Many people have found their professional trajectory after a deeply moving event.
For Robert Hauser, it began with Italy when the Arno River flooded Florence in 1966, destroying millions of irreplaceable works of art, rare books, and manuscripts. Lessons from this tragedy brought about new methods of art conservation, as well as a deepening sense of the fragility of our international treasures and the need to preserve our cultural heritage.
Hauser, whose grandfather was a landscape painter, exposed him early to the study and nuances of being an artist. His relationship with his grandfather inspired a lifelong interest in art history, materials, and techniques. But it was the consequences of the Florence flood that set his path.
At the time, there was only one graduate program offering museum conservation studies in the U.S., with less than a few hundred conservators in the field, very few of whom were trained in the preservation of paper and book materials.
Hauser graduated from the School of the Museum of Fine Art, Boston/Tufts University with an MFA. As a museum conservator, he spent his career in the preservation of paper-based library and art materials. This included the study of the histories and practices of hand papermaking, letterpress printing, and bookmaking. He conducted many workshops in these fields.
Several decades ago he founded Busyhaus Art Works from which originated the creating of original assemblages in the Kunstkammer exhibition tradition as art cabinets of curiosities. In 16th century Europe, these encyclopedic collections of natural, scientific, and man-made objects were exhibited within a room or cabinet. They are considered precursors to the development of museums.
Hauser relates how, after finding a ready source of objects and ephemeral materials, he brings them together to tell a story – it could take years of collecting and research to complete one work.
A contextual narrative accompanies the assemblages. “It’s the importance of the message,” Hauser explains. “My integrity in the work is about the story. It’s not just a picture. The story comes first, and has to have a credibility that takes it out of the frame.” Hauser’s art provides a visual literacy from which the viewer forms opinions and imagines new kinds of knowledge.
While a scholarly component pervades the work, it is not without a touch of whimsy and satire. Hauser’s keen intellect and sense of humor make viewing the work a fascinating unraveling of theme, history, and instruction. By translating ideas into social commentary, Hauser challenges us to examine the world in which we live, and the part we play in its story.
Studio photos by Ashley Wadleigh
Art photos by Al Karevy