Scrupulosity, figurative thinking, artistic skills, and accuracy are features required to become a professional restorer. Restoration of cultural monuments is a huge responsibility and not everyone will undertake it. Meanwhile, it is thanks to restorers that the humanity continues to delight in the unique Renaissance canvases, bow before the ancient icons, get the knowledge from ancient manuscripts, and admire the amazing antique churches and sculptures.
Our interviewee did not learn the art of restoration academically, but he was a pupil of a good master. Not sure whether anyone except for him will touch the ancient folios, which have been restored and are being stored on the shelves of the book depository, he still loves his job. And that is why he has been involved in it for 20 years. The Day’s interviewee is Yevhen YANENKO, a restorer of the books of Oles Honchar Kherson Oblast Universal Scientific Library.
“It happened so that at the end of the fourth year of my institute study at Russian Language and Literature Department, I decided to quit my studies. That was a difficult decision, but it seemed to me right back at that time. Shortly after that my acquaintances told me that there was a vacancy at the Oles Honchar Oblast Library. I came to try my hand and have been working here ever since,” Yevhen describes his professional path, “I was lucky to learn from a good master, Oleksandra Vedenko, head of the department at that time, who now works as a restorer in the US. I owe my main skills to her. It was hard during the first year, when I was mastering the process of restoring the damaged and old-time editions. But I liked the job and my interest to it does not fade. For the first six months of work I was rereading the books I worked with. Now I read less, but at that time I learned to develop a special approach to each edition. For those ink lines hide someone’s thoughts, or even whole lives. I know that hardly anyone will take the book I restore to his hands. But there is a special meaning for me in this which I cannot explain.”
According to Yevhen, patience is the most important feature in the work of a restorer. It is not simply patience of waiting, but working meticulously on a book probably for several years, which is no surprise as it takes a day of work to restore one damaged page.
“Since I don’t have any special equipment, I work with the materials on hand. If I need to restore an old torn book leaf, the procedure generally is as follows. I put the sheet into warm boiled water, where it gets cleansed. Later I wrap the leaf into thin cover-up under which it swells a bit. Then I remove half of the layer of the paper sheet with a knife, put the leaf on restoration paper, cut needed format, and take away one layer from this sheet as well. Under a press the parts create a ‘solid’ leaf which is not afraid of the reader’s hands anymore. The hardcover requires a different kind of work: I have learned to make new fabric if I fail to restore the original. The materials might be different, so they require a special approach. But I rely on my intuition and it has never failed me. A friend of mine says that the most important thing for a restorer is not to haste, and of course, not to damage the item.”
At this moment the leading expert of the department of preserving the library fund Olena Hryshchenko joined our conversation. It was Olena who brought the books Yevhen restored. Those include the Book of Psalms (1886), pre-revolution maps of the Dnipro, formerly popular periodical Osnova (Basis; 1861), and the 1860 edition of Kobzar. According to the restorer, a volume of all of Mikhail Lermontov’s works was one of the hardest items to work with. “It took me two years to restore it. I simply could not restore more than two leaves a day. It was hard to restore them and put one on the other to make a full-fledged book,” Yevhen admits. One can see the paper “stitches” the master applied, like a surgeon, to his “patients.” However, the work has been done in a really exquisite manner. If you pass your hand over the text, you won’t feel any layup or surface imperfections. It is an ordinary book brought to life by the master’s magical hands.
The Day’s journalist was lucky to visit the holy of holies of any library, the depository that stores the oldest items. It contains a shelving of periodicals, wise encyclopedias, and reference books which await restoration. Similar shelves of books with already restored pages and covers stand nearby. By the way, they are available for visitors, and the employees of the library describe the content of some of them in the electronic catalogue one can use online.
Although many cultural rarities require restoration of their primary condition, the profession of a restorer is not popular these days and underappreciated by the state, our interviewee considers.
“By and large, few people need what I do. But I like my job. Maybe, the descendants will someday assess the work of restorers, the way we assess it when look at the old-time monuments of culture,” Yevhen sums up, “But no matter how it may sound, restorers need something to eat, too. I for one do not need glory or state awards. I am trying to do my job qualitatively and I would like to be paid decently. Unfortunately, we have a different situation these days.”