Ask a Conservator Day 2023 - Meet Brian George and Eli Boyne from P&C

Left - Eli Boyne prepares an item for the Milberg Gallery. Right - Brian George prepares to mount an item in Milberg Gallery

Left - Eli Boyne prepares an item for the Milberg Gallery. Right - Brian George prepares to mount an item in the Milberg Gallery. Photo credit: Brandon Johnson

In celebration of Ask a Conservator Day, Preparator Brian George (BG) and Preventive Conservator Eli Boyne (EB), shared a bit about their roles as members of Princeton University Library’s (PUL) Preservation and Conservation Department.

How did you get started in Conservation work? 

BG: I got my start working in the arts in general, curating and designing exhibitions, and then later working for an art dealer where I learned how to mat, frame, and install all manner of artworks.

EB: I started learning about conservation and preservation when I was a Master of Library and Information Science graduate student. I went to a dual program where I also received a Master of Fine Arts in Book Arts, and received training in bookbinding, papermaking, letterpress printing, and the history of the book. These courses sparked my interest in how books are made and their history around the world, which led to my interest in preserving library materials.

What is your area of specialization or expertise? 

BG: I’m a bit of an odd duck in the lab, as I’m the preparator. This means I mat and frame artworks, make cradles and easels for books, and mounts for various objects. But I’ve worked with conservators many times throughout my career and have always been fascinated by what they do, especially the science behind the work.

EB: I specialize in Preventive Conservation, which is a holistic way of looking at conservation. Instead of performing hands-on work treating individual items, I look broadly at the risks collection materials face and think about how environments, storage, disasters, or handling can be managed so damage to collections is either slowed or less likely to occur. Work done in this role can include investigating pests in collections, thinking of housing solutions for a variety of materials, and evaluating which storage environments are best for specific formats. I love this work because I get to work with a wide range of people and come up with collaborative and creative solutions to problems.

What kind of challenges do you face in your work? And can you speak to any creative solutions you’ve come up with? 

BG: One of my favorite aspects of this job is the problem-solving - “How do we exhibit this item in a safe but interesting way.” A lot of the time this means that you should never even notice my work - it disappears or enhances the way an object is seen without being seen itself. Just yesterday I painted some brass mounts to match the clothing of some Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs figurines that will be in the next Cotsen exhibition. If I’ve done my job well, you’ll never even see that the mounts are there.

EB: As you can imagine, libraries hold many materials beyond books, and these items can often have a variety of shapes and sizes. I love thinking about custom boxes (or housing, as we call it) for oversized or 3-dimensional materials—it’s a fun chance to be creative and think about how an item can be safely supported and stored over the long-term. We’ve recently been thinking about how to rehouse a group of swords, and since these are oddly shaped objects made of metal and leather, it’s been fun to piece together the variables that need to be considered to determine how these might be safely housed. 

Do you have a favorite item you’ve worked on at PUL?

BG: Getting to frame the original cover illustration for “The Great Gatsby” by Francis Cugat was a real treat for me. I’m an illustrator by trade and it’s one of the most iconic book covers of all time.

EB: It’s been fun to see the items that are being pulled for the monthly Special Collections Showcase. I review these items to make sure they are stable enough to display. As part of this, I got to see a scrapbook that belonged to Rosa Lee Miller, who was a young Black woman who went to high school in Princeton in the 1930s. It was great to see the tickets and cards she collected from various HBCUs as well as photographs of Princeton from the 1930s.

What advice do you have for someone interested in pursuing this career? 

BG: Be curious, inquisitive, and always willing to learn new things. Problem solving is the basic nature of the job and the more you know, even from seemingly unrelated areas, the more tricks you’ll have up your sleeve. 

EB: Speak to many people in different specialties to see which area of the field might interest you, and learn how people forged their path in the field. Conservation has lots of different areas of specialization and people can come to this work from a variety of backgrounds. I love hearing how people found their way to the field. It’s great to meet people who could become your colleagues and hear about their experiences.

Published on November 2, 2023

Interview by Brandon Johnson, Communications Strategist

Media Contact: Barbara Valenza, Director of Library Communications