Writing about conservation for the general public: A conversation with Rosa Lowinger about her forthcoming memoir, Dwell Time

By Rebecca Rushfield posted 10-02-2023 07:53


On Wednesday August 30, 2023 I spoke with Rosa Lowinger over the telephone about her forthcoming book, Dwell Time, a memoir and a book about materials and conservation. The conversation covered her reasons for writing this book and her plan for marketing it to the general public, educating people about conservation as they read an absorbing and relatable story about family, displacement, loss, and redemption.

        Rebecca Rushfield


This project began circuitously. I was working on a novel the year of the pandemic and a character appeared in my book who is a conservator. He started to took over the whole story. I was writing a novel about a nightclub in 1950s Cuba and this guy from Romania in the 1930s suddenly shows up and takes over.  So I hired a book coach to help me unravel what was going on, because the character’s story was really compelling. As I start talking to the book coach about the character, I started talking to her about conservation. And I told her that for years I’d had the idea of writing a memoir about conservation based on Primo Levi’s The Periodic Table. She said, “You should stop working on your novel and focus on that memoir. A book like that will sell and you will do very well with it.”

I did what she said. I spent the second half of 2020 and the beginning of 2021 working on the book proposal. I knew how to do this because I wrote one for my first book Tropicana Nights: The Life and Times of the Legendary Cuban Nightclub. The proposal included a full marketing section about where articles had been written about conservation, and there were many of those, since the press loves our work. The proposal went out to loads of agents. And loads of agents told me that they thought it was interesting , but they had no idea how they would position it to sell. So I thought, “Okay. Fine. I’m going to go back to writing my novel.”

That was the end of that until January 2022. I was working in Miami, when I got a phone call from the book coach. She said, “I am working now as a co-publisher and editor for a new publisher called Row House. I told people about your memoir and they’d like to see the proposal.” I, of course, gave her permission. The following day, the publisher Rebecca Borucki called me and said she wanted to publish my book. Then she added, “The only thing is we need the manuscript by November 30th.”  That was in ten months. I said, “Give me until tomorrow to see if that’s possible.” I went home, looked at the calendar, and started to map out how many words I needed to get them a manuscript. I had to produce about  370 words a day, five days a week for ten months. With about four weeks in the middle for illness, holidays, etc. I told them it was doable.

Because I had a tight schedule, I went into complete discipline mode. As a writer, when you really put attention to your material and you show up every day and really work on it, the book starts to take on a life of its own and the muse rewards you for showing up by giving you unexpected treasures.


I like to think that I’m opening the door for other conservators to write for a general audience.  We need others to do this also, from different backgrounds and specialties. Our own stories must be told by us because no one who covers us understands what goes on in our minds and hearts—the true basis of the way we approach the work. When we talk about conservation ethics, every single one of us is afraid to make a mistake. Every single one of us approaches the with a level of fear and gravitas. No one who hads ever written about conservation gets that about us. You know why? Because the technical component of our work—the removal of a varnish, the washing of a work on paper, the development of patina—is so glamorous that people can’t get past it. The romance of our work so dazzling that nobody could get beyond it to really understand our mind set. We’re a profession where almost every single one of us could just as easily have been a doctor or a lawyer. Somebody who could easily make a gazillion times more money. We choose this for a reason—because it tugs at some need that we have inside. And that’s what I was hoping to get at with Dwell Time.


I will have many public events and press. I’ll be promoting these on the conservation Distlists. I’d love for there to be lots of conservators in the audience, so I can shout them out and get them to answer questions. This is not just about me, it’s about all of us. So far here at the events:

October 10: Books & Books in Coral Gables

October 11: Miami Design District with Florida ArtTable.

October 13 or so: APT Conference in Seattle

October 17: Online with Society of Fellows, American Academy in Rome

October 18: Aloud at the Los Angeles Library Foundation

October 19: Online with California Preservation Foundation

October 23: Chicago Women and Children First bookstore

October 24: Online Jewish Theological Seminary book club

October 26: Long Beach Kleefeld Art Museum at Cal State Long Beach

November 2: St. Petersburg Tombolo Books

November 5: Online San Francisco Jewish Community Library

November 8: New York Institute of Fine Arts

November 18: Miami Book Fair

January 13, 2024: Miami Beach Art Deco Weekend

January date t.b.d: Los Angeles Skirball Cultural Center

February 17, 2024: Phoenix Art Museum Book Club

March 7, 2024: Boston Area Brandeis University

June, date t.b.d: Washington DC, National Museum of the American Latino

For venue information, please contact Rosa directly at


The book is about my Cuban Jewish family also. I’m getting a lot of Jewish press from Jewish Telegraph Agency, The Jerusalem Post and Hadassah Magazine. I expect it will be covered in more magazines and newspapers and I’ll let people know as these come out.