WAACNewsletter
Volume 9, Number 2, May 1987, pp.7-9

Profile: Thompson Conservation Associates--An Interview with Tatyana Thompson

Caroline Black Blydenburgh, interviewer
HAS AN INTEREST IN THE ARTS RUN IN YOUR FAMILY?

Since many members of my family have an interest in art, I've been exposed to it most of my life. Both of my grandmothers were involved with the arts. My paternal grandmother was an artist herself and my maternal grandmother had a gallery in her own name, the Vera Luzak Gallery located in Cold Spring Harbor on Long Island. She dealt primarily with contemporary French painters who painted in a realistic or impressionistic style. Georges Grosz was, probably, the best known artist that she handled. She was born in Russia, but her family left during the Revolution and she grew up in France. She had been a textile designer in Europe before and during World War II. I remember, as a child, going to visit my grandparents at their big house which contained a gallery on the bottom floor. Vera's husband, my step- grandfather, was a framemaker who made beautiful hand carved frames, one of the last people doing this is in the New York area.

My mother, Eugenie Osmun, was associated, during the late 1950's through the 1960's, with a Los Angeles art gallery called the Dwan Gallery. At that time it was considered to be a very contemporary, avant-garde gallery. It handled a quite impressive group of artists such as Keinholz, Arman, Larry Rivers, Yves Klein and others. After leaving the gallery, she opened her own fine art shipping business now called Fine Arts Shipping.

My step-father, William Osmun, has also had a career in the arts. He was the senior curator for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art during its early years. His area of specialization was Decorative Arts. He has also worked at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in the decorative arts department. Although he's now semi-retired, he has managed to maintain an association with museums by running a traveling exhibition service that books exhibitions at small museums around the world.

WHEN DID YOU DECIDE ON A CAREER IN THE ARTS?

As I've mentioned, I've been around the arts all of my life. It's hard to remember not being near a gallery, studio or museum. Before LACMA opened, my step-father took me to see the costumes and paintings that were in storage. As a teenager, this was all very thrilling. But my study in the arts began at UCLA in 1972 where I had been an art student and then later on an art history major. At that time I was also working at Sotheby's so I scheduled my classes in the morning to be able to spend my afternoons there. I also occasionally worked at their evening sales. Two of my friends, Linda Shaffer and Victoria Blyth Hill were already conservators and drew my interest to the profession, so I volunteered for a time in the antiquities department at the J. Paul Getty Museum under David Rinne. It was at that time that I decided that I wanted to work in conservation.

After receiving my degree from UCLA, I took a course of study in conservation at the University of Paris 1 which operates under the umbrella of the Sorbonne. Gilbert Delcroix, who ran the program, has since opened an institute for conservation with much emphasis on scientific analysis. On a summer visit to Los Angeles in 1976, I interned with Ben Johnson at LACMA. Ben was responsible for many people becoming interested in conservation and helping them to pursue a career in the field of conservation. It was Ben who later made it possible for me to train for a two year period in paintings conservation at the Rijksmuseum in Holland under Mr. Luitsen Kruiper. This was a wonderful experience and where my love for 17th century Dutch painting began. I stayed in Holland for one more year, after the Rijksmuseum, to intern in the Dienst Verspreide Rikscollectie which is now part of the Mauritshuis. These two collections have joined and have recently opened a common conservation lab. The Dienst Has a fine collection of 17th century Dutch painting as well as some 18th and 19th century Dutch paintings. I returned to Los Angeles late in 1979.

DID YOU SET UP YOUR OWN STUDIO WHEN YOU RETURNED TO L. A.?

Upon returning from Holland, I first worked primarily for private conservators in Los Angeles and then for Ben Johnson who, by that time, had left LACMA where he had been head of conservation for many years. I gradually started to do conservation work in my own studio. This was a slow transition as I was building up an inventory of equipment and a client base. In 1982 I worked at LACMA on a contractual basis when they were opening the Hammer wing, and it was at the completion of this project that I ventured forth completely on my own. My first studio was my apartment but, as my client base expanded, I realized that I would need more space. I had one associate, Mary Hough, and Chris Stavroudis joined the studio in 1985 so that it was becoming very crowded. At the end of 1985, I found a new studio space of approximately 1,500 feet.

DID YOU HAVE TO DO MUCH WORK TO PREPARE THE NEW STUDIO SPACE?

At the time I didn't think that there was much preparation work, but as it turned out there was quite a bit. We had to paint the front of the building, put in new doors and install a complete fire and burglar alarm system as well as grilles and blinds on the windows. Fortunately, the wooden floors were in very good condition. The studio is on the ground level with 15 foot ceilings, so, I was able to move in an 8' X 12' hot table even though we had to temporarily dismantle the front door and window. There was a lot of electrical work that had to be done for the vacuum hot table and, of course, storage bins had to be built.

WHAT KINDS OF PROJECTS DOES THE STUDIO ACCEPT?

The studio currently employs two associates, Chris Stavroudis and Mary Hough, both of whom are painting conservators, and a secretary/bookkeeper. As I have become more established through the years and, with the flourishing art scene in Los Angeles, my client base has grown, demanding still another associate conservator who I'm hoping to hire soon. Having an experienced staff allows me to accept larger, more time consuming projects. In addition to my in-studio work, I have an on-going relationship with several museums and universities in the Southern California area that to not have their own conservators on staff. Recently I have been consulting in collaboration with Ros Westmoreland at the Los Angeles Central Library on the conservation and preservation of the murals and ceilings that were damaged in their recent fire. I was only able to consider taking on this project, which would be a full-time job for one person, because Ros agreed to do it with me and I have the staff to back me up.

DO YOU, CHRIS OR MARY HAVE PARTICULAR AREAS OF EXPERTISE?

Obviously my first love and greatest area of expertise is in the 17th century Dutch and Flemish painting. Fortunately, a few of my clients do collect in that area. While in Los Angeles I have also become familiar with the problems of 19th century and modern paintings as they represent a good deal of the art that is collected by many of my clients. Chris has a strong science background and is accomplished in all types of structural work. He trained at Winterthur followed by an internship and part of a Mellon Fellowship at LACMA. He is also our resident computer expert. Mary, having apprenticed and worked with Denise Domergue since 1981, has much experience with all aspects of contemporary painting conservation. This balance of skills has worked very well for us, complementing one another.

YOUR SON, ALEXANDER, IS NOW ALMOST TWO YEARS OLD. DID YOU HAVE TO ALTER YOUR CAREER IN PREPARATION FOR HIS ARRIVAL?

During my pregnancy I removed all very toxic solvents from the studio and took them to LACMA where they kindly kept them in storage for me temporarily. With other materials, I wore gloves and a mask and I created as much ventilation as I could. I worked until the day before Alexander was born and, thanks to Chris who kept the studio running in my absence, I was able to be at home for four months afterwards. I then started back on a regular part-time basis accompanied by Alexander and a babysitter. This arrangement worked as long as we were at the old studio where he could be separated from the work activity. Now he stays at home but the new studio is only four minutes away so I can go home for lunch when I want to. I work an almost full-time schedule now taking an occasional afternoon to spend with him.

Interview conducted by Caroline Black Blydenburgh,
Newsletter Co-Editor

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