Craigen Weston Bowen: A woman I wish I had known

11 03 2008
This is gonna be a long one, folks. Feel free to skip around. See what having a cold can do? All kinds of time to blog.
     Anne Driesse, Conservator of Works of Art on Paper at the Straus Center for Conservation posted a eulogy to the DistList for Craigen Weston Bowen, which I have included at the end of this post, in full. I hope you read it, even if, like me, you never met her. It is inspiring me, and making me think, on many different levels. She seems to have been an amazing woman.
     The residue of having been a family therapist in my prior career results in believing in the importance of history and legacy to any system, and in seeing any system through the lens of family. I am reminded that there are so many stories to be told of the development of this field that I don’t know. The family of conservation is big enough now that oral history isn’t transmitted to all of us, but is instead kept within the bounds of direct contact and smaller groups such as training programs or regional centers.
     I know that that there are efforts to document our history. For example, Joyce Hill Stoner has pioneered the oral history project for FAIC. I do not know where these histories are stored, and cannot find a reference to them on the FAIC website, nor on the Winterthur program website, but I know they exist. In the same vein, I cannot locate a web reference to the Winterthur collection of conservator’s archives, despite recalling references to it on the Distlist and other places.
     Now, I know – who has time, anyways, to read about other people’s lives when our own are so busy? I agree. I’m not sure how much time I would spend listening to the oral histories if they were available online. I might though, when prompted by a eulogy such as this one – a description of a woman who seems to have lived every minute of her life as fully as possible. I wouldn’t mind hearing her voice describing her contribution to the field. I will probably spent some time reading what she’s written.
     On a more personal level, her eulogy has caught me at a time of transition, and it strikes home. She was a climber. When I left Colorado to go to grad school, I was a climber. Over the course of the past seven years, I have climbed only a bit. I was too busy, too absorbed in my relationship, my education, my work. It is something I severely missed. I told myself I shouldn’t climb because I would destroy the sensitivity in my fingertips and wouldn’t be able to feel my way through my work. Reading about Ms. Bowen’s life, I am prompted to see through some of my excuses as bullshit – look what she managed to accomplish. She inspires me. Now that I’m back in Colorado, a place I longed for, and working at a place dedicated to mountains, for pete’s sake – how can I not climb? How can I not be grateful for the opportunity to do something I love?
     We don’t know how much time is left to any of us. Savor it.
     Craigen Weston Bowen, Deputy Director of the Straus Center for
Conservation at Harvard University’s Fogg Art Museum and an
accomplished rock climber and gardener, died at her home in
Lexington, MA, on March 1, 2008, sixteen months after being
diagnosed with cancer. She was 54.
She was born Ruth Craigen Weston on November 10, 1953, the daughter
of Frederick W. Weston Jr. and the late Ruth L. Weston, and spent
her childhood in West Long Branch, NJ, and Rome, ME. At Smith
College, she double-majored in Art and Astronomy, with a minor in
Physics, and developed into a talented lithographer. After
graduating in 1975, she began a three-year apprenticeship in the
conservation laboratory at the Fogg under Marjorie B. Cohn,
specializing in the conservation of works of art on paper. She later
collaborated with Ms. Cohn on scholarly projects. In 1978, Craigen
moved to the Williamstown Regional Conservation Laboratory at the
Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, MA, where
she founded the paper conservation laboratory. In 1980, she returned
to the Fogg. That same year, she married Mark S. Bowen, whose family
owns a home on the same lake in Maine as hers.

Craigen was the recipient of an Indo-U.S. Sub-commission grant to
travel to Kota, India, in 1987, and made several subsequent trips
there to treat and study the royal collections of H.H. Maharao
Brijraj Singh in the Rao Madho Singh Trust Museum. In 1994, the
Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning at Harvard awarded her
the Certificate of Distinction in Teaching. This month, she was
awarded the prestigious Sheldon and Caroline Keck Award by the
American Institute for Conservation, which recognizes a sustained
record of excellence in the education and training of conservation
professionals. At the time of her death, in addition to her role as
Deputy Director of the laboratory, Craigen held an endowed position
as Philip and Lynn Straus Conservator of Works of Art on Paper at
the Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies. The
Craigen W. Bowen Fellowship was established in her honor in 2007, to
fund the further training of young conservation and curatorial
professionals who specialize in works on paper.

Craigen was a well-known and avid rock climber and mountaineer.
During her Harvard apprenticeship, she took the spring rock climbing
program offered by the Appalachian Mountain Club, cutting her teeth
at small crags around Boston, such as the Quincy Quarries,
Rattlesnake Rocks, and Crow Hill. She became known for her fierce
determination and masterful technique, especially with her feet. At
that time women usually played a secondary role to men in the ascent
of difficult climbs, and there were few all-women teams. She was
among a handful of women who broke that mold. In Yankee Rock and Ice
by Laura and Guy Waterman, the definitive history of climbing in the
northeast, she and her dear friend Beverly Boynton are cited for
climbing difficult routes “with authority and style.” (These words
might describe Craigen’s approach to all her endeavors.) Over the
course of nearly 30 years, she climbed extensively in North America
and Mexico with a core group of friends and made lasting connections
with many others. She enjoyed all aspects of the sport: the
climbing, the relaxed days between, sitting in the sun, cooking
great meals, sharing “war stories” with friends, and even the dark
nights huddled in the rain on cold mountaintops or spectacularly
high cliffs. She was most proud of her ascents in the Bugaboo group
in British Columbia, Wyoming’s Wind River Range, and, shortly before
her 40th birthday, the multi-day, 3000-foot Salathe Wall, on
Yosemite Valley’s El Capitan, which has been called the most
beautiful climb in the world.

