On Sunday, June 30, the life of noted art conservator Victoria Blyth Hill was celebrated on the terrace of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art where Hill had worked for 26 years, retiring in 2005 from her position as Director, Conservation Center. Victoria died on April 20, 2013. I knew Victoria socially through my friend Marilyn Nix, who writes for us. Over the years Marilyn told me about Victoria, who was one of her oldest and closest friends. At her memorial, Victoria’s many friends in the art world conversed about her with each other and her husband, artist Charles Christopher Hill, while fellow artists Ed Moses and Corinne Chaix delivered public tributes.
A self-made woman, Victoria Blyth Hill never graduated from college and began working in the art world, developing an affinity for art at the Museum of Modern art as assistant to the traveling manager working on the museum’s national and international traveling exhibitions in 1966. A Los Angele native, she returned to her hometown and began working for the J. Paul Getty Museum as an assistant painting conservator, before moving to LACMA first as assistant paper conservator in 1974. She was named director of the Conservation Center in 1999, and upon her retirement was honored with an appointment as Senior Conservator Emeritus.
As an art conservator, Victoria worked on conserving and restoring many important pieces of art including Codex Leicester, a Leonardo “notebook” on the nature of water, then owned by Dr. Armand Hammer (it was later bought by Bill Gates); and works by Rembrandt van Rijn, Auguste Renoir, Mary Cassatt, Henri Matisse, Marcel Duchamp, Larry Bell, Ed Ruscha, David Hockney, Marc Chagall, Robert Motherwell, Pablo Picasso, Alexander Calder, Isami Noguchi, Frank Stella, Craig Kauffman, and Wallace Berman.
Victoria held a patent for the invention of a prototype of the Electrostatic Stabilizing Plate, which she developed out of research on the stabilization for pastels in the course of preservation work on a Mary Cassatt pastel drawing, Mother and Child from the collection of Dr. Armand Hammer (now in the collection at the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, CA). One of Victoria’s greatest contributions to art conservation was her guidebook, Care and Handling of Thangkas: A Guide for Caretakers, which has been distributed to monasteries throughout India, China, Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan and Japan. The book is not copyright-protected, easing its distribution to monasteries in the remote regions of Southeast Asia.
Victoria worked extensively on the preservation of thangkas, the traditional Buddhist prayer scrolls painted with complex images of the Buddha, dakinis and other sacred elements, and conducted surveys of public and private thangka collections in Rome, Tibet, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Missouri, and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, Virginia.
I only knew Victoria slightly, but I treasure alwasy this piece of advice she gave, born our of her years as conservator of fine art:
Store your wool and cashmere wrapped in cotton. Moths won’t go near it.
And now always I wrap my winter sweaters, tucked with lavender in cotton pillowcases, I will always remember this lovely kind woman who cherished and preserved so much art for the world see. Here’s Ed Moses’ speaking about her:
Video and all photo, except top : Eric Minh Swenson, used by permission