NAME: Ramona Duncan-Huse

TITLE: Senior Director, Conservation & Preservation Imaging FOR: Indiana Historical Society

SINCE? I have held this particular title for 6 years but have been at the Indiana Historical Society for 32 years – all of them in the conservation department.

ORIGINALLY FROM? Indianapolis, IN.

YOUR JOB DUTIES INCLUDE? Preserving the rare collections at IHS Library, developing policies that will provide for their preservation across departments and protocols to physically treat original works on paper in our conservation lab


PROJECT/S YOU ARE MOST PROUD TO HAVE BEEN PART OF? I really enjoyed developing the facility document that helped create the specifications for the IHS Library, its collection storage vault and the conservation lab. When we built our new building it was a mammoth effort for our very small staff, and we all pulled together to make a wonderful place.

OTHER PROJECTS WE MIGHT RECOGNIZE? I consult with small museums and rare collection libraries across the state about the preservation of their regional collections so other communities can advance the preservation activities of their own local historical artifacts. Others may not recognize this, but I know the contributions I have made on the local level, and that is satisfying for me. It has built good will around the state.

WHAT YOU LOVE ABOUT WHAT YOU DO? I fully enjoy working with my hands on the individual historical objects that make up our collection and the daily thought processes/ treatments involved to stabilize our collection – everyday is never like the day before since all of our objects have completely different material structure (paper, inks, method of manufacture, etc.), and history of use, provenance, etc. So the manner of approach and treatment is never the same. It is a refreshing way to work.

WORST PART OF WHAT YOU DO? Recognizing that not everyone understands how fundamentally important it is to preserve real historical objects, the kinds of education needed, the research required and the time it takes to know how to approach a proper method of treatment.

HOW YOU DEFINE PERSONAL SUCCESS? Enjoying what I do every day at work, and enjoying what I do when not at work. It is a good balance.

ADVICE TO SOMEONE ELSE WHO WOULD LIKE TO DO WHAT YOU DO? Talk face to face with practicing conservators, contact museums to visit their conservation labs and see what the work environment is all about, ask how they work, what they do, and why. Work with your hands in an artistic medium and observe the materials you work with. It is a good foundation for the field of conservation.

IF YOU WERE GRANTED ONE WISH RELATING TO YOUR JOB/CAREER/ORGANIZATION, WHAT WOULD IT BE? I would have taken more time to visit other conservator colleagues and conservation labs, work alongside others to gain additional professional training to bring back to our lab.

WOULDN’T HAVE MADE IT TO WHERE YOU ARE WITHOUT? My appreciation for art and objects and the techniques and materials from which they are made.

WHAT MOTIVATES YOU? I am competitive but it is internal. I just want to do my best and learn along the way – if it involves what I consider to be beautiful then all the better.

WHO WERE/ARE YOUR MENTORS AND HOW DID THEY HELP? Harold Mailand is a conservator here in Indianapolis who mentored me into the world of conservation, while my college professor Budd Stalnaker at I.U. enlisted my interest in textiles both new and historical – he taught me how to wind and tie a perfect warp. They both have great attention to detail.

WHAT SPARKED YOUR INTEREST IN HISTORY? Well, I am not a historian. Most conservators are attracted to the materials of history – how things are made, a certain bit of evidence found on a surface, etc. I volunteered at the age of 12 at the Children’ Museum. The cabin was still outside at the time and I gave tours through it. I sat at the weaver’s loom and described how the warp was tied at the back, the weft moved through…. etc. That was how I got interested in working with textiles and objects from the past – I love museums for the variety of things they bring together and allow you to see.

MOST INTERESTING BIT OF INDIANAPOLIS HISTORY YOU’VE ENCOUNTERED? You’ve got to be kidding… considering the bits I handle everyday… it would have to be a letter that was written in a horse drawn coach by a woman on her way to Indiana. The handwriting cramped to the right because the man to her right kept falling asleep on her. Ha… I like the ordinary about history. It just shows people are the same.

YOU CAN HAVE DINNER WITH ANYONE FROM INDIANAPOLIS PAST? WHO & WHY? My granddad on my mother’s side and my granddad on my father’s side. I never knew either. see interesting family connection below.

YOUR CAREER IN AN ALTERNATE LIFE? Sitting designer and weaver at Dovecot Tapestry Studios, Edinburgh, Scotland, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2012.

ANY INTERESTING FAMILY CONNECTIONS TO INDIANAPOLIS PAST? My mom’s dad Francis O’Connell, was Ray Haroon’s top auto mechanic. Ray won the first Indianapolis 500. My grandma refused to let my granddad ride in the Haroon car, when most drivers had a riding mechanic. That is the family legend… I still have to do that research! If I can find a panorama photo of the winning team and point out my grand dad in the photo that would be nice.

FAVORITE VIEW IN THE CITY? Looking from the downtown mall toward the beautiful Indianapolis Public Library and its new addition. It is where all people meet.

FAVORITE RESTAURANT IN INDIANAPOLIS? It is always about the people you are with and the experience, not the food.. but I’d have to say St. Elmo’s – 1985.

FAVORITE CITY BESIDES INDIANAPOLIS? London, I studied conservation for a year there and really never left.

FAVORITE HISTORY RELATED BOOK OR MOVIE? I am not a historian… but give me a good movie about historic England or Scotland and I am there.

ULTIMATE BEVERAGE? Hot coffee with milk

COLLECT ANYTHING? Ummm.. no. I have a big collection that I work with. That is enough.

FAVORITE QUOTE? Life is mostly froth and bubble, two things stand like stone; kindness in another’s trouble, courage in your own.

IF YOUR LIFE HAD A THEME SONG, IT’D BE? To Everything (turn, turn, turn) There is a Season, written by Pete Seeger from Ecclesiastes but sung by the Byrds, 1969.

3 responses to “Heritage Steward: Ramona Duncan-Huse”

  1. bsdil berchekas jr says:

    Remember “turn, turn,turn, by the Byrds. Love it! Also, standing on the Main Library steps looking south towards downtown is also breathtaking; one sees Indianapolis as a truly “urbane” city from that perspective…especially with the lights on at night, right after sunset…

  2. Ramona says:

    Whoops! The Byrds sang it in 1965 – I told you I was not a historian! Nice video 🙂

  3. basil berchekas je says:

    The Byrds, from the Book of Ecclesiastes!

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