Sara Deurell: St. Petersburg, Russia
Sara reflects on her experiences in Russia.
In the summer of 2013, I spent a month in St. Petersburg, attending the SRAS (School of Russian and Asian Studies) program for Art and Museums in Russia. I visited the literary museums of Dostoevsky and Pushkin, the Zoological Museum, the Museum of Ethnography and the ethnographic collections of Kunstkammer, the art collections of the Russian Museum, and the art and archeology collections of the world-famous Hermitage Museum. The program also included tours of many other historic sites in and around the city, as well as visits to current artists' studios.
As an anthropology student aspiring to a career in archaeology, my experiences in Russia will be a great addition to my education. Aside from the fact that, for an archaeologist, any and all knowledge is potentially useful (which is part of what drew me to the field), I was also able to visit a variety of different types of museums and compare the how each presented and curated their information and materials. I got to look behind the scenes of the Hermitage, one of the best museums in the world, and talked face-to-face with members of its staff about their areas of expertise. I visited the Hermitage storage facilities, where painting restoration expert Alexei Nicholski explained the process and methods of his work, and the work that goes into ensuring the preservation of art. I viewed the archaeological collections of the Hermitage on more than just a tourist level--for one thing, I had multiple days to photograph and study the artifacts, and for another, because I got, through my program with SRAS, a personal interview with one of the curators, Maria Menshikova. Learning from her about the similarities in method but the differences in structure of curation work in Russia versus in the United States was enlightening, and she is, as a person, inspiring to a student like myself.
One of the most interesting aspects of the study of material culture through archaeology, to me, has always been gaining understanding about how innovations develop and how cultures influence one another–the way symbolism, technology, and ideas spread. What better place in the world to experience this phenomenon than Russia, at the threshold between Europe and Asia, always at the crossroads–and always so aware of itself being at the crossroads? This sense of cross-cultural influence is omnipresent in St. Petersburg, from the oldest archaeological collections in the Hermitage to the studios of current artists I visited. It's the theme in Russian paintings from the 18th century to the Avant Garde movement. It's in Dostoevsky's novels and Pushkin's poetry. It’s in the Czars' collections of world art and treasures. It's in the architecture of buildings from the time of Peter I to Catherine II to post-revolutionary times. It's a place that has always been curious, that's always learning and adapting and searching for new ways to incorporate old ideas into itself. For me, it was the perfect place to dive into a different culture, explore an incredible city, and study, first-hand, the museum side of archaeology.
Sara with a Reubens awaiting restoration in the Hermitage painting restoration facility.
Sara at the Grand Cascade at Peterhof.