Dwell Time: A Memoir of Art, Exile, and Repair (Hardcover)
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What Kirkus describes as a "masterful revelation about life and art imitating each other in maintenance and repair" in a starred review, Dwell Time is an illuminating debut memoir by one of the few prominent Latinas in the field of art and architectural conservation; a moving portrait of a Cuban Jewish family’s intergenerational trauma; and a story about repair and healing that will forever change how you see the objects and places we cherish and how we manage damage and loss.
Dwell Time is a term that measures the amount of time something takes to happen – immigrants waiting at a border, human eyes on a website, the minutes people wait in an airport, and, in art conservation, the time it takes for a chemical to react with a material.
Renowned art conservator Rosa Lowinger spent a difficult childhood in Miami among people whose losses in the Cuban revolution, and earlier by the decimation of family in the Holocaust, clouded all family life.
After moving away to escape the “cloying exile’s nostalgia,” Lowinger discovered the unique field of art conservation, which led her to work in Tel Aviv, Philadelphia, Rome, Los Angeles, Honolulu, Charleston, Marfa, South Dakota, and Port-Au-Prince. Eventually returning to Havana for work, Lowinger suddenly finds herself embarking on a remarkable journey of family repair that begins, as it does in conservation, with an understanding of the origins of damage.
Inspired by and structured similarly to Primo Levi’s The Periodic Table, this first memoir by a working art conservator is organized by chapters based on the materials Lowinger handles in her thriving private practice – Marble, Limestone, Bronze, Ceramics, Concrete, Silver, Wood, Mosaic, Paint, Aluminum, Terrazzo, Steel, Glass and Plastics. Lowinger offers insider accounts of conservation that form the backbone of her immigrant family’s story of healing that beautifully juxtaposes repair of the material with repair of the personal. Through Lowinger’s relentless clear-eyed efforts to be the best practitioner possible while squarely facing her fraught personal and work relationships, she comes to terms with her identity as Cuban and Jewish, American and Latinx.
Dwell Time is an immigrant’s story seen through an entirely new lens, that which connects the material to the personal and helps us see what is possible when one opens one’s heart to another person’s wounds.
From the book: “How, I wondered, was it possible that no one in my family had ever told me that Havana, the place where we were from, was so closely aligned to my work? More importantly, how had I managed to reencounter this ornately decorated, sagging city at the precise moment when I was beginning to see a link between restoration of the material world and personal healing?”
About the Author
Rosa Lowinger is a Cuban-born American writer and art conservator. The author of Tropicana Nights: The Life and Times of the Legendary Cuban Nightclub (Harcourt, 2005) and Promising Paradise: Cuban Allure American Seduction (Wolfsonian Museum, 2016), she is the founder and current vice-president of RLA Conservation, LLC, one of the U.S.’s largest woman-owned art and architectural conservation firms. A Fellow of the American Institute for Conservation, the Association for Preservation Technology, and the American Academy in Rome, Rosa writes regularly for popular and academic media about conservation, historic preservation, the visual arts, and Cuba.
In this beautifully conceived memoir about generational trauma by a Jewish Cuban American art conservator, the author uses the materials she repairs in her work (marble, bronze, wood, etc.) as frames for excavating her family’s past…This technique prompts insightful reflection and offers a fresh take on how art can help us make sense of life.
A guide to examining the Jewish past, understanding loss and appreciating the ways people and individuals can emerge stronger and sometimes more beautiful after decades of wear and tear.
— Andrew Silow-Carroll
From the coasts of Cuba to Israel’s Mediterranean shores, Lowinger, the author of Tropicana Nights, interweaves her life story with insights drawn from her career in art conservation and restoration. Fleeing rising antisemitic sentiment in Eastern Europe and landing somewhat accidentally in Cuba, the author’s family became immigrants twice over when they left their successful dry-goods stores and Fidel Castro’s communist autocracy for Miami. “We’d lost an island, but gained America,” she writes. “Refugees around the world were clamoring to get into this amazing country.” Though her parents saw some financial success in their new country and Lowinger herself rose from a small South Beach apartment to build a successful art restoration practice, the generational weight of dreams foregone, marital tensions, and homelands left behind, wormed indelibly into the family. Undercurrents of violent tempers, indignation, and self-doubt hum throughout the text, with the author’s simple, straightforward prose and humble anecdotes belying her impressive professional stature, particularly as one of the few Latinas in the field. Lowinger offers detailed but approachable explanations of materials and techniques used in her work as metaphors (some more cohesive than others) for life’s ups and downs, from personal experiences of marriage and divorce to societal reckonings with racial, political, or economic injustice. As she acquired the skills, experience, and judgment required to lead prolific restoration projects, she began to understand, forgive, and love the places and people she came from, both physically and psychologically. Willing to immerse herself in the complexities and contradictions that mark Cuba, her family, and herself, without rushing to erase them, the author leaves readers with respect for the hazy, ever-moving line between remedy and disease and between making something better and destroying it completely, in life as well as in art.
