- Associated Press - Monday, July 26, 2010

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — It is slow, deliberate, frustrating, yet fulfilling work trying to preserve a people’s culture.

Vicki Lee, senior conservator at the Maryland State Archives in Annapolis, already has made two trips with teams of experts trying to mend Haiti’s cultural heritage following the devastating January earthquake, and is itching to return.

“It’s so sad,” she said in an interview at her office off Rowe Boulevard after returning from the stricken island nation about two weeks ago. “There is so much work to do. We need thousands more people to do it.”

On the other hand, the Chesapeake Beach resident and her colleagues — who have made trips to Haiti under the auspices of the Smithsonian Institution and the American Institute for Conservation’s Collections Emergency Response Team (AIC-CERT) — see cause for hope.

“I think the chances for recovery are quite good, but it will take a lot of time,” said Hugh Shockey, an object conservator at the Smithsonian’s American Art Museum who worked on the same team as Lee.

“To be quite honest, what gives me the most amount of hope is that the Haitians were recovering materials from the rubble rather than just throwing them out,” Mr. Shockey said. “They saved what they could. If I am going to put the pieces back together, I have to have the pieces.”

He said it is evident the Haitian people clearly value their cultural material.

“It could have all been scooped up by a bulldozer and sent on a truck to be dumped,” Mr. Shockey said.

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In ruins

On the team’s initial visit, they found public and private museums in ruins, Ms. Lee said. Stacks and stacks of paintings had been removed from their frames and stretchers.

In the rubble they noticed pieces of paintings, sculptures, documents, books.

The Musee d’Art Nader, a private museum in Port-au-Prince that housed some 12,000 paintings and other art, was flattened. In it was the largest collection of Haitian masters such as Hector Hyppolite.

Fortunately, the basement was intact. Hundreds of paintings that were stored there were saved, and hundreds more were pulled from the rubble above.

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