Introducing Visiting Scholar Éléonore Kissel

There is a certain joie de vivre evident as Éléonore Kissel makes her way from library to library on the UCLA campus. The UCLA/Getty Visiting Scholar from Paris is reveling in the freedom to read, listen, and do research which her six months on campus are providing while she studies conservation techniques and treatments. 

Kissel is doing her research as part of her job in Paris, where she has been head of conservation at the Musée du Quai BranlyJacques Chirac since 2014. “My own institution recognizes that the research I am doing is important for them, so I am receiving full support while I am here,” she noted. She is researching “all the preservation activities in general such as preventive conservation, conservation treatments, mounting and storage. I’m looking at how they are done here compared with at my home institution.”

There is value in studying how conservation is done on ethnographic collections, she continued. The museum that she works in has very large holdings, including about 370,000 objects and 800,000 photographs, and twelve linear kilometers (about 7.5 miles) of library and archival holdings. There are objects from Asia, Oceania, Africa, and the Americas. These non-Western holdings present challenges that she feels she can better address after looking at how these same type of holdings are dealt with, from a conservation point of view, in North America.

“In the past decades, there have been many links established with the originating communities in the United States and Canada, which are the paradigm of settler societies,” she explained. The descendants of European settlers are still in the same territory as the Native AmericansFor example, if you are a museum in California, you may have objects from more than one hundred Native American tribes, and you may be able to engage in conversations with representatives from these tribes. You are often able to establish direct links with the communities from which the objects originated. That is not the case in France. We have collections from virtually every ecosystem on the planet,” she continued. “I feelthat there are many, many things that we, as a French institution, could learn from what is being done in North Americalooking at what would be applicable in our country.”

Kissel arrived on campus in September 2022 and, in addition to spending much time in the libraries, she also listened to podcasts and watched conferences and presentations on YouTube. “Now that I have been here for six weeks, I am at the point where I will start meeting people,” she explained. She plans on making appointments at the Fowler Museum at UCLA, as well as with professionals affiliated with other museum. In addition, she will be going on field trips to New Mexico and Arizona in December.

Once she is back home, she will be working with her team of six, as well as curators and the research department, to discuss how to implement her findings. She will submit a report to lay out a long-term plan to implement concrete actions that will “impact the way in which we do things; how we think about conservation; how we make decisions about treatments; how we store objects; and more,” she said.

In the meantime, she is enjoying her time in Los Angeles. She sees UCLA as “more than a resource. It is sort of a platform for the exchange of information and points of view. It is a very serene environment to work in.” She is particularly impressed with the various libraries, including the Young Research Library, the Powell Library, and the American Indian Research Center. “These are wonderful places to get information, and the librarians are quite remarkable, always ready with an answer and a positive attitude, while making things work. The holdings are extraordinary, and it is just a very peaceful and nice place to work.”

Her road to UCLA began in 2016 when she met Ellen Pearlstein at a conference in Montreal and became interested in her research. Pearlstein is professor of information studies and the internship coordinator of the UCLA/Getty Program in the Conservation of Cultural Heritage, as well as a core faculty member of the Cotsen Institute. The UCLA/Getty Master’s Program in the Conservation of Archaeological and Ethnographic Materials is housed at the Cotsen Institute as an independent interdepartmental program.

“I eventually contacted Ellen because I wanted to engage in this research project, and I was looking for some funding,” Kissel explained. “I was constantly hitting a wall as I discovered that fellowships are usually for post-doctoral students, and I don’t have a PhD. Ellen told me I was not knocking on the right door by only looking at fellowships. She explained about visiting scholarships, and the curtain opened. I had not thought of it, but she said it was appropriate for people who have been engaged professionals in a particular discipline. So I pursued the project on that basis with UCLA,” Kissel explained.

Kissel has trained as a paper conservator and specialized in preventive conservation. Her interests lay in post-disaster protection and salvage of collections. In the course of her work at the Musée du Quai BranlyJacques Chirac she regularly teaches in museums, historical sites, libraries, and archives in France and other countries, including Abu Dhabi, Benin, Peru and Switzerland.


Published on December 12, 2022.