A masterful revelation about life and art imitating each other in maintenance and repair.
— Kirkus Starred Review
"Dwell Time is a multi-generational family memoir that reads like a panoramic, deeply moving roman-fleuve—taking the reader from Eastern Europe through Havana, Miami, Manhattan, and Los Angeles, amid revolution, war, upheaval, and exoduses. That a revered conservator writes it of art makes perfect sense because Lowinger's profession has given her a complex understanding of the past, the contingencies of history, and the differences between surface and interior. One of art conservation's creeds is: "You can't repair what you don't understand." This beautiful book is an act of understanding as a work of art."
— Randy Kennedy, American novelist and director of special projects for the international art gallery Hauser & Wirth
"After a lifetime of restoring works of art, Rosa Lowinger turns her good hands to examine a life rent by exile and loss. A lyrical and moving memoir of art, family, and the flawed material out of which we make and remake our lives. A gorgeously written tribute to an extraordinary family and a reminder that with patience and attention, we may yet repair—if not the world—at least the luminous fragment that belongs to us."
— Ana Menendez, Cuban-American writer and journalist
"Dwell Time evokes a visceral, vibrant, complex materiality. Lowinger brilliantly unlocks the stories that reside in the material. This book is as intellectually engaging as it is profoundly moving."
— Dana Spiotta, author of Wayward, a New York Times Critics’ Top Book of the Year
"Rosa Lowinger's Dwell Time is the story of a family, a mother-daughter relationship, but forged of what seems like new building materials entirely. An artist has many duties, among them to conserve the traditions and innovations of the past but also to "make it new." This memoir does just that, and delivers on its final promise, that of repair."
— Gary Shteyngart, the New York Times bestselling author of the memoir Little Failure and novels that include Super Sad True Love Story, Absurdistan, and Our Country Friends
"A magical journey from a childhood full of wonder to an adulthood spent around art and its conservation. The author turns her story into an insightful tale that reveals a kaleidoscope of worlds that she navigates to chart a life in colors and materials, joys and calamities, rendering lives that were forced into exile many times but always eager to build a sense of home and purpose. A moving account filled with the eccentricities of life, family, and the love of something (and its preservation) that is sometimes beyond words.”
— Hrag Varatanian, art critic and co-founder of Hyperallergic
“In Dwell Time, art conservator Rosa Lowinger delves deep into a profound insight lying at the heart of her profession: when you understand how something got broken, you cannot help but soften to it. And when you soften to the damage done to an object of art, you soften to the damage others have done to you. Bit by bit, you begin to let go of the pain of the past, learning to live more fully in the present. Deeply personal and profoundly moving, Dwell Time transcends the field of art conservation, applying its lessons to family and beyond.”
— Barry C. Michels, LCSW, JD, bestselling author of The Tools and Coming Alive
"It's no exaggeration to call [Dwell Time] a work of genius. Rosa Lowinger has reinvented the genre of memoir writing, crafting a story that is deeply moving and wonderfully unique. Weaving together her vast knowledge as an art conservator with the haunting intergenerational trauma of her Cuban Jewish family, she reveals how even when our world feels broken, repair is still possible. In dialogue with Primo Levi's The Periodic Table, this brilliant, beautiful book takes the reader on a journey from LA to Miami to Rome to Cuba to Haiti to Hawaii and other destinations, as Lowinger keeps seeking ways to fix things that seem damaged beyond hope. In the process she finds love and forgiveness and learns how to fix the fissures in her own heart. A stunning achievement!"
— Ruth Behar, author of Letters from Cuba and Distinguished University Professor of Anthropology, University of Michigan