussion of the committee of the Antioch excavations, that if any institution that received mosaics or anything wanted to de-accession them, they had to go to another public institution. In other words, not a private collection, you know, so that they always remained accessible to scholars or to other people who might want to study them. So the very large mosaic that we had in the open courtyard was sold to Harvard Business School, which we like to think of as a sister-institution.

EF: And that’s the Tethys mosaic? Is that right?

SZ: Mhm, because the building, which I have to say I’ve never seen, has a big atrium. And they decided to – once they learned about the mosaic they designed the atrium to hold the mosaic. And the other set of panels – three panels that belong together – were sold to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, which they have put on display.

GS: You mentioned this already a little bit, but we’d like to know a little bit about the two changes that happened to the galleries and exhibitions while you have been here – the two major re-designs in the late eighties, as you mentioned, and then again in 2008. So could you talk a bit about those re-designs and maybe what changes were implemented and what changes there were between the two processes?

SZ: Where to begin... The first change came as a bit of a surprise. It was when Robert Thomson was director. He realized that the library had grown, or outgrown its then scattered placement in the main building and he wanted to have a new, underground addition made to the building underneath the music room. But in order to get to the Music Room, which is over here [demonstrating with hands], they realized – they the architects realized that you had to excavate into the open courtyard here and then dig laterally, because you couldn’t disassemble the Music Room in any way. So that’s why the mosaic that was in the courtyard had to be lifted in order to excavate underneath it and get to the basement level below the Music Room. And at the same time this basement level was going to be developed into new office space, because everything was getting tighter and tighter, and I say it came as a surprise because I think the announcement was just made to us one day without any preparation. And Susan Boyd and I were more than surprised, you know, by the prospect of what it all meant. Not only did the mosaic have to be lifted – and who knew how to lift a mosaic? You know, just start at zero – and what it meant for the collection, since it was right next-door to the construction area. And ultimately, after shopping around, we hired a team from England to cut up the mosaic, crate it, and lift it out. And I think we put as much, if not everything in storage from the Museum that was on display, but within the building. We didn’t send anything out. All the cases were left in the Byzantine gallery, but they were protected. I think we put wood underneath all of them and blanketed all of them, you know, against the impact and vibration that the excavations were going to cause. And it was a – I don’t remember exactly when it started; you know, that’s a little vague in my memory, but it was 1987, there’s no doubt. You know, the month is a little inaccessible, but we reopened in October of 1989, that’s very clear, with a brand new gallery, because what had been an open courtyard became an enclosed courtyard with a skylight and we had new cases and casework built, which had to be designed with the help of a designer we hired from New York and the collection was redistributed. There were things that were taken out of the former gallery and put in the courtyard, things that were in storage put in the gallery, and it was a very intense period of working with the objects, you know, which was good, but very demanding in terms of how to redistribute them. And maybe you’ve heard of curators talking about the narratives in the gallery, but how do cases come together? What belongs together? Rewriting all the labels, what do we want the public to know about Byzantium, or late antiquity or pre-late antiquity, whatever that is? And so it was more than full-time work for the two of us, because at that time there was just the two of us. It was also very exciting, because it meant more works of art could be put on display. You know, we had a lot more space. Things were moved around, which helped us create what we thought were better groupings of objects, you know, that spoke to each other and allowed us to say things about the Byzantine Empire and about how –

JC: May I interrupt you to ask: was the under-the-basement-level sculpture gallery still in existence when you came?

SZ: No, no. That had already been turned into the pre-Columbian compact stacks and I don’t know when that was done. So, when we finished, October ’89, we said, “Thank God it’s done. We’ll never have to do anything like this again.” [Laughs.] Well, little did we know that fifteen years later the director at that time, Ned Keenan, had a grand plan to expand, out of necessity, the footprint of Dumbarton Oaks, which included not only making an independent library building, but renovating and refurbishing the main building. I would say it all started – and this is somewhat of an overstatement – it all started when there was some consideration being given to how to make the old building ADA accessible, because if you count the little flights of steps you have to walk through to get through Dumbarton Oaks from front to back, that is from West to East, or to visit the collections, you realize that a person with any physical disability, you know, would have a hard time. And I guess the dictum came down from on high – Harvard – that all its buildings had to be made accessible, so there were some – not experiments – but some thoughts given to adjusting the building with a ramp here, a little elevator here, you know, no big change. Well, one thing led to another – I mean, literally – and James was there at the time and probably could tell you more. The decision was made that the library should be an independent entity to create a unified place, you know, under a head librarian. And the first idea was to build it beneath the north vista in the gardens. And that created an international uproar, because nobody believed the architect or, unfortunately, Ned Keenan that it would not change the gardens at all. If you had to excavate the gardens and build something underneath it and create air shafts and light wells and air-conditioning vents, it was going to change the garden in some ways – some people thought minimally, others maximally, and finally that idea was scuttled and this idea was developed. So when it came to our turn to renovate the old building, it meant evacuating the whole building. That meant packing up and shipping out everything. It had to be an empty shell in order for the work to be done. So we spent a long time – again, you know, this is where my memory fails me because I’m repressing it – nine months, maybe a year and two months, it could be a year and a half. We had to hire a staff of packers and someone to oversee the packing project to help us and a special registrar, since we didn’t have one, to pack up everything and to locate storage areas around Washington to place everything that we had and to track everything, so that we would know where everything was if we needed, under any circumstances, to locate it – where things were. And I think we were out of the building from 2005, which is when the library opened, to – we re-opened to the public in April 2008.

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