How family ties and a museum exhibition ignited a lifelong passion:
I started studying Russian in high school, after having studied French for many years. My family comes from different areas within the Pale of Settlement—what is now Belarus, and Austria or Poland—and I always enjoyed listening to the Russian language, even though it had been multiple generations since any of my relatives spoke it. My family had also been involved in Russian resettlement in our community in the 1980s, when waves of Soviet Jews fled to the US to escape anti-Semitism and persecution. I continued studying Russian in college and became increasingly interested in Russian art and culture. Freshman year, I saw an exhibition at the Guggenheim titled “The Great Utopia,” which celebrated art of the Russian avant-garde—a dynamic period from the 1910s to the 1920s, when you had these really brilliant artists, architects, poets, and others coming together to create completely new forms of art. After the Revolution, they were quite literally tasked with transforming their world and replacing all traces of Imperial Russia, and the more I learned about them, the more I wanted to learn.
Following a love of books all the way to the Met:
Since middle school, I’ve always loved gathering information and resources for research. I have really clear memories of thumbing through the card catalogs in my local and county libraries, and even some specialized indexes. I completed my undergraduate degree at Brown University, graduating with a double major in Russian Studies and Anthropology. I spent a semester abroad in St. Petersburg during my junior year, and knew that when I graduated, I wanted to do something Russian-related. I had pretty much accepted that that would likely mean working for a consulting firm in Moscow, even though I had minimal interest in that sphere of work.
After graduation, I went to see a Russian avant-garde photography exhibition at a gallery on the Upper East Side. I started asking the gallery director questions about the work, and she said, “Wait, you know this stuff?” I told her I had just written about the artists in my honors thesis, and I wound up getting offered a part-time job doing translation and cataloging for them. It had never occurred to me that a gallery specializing in Russian avant-garde books and photographs might even exist, or that I would ever actually be able to work with material that I was really passionate about. I stayed in the city and began to carve out a niche career doing cataloging and research for dealers and collectors who were buying and selling Russian avant-garde books, posters, and photographs, but didn’t speak or read Russian. That eventually led to an opportunity with the Judith Rothschild Foundation, where I got to serve as the curator of a major collection of Russian and Ukrainian avant-garde books that was donated to MOMA and featured in an exhibition there in 2002. I completed my Master’s degree in Russian Studies at NYU while I was working with the foundation, and then got an MLIS degree in library science at Rutgers University. I spent six years as Special Collections Curator and Librarian at the Newark Public Library in Newark, New Jersey, which I will forever love dearly, before joining the Met as a Slavic Language and Special Collections Librarian. That was nearly eleven years ago, and I’ve been in my current Met role a little over a year.