Silk Road Conversations with César Rodríguez Salinas (Conservator)

Silk Road Interviews are inspired by Silk Road Week, an annual event conceived by Chinese Museums Association, International Association for the Study of Silk Road Textiles (IASSRT), and China National Silk Museum in Hangzhou, Zhejiang. The theme for #SilkRoadWeek 2020 is “The Silk Roads: Mutual Learning for Future Collaboration.” We thank IN ZHEJIANG, our media partner in China (on Facebook).

Name : César Rodríguez Salinas, Textile and Fashion Conservator Kunstmuseum Den Haag | Country : The Netherlands | Years Active : 9 years | Website : Instagram, Twitter and Linkedin 

Q – How do you describe your work to people who don’t know anything about your field?

I was trained as general conservator where I learned how to treat different objects for their good preservation. Since 2011, I am solely working with textiles and fashion objects, and what I do is to keep all of those objects as best as I can for future generations. To be a fashion conservator at Kunstmuseum Den Haag (KMDH) is a huge responsibility, because I am dealing with heritage that belongs to The Netherlands and which has an incredible history value behind.

So, in order to keep all of them in good conditions, a fashion conservator, must gain a widespread knowledge of different materials such as textiles, leather, fur, glass or even modern materials such as plastics to keep them safe for future generations. That´s mean, to know very well their composition, their degradation process and their possible conservation treatments.

Q – What inspired you to become a fashion conservator?

My family has always been attached to fashion objects and textile production (I am already the 5th generation working at the field!). However, the differences between them and myself are that they were more relate to production business and I do more conservative work, where instead of selling products I keep them as best as I can for future generations. And this is for sure, what most trigger me to became a fashion conservator, trying to analyzed throughout the materials preserved at the garments the way how people would have lived many years ago or even the way the materials were produced.

César Rodríguez Salinas at work, courtesy CRS
César Rodríguez Salinas with an Art Deco Orientalist design by Paul Poiret, courtesy CRS

Q – Why did you choose this particular field (of research)?

Before any conservation treatment is carried out, research must be done on every piece. This is always a multi-task work carried out by the curator and the conservator where the pieces are studied very closely. It is exactly at this point when you most enjoy the work, when you are able to see how the dresses would have been made, how they would have been modified through the years or even how they have been degraded due the materials used for their construction (known as Inherent Vice).

Q – What is the most memorable object you’ve researched, or worked with?

The Kustmuseum den Haag is one of the biggest and oldest costume collections in the Netherlands, that mean that the variety of objects and costumes presented in the museum collection range from early XVII century to late XX century.

From all those pieces that I have worked on as the museum’s Fashion Conservator, I must say that it seems very difficult to me to choose a favorite one. However, I still remember with very special feeling the conservation treatment carried out in 2017 of a Robe a la Française from 1775 for the exhibition Femmes Fatale curated by Madelief Hohé. The dress did take different research steps including on the materials involved, and the study of the patterns used for the elaboration of those dresses, or even the study of similar dresses at other museum collections. All this was possible thanks to collaboration between several cultural institutions such as the Cultural Heritage Agency in the Netherlands (RCE) or the Instituto Valenciano de Conservación y Restauración e Investigación de Bienes Culturales in Spain (IVC+r)-among others.

Q – Do you recall when was the first time you heard of the phrase “Silk Road”? What was your first impression of it?

It was during my second year at the University (around 2007). There we used to have a subject which was related to the history of the different ancient techniques for the confection of the paper. This was a very important subject because for our teacher it was an incredible value to understand how the papers were made before the industrialization. For our surprised, the best papers were always produced in China whereas in Europe the paper producers never would achieve the same production quality. I was amazed to learn that all those discoveries were possible by the silk road, and that spite of not being connected as nowadays, those materials were always reaching other parts of the world far away from their original production place.

Q – What is your most memorable experience of travelling along the Silk Road?

Unfortunately I have not had the chance (yet) on travelling through any Silk Roads, but I hope it would happen soon.

China National Silk Museum for Silk Road Week 2020

 

Q – Which city or region along the Silk Road are you looking forward to visit, for the first time?

In 2014 the UNESCO designated a 5000 km stretch of the silk network (from Central China to the Zhetysu) as World Heritage Site. From all this extension I would really love to visit (at least) a part of it in order to learn more about their history and culture.

Q – What language(s) spoken along the Silk Road have you studied, or would wish to study?

Unfortunately, I only speak European languages (Spanish, Vasc, English, Dutch) but I hope some day would be able to go further and start with Chinese which I find very fascinating!

Q – What is the hardest part of your work that people don’t realize?

To work as a conservator requires to be very active in what is going on, you must need to keep yourself busy learning the new developments, improve your skills and connect with other people doing the same job as you do (which is quite limited!). This (as it can maybe imagine) involve a lot of time and research and not everybody realizes! At the end, this is not a very “common” profession and probably it would be great to have more education along the society to understand a bit more what is necessary to study in order to become a conservator at any public/private museum.

Emperor Huizong of Song, Court Ladies Preparing Newly Woven Silk, early 12th c. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Q – What is your dream (or even fantasy) research project?

In 2016 I did purchase the book Conservation of Paper and Textiles (produced by National Research Institute of Cultural Heritage in Korea) where different conservation treatments, scientific analysis and storage methods where described from different objects belonging to the history of Korea (a place where the silk route even arrive!). Reading the book gave me the impression of how differently the textile/fashion conservators in Europe work comparing with other conservators at other parts of the world. This is very encourage, and for sure, it would be great to make an exchange of knowledge between institutions in Europe with other institutions around the world and learn, in this way, one from another.

Q – If it were possible, what historic figure would you like to meet? Why?

Well it seems very difficult to choose just one person, but I believe that it would have been great to meet Pliny the Elder a Roman Encyclopedist who collected most of the ancient artistic techniques from the most important artist from the time, and it would have been great to make some questions to him about certain production techniques.

Emperor Huizong of Song, Court Ladies Preparing Newly Woven Silk, early 12th c., Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Q – What movie best depicts a historic or aesthetic aspect of the Silk Road?

I couldn’t give just one! I have quite short memory for remembering the movie titles, but recently I just watched a beautiful TV program produced from BBC named: The Silk Road, where Sam Willis traces the story of the route visiting different places from Europe to China.  

Q – What music or soundtrack most embodies the sound of the Silk Road for you?

I couldn’t find the right artist to define this question, but what I could say is that lately Michael Kiwanuka is following me everywhere I must travel for my work. Music has always been surrounding my all life, and I believe that the travelers through the Silk Road must have used music too to their journeys.

Q – What fundamental change(s) in your work do you anticipate in the post-pandemic world?

My work depends very much on working with the objects very closely, but those last weeks due the confinement at home I have developed new skills that would it be applied for sure at my work in the upcoming years. As I mentioned before, research is a fundamental tool of every conservator and to find the right strategies to combine the conservation time with the research time is always challenging. This is for sure, during those weeks, strongly develop!

Q – What modern day cultural trend (sports, music, art, architecture) has its roots in the Silk Road – that majority do not know?

I think they proved (as any other culture) the ability to connect with other parts of the world with their goods, and this was exactly what we were doing with the globalization just before the pandemic was started. The human race will always try to connect with other cultures in order to learn from each other, and that is for sure not new!