Among her many interests and talents, Craigen was an imaginative
cook, expert skier and waterskier, prolific knitter, and implacable
organizer and taskmaster. She took great pleasure in gardening,
reading, and, later in life, learning to play the piano. Her
children, nieces, and nephews fondly remember many summers in Maine
under her tutelage, hauling brush, moving rocks (some more than
once), having the climbers up for weekends, laughing, and playing
cards.

Craigen is survived by her children, Andrew and Anna Bowen, of
Lexington and Arlington; her partner, James W. Evans, of Watertown,
MA; her father, Frederick W. Weston Jr., of Belgrade Lakes, ME; her
sister, Martha Weston Feldmann, and her children, Hillary and
Jeffrey Feldmann, of East Greenwich, RI; her brother, Frederick W.
Weston III, his wife, Karen Lindstadt Weston, and their children,
Rachel and Paul Weston, of Waterbury, VT; dear friend and cousin,
Hillary Schultz and her husband Peter, of Rome, ME; friend and
former husband, Mark S. Bowen, of Arlington, MA; and legions of
devoted cousins, colleagues, and friends.

A memorial service will be held at 3 pm on March 22, 2008, in the
Calderwood Courtyard at the Fogg Art Museum on the campus of Harvard
University. In lieu of flowers, donations in Craigen’s name may be
made to: The Belgrade Regional Conservation Alliance, PO Box 250,
Belgrade Lakes, ME 04918; Harvard University Art Museums, 32 Quincy
St., Cambridge, MA (for the study centers at 32 Quincy St.); or the
Landscape Committee, PTSA, Lexington High School, 251 Waltham St.,
Lexington, MA 02421.

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5 responses

11 03 2008
Joyce Hill Stoner

THE ORAL HISTORY PROJECT OF THE
FOUNDATION OF THE AMERICAN INSTITUTE FOR CONSERVATION
Housed at the Winterthur Museum, Library, and Archives

In 1974 Rutherford John Gettens, one of America’s pioneer conservators who worked at the original technical laboratory of the Fogg Art Museum, spoke at the American Institute for Conservation meetings in Cooperstown, New York: “To come to the point quickly, I think we should begin to think about collecting material for a history of the conservation of cultural property.” He went on to remark: “Knowledge of the beginnings and growth of our profession is a necessary background for training programs in art conservation. . . .We wouldn’t really be a profession without a stepwise history of growth.” Gettens emphasized the necessity of recording personal recollections, anecdotes, and informal doings that would tie together “serious events.” After the meeting, he went to his summer home and began to make handwritten notes about his early experiences at the Fogg, but ten days later he died.
To continue Gettens’s proposal, his wife and several other conservators met in March 1975 and discussed the possibility of beginning an oral history project and establishing an archive to safeguard early records associated with the conservation profession. Six months later, in September, the board of directors of the Foundation of the American Institute for Conservation (FAIC) approved the project under the leadership of Joyce Hill Stoner, and in 1976 Winterthur Museum consented to informally house the oral histories and archives. In 2004, the files were officially transferred to the Winterthur Archives for professional management, with some support funding provided by Debra Hess Norris, Director of the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation.
Over the years more than 90 conservators and students have assisted with conducting interviews on a volunteer basis, and the FAIC/AIC office in Washington, DC, has provided funds for transcriptions. With more than 190 transcripts on file, most with signed releases and open to researchers, recent users have investigated the history of preventive conservation, conservation in New York City, conservation at the Fogg Art Museum, and the history of textile conservation. A database has been created, recording the names of people who have been interviewed and who need to be interviewed, their conservation specialties, life dates, publications, and other information; it will eventually be made available on the AIC’s web site. As the file of interviews grows, collaboration for international collection is in progress with the International Institute for Conservation (IIC) and the Working Group on History of the International Council of Museums Committee for Conservation (ICOM-CC).

NOTE: When quoting material from the file please reference “FAIC Oral History File housed at the Winterthur Museum, Library, and Archives.”
For information on the file, contact Joyce Hill Stoner, jhstoner@udel.edu

17 03 2008
Marshall T. Spriggs

Beth,

It is your loss that you didn’t know Craigen, but you did get the main message. She was climbing inside up until the last month of her life and I never saw a bigger smile on her face when she told me that she was doing this. She was inspirational, now it’s up to you and me.

Best,

MTS

27 06 2008
Kevin Shea

Hi Beth

I am a Boston friend of Craigen’s and climbed with her since the mid -70’s. Yuh, we are old (LOL), but out minds are still young.

She was as dedicated to climbing as she was to her profession, and did both quite well. In all my years with her, I don’t think I ever heard her say anything or mention a need to keep her hands/fingers “sensitive”. Not only did Craigen climb, she was constantly digging in her garden without gloves, moving rocks, painting, etc. She wasn’t going to let anything stand in her way of doing what she wanted to!

She was a bit upset once when she dropped a scalpel that she was using to scrape of the back of some piece. It landed in her foot. She was so POed because she couldn’t climb for a couple of weeks. She maintained a good balance.

Craigen climbed in Colorado, in an around Boulder and at Rocky Mountain Nat’l Park. I think she did Spearhead and Pingora (in the rain) there. She also made it a point every year, for many years, to be the first person to introduce new climbers to the sport through a very inspirational slideshow.

Yup, Craigen was special to all of us. It would be good to have a few more like her in this world.

Good luck with you refocused climbing career…

Kevin Shea

8 08 2008
Rick Weston

Beth, apt here are Sebastian’s words about his sister, when he thought her dead: “She bore a mind that envy could not but call fair.”

RW

8 08 2008
bethhellerconservation

Rick, thank you for your words. I am sorry for your loss.

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