Volume 13, Number 2, May 1991, p.4, photograph
We join together to say a final farewell to our friend, teacher and colleague Pat Reeves, who died on December 26, 1990 in Los Angeles. It is at best a difficult task because we have so much to thank Pat for. She taught her students about conservation techniques, of course, but also about opera, Impressionist painting, politics--in short, about life.
Shortly before her retirement from the Textile Conservation Department at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Pat's contributions to the field were celebrated with a one-day symposium in her honor, held on February 1, 1986. More than 250 people, including colleagues and friends from her 30-year career, participated in a day of professional papers reflecting her interests and involvement in conservation. As Pieter Meyers writes in his introduction to the symposium's collected papers, "Pat's capability of enjoying, understanding and respecting a work of art, yet not be intimidated by it, is extraordinary."
To know Pat Reeves was truly an exceptional experience. As anyone who became her friend soon found out, she had the startling capacity for leaping headlong into challenging plans, ideas and activities. At the same time, she could be maddeningly rigid in her routines: an inveterate and unapologetic smoker, Pat had an inviolate place for each and every ashtray in her apartment. It was this idiosyncratic combination of attributes that many of us loved her for and will always think of with a smile.
Pat Reeves, 1970, working on a costume from Diaghilev's ballet, "Le Coq d'Or"
Photo by John S. Gebbart, LACMA
Although Pat spent the later years of her life in Los Angeles, she remained a New Yorker at heart--which contributed to the elegant elan that was Pat Reeves as she moved through her professional and social life. Her career included a long training period in New York doing private work with Kathryn O. Scott, first as a volunteer and then as Ms. Scott's assistant in the formative years of the profession. Together, these two women helped to pioneer the American frontier of textile conservation.
In 1968, Pat was the first professional conservator invited to join the staff at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art by Conservation Center head Benjamin B. Johnson. The laboratory was in its infancy, and she often fondly recalled the only piece of "lab equipment" to be seen upon her arrival--an antiquated roll- top desk. Fernande Jones, a member of the Costume Council, became her assistant, and together they trained more than twenty-five apprentices, most of whom are active in the field today. Among Pat's pedagogical gifts was an uncanny ability to discern the special capacities and talents of each of her students.
Her devotion to Peruvian textiles led to her first trip to Lima in 1974. As Pat told it, she approached the Museo Nacional de Antropologia e Arqueologia del Peru like "a Muslim going to Mecca." Once there, she taught an impromptu textile conservation course, demonstrating wet cleaning techniques with the only available water coming from an outdoor hose. Two years later, she received a Fulbright fellowship and returned to Peru to establish a textile conservation department in the museum. Her efforts and talent for fundraising resulted in the construction of a new building, which included temperature and humidity control and metal storage units. The National Museum in Colombia also benefited from Pat's professional support and generosity.
The next decade brought the opportunity for Pat to tour major conservation centers in Eastern Europe to exchange views, practices and techniques in textile conservation. Sponsored by the NEA, this was the first such journey ever made by an American conservator.
Determined to see textile conservation become a vital part of museum practice, Pat lectured widely and held training sessions both for individuals and for volunteer groups, some of which are still active. Throughout her career, Pat published and lectured extensively, sharing methods and materials that she thought might benefit other conservators. She made many contributions to scholarly works on Precolumbian textiles. Her personal art and textile conservation library--and her collection of fiction, including many first editions--reflect her undying respect for the written word.
From Bucharest to Bogota, from New York to Dallas, Denver and Los Angeles, she shared with all of us her spirit and professional experience. We cherish the memories of Pat Reeves in our work and in our personal lives.Sharon Gordon Donnan