Craigen Weston Bowen, deputy director of the Straus Center for Conservation at Harvard University’s Fogg Art Museum and an accomplished rock climber and gardener, died at her home in Lexington, Mass., on March 1, 16 months after being diagnosed with cancer. She was 54.
She was born Ruth Craigen Weston on Nov. 10, 1953, the daughter of Frederick W. Weston Jr. and the late Ruth L. Weston, and spent her childhood in West Long Branch, N.J., and Rome, Maine. At Smith College, she double-majored in art and astronomy, with a minor in physics, and developed into a talented lithographer.
After graduating in 1975, she began a three-year apprenticeship in the conservation laboratory at the Fogg under Marjorie B. Cohn, specializing in the conservation of works of art on paper. She later collaborated with Cohn on scholarly projects. In 1978, Bowen moved to the Williamstown Regional Conservation Laboratory at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Mass., where she founded the paper conservation laboratory. In 1980, she returned to the Fogg. That same year, she married Mark S. Bowen, whose family owns a home on the same lake in Maine as hers.
Craigen Bowen was the recipient of an Indo-U.S. subcommission grant to travel to Kota, India, in 1987, and made several subsequent trips there to treat and study the royal collections of H.H. Maharao Brijraj Singh in the Rao Madho Singh Trust Museum. In 1994, the Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning at Harvard awarded her the certificate of distinction in teaching. This month (March 2008), she was awarded the prestigious Sheldon and Caroline Keck Award by the American Institute for Conservation, which recognizes a sustained record of excellence in the education and training of conservation professionals. At the time of her death, in addition to her role as deputy director of the laboratory, Bowen held an endowed position as Philip and Lynn Straus Conservator of Works of Art on Paper at the Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies. The Craigen W. Bowen Fellowship was established in her honor in 2007 to fund the further training of young conservation and curatorial professionals who specialize in works on paper.
Bowen was an avid rock climber and mountaineer. During her Harvard apprenticeship, she took the spring rock climbing program offered by the Appalachian Mountain Club, cutting her teeth at small crags around Boston, such as the Quincy Quarries, Rattlesnake Rocks, and Crow Hill. She became known for her fierce determination and masterful technique, especially with her feet. At that time women usually played a secondary role to men in the ascent of difficult climbs, and there were few all-women teams. She was among a handful of women who broke that mold. In “Yankee Rock and Ice, A History of Climbing in the Northeastern United States,” by Laura and Guy Waterman, Bowen and her dear friend Beverly Boynton are cited for climbing difficult routes “with authority and style.” (These words might describe Bowen’s approach to all her endeavors.)
Over the course of nearly 30 years, she climbed extensively in North America and Mexico with a core group of friends and made lasting connections with many others. She enjoyed all aspects of the sport: the climbing, the relaxed days between, sitting in the sun, cooking great meals, sharing “war stories” with friends, and even the dark nights huddled in the rain on cold mountaintops or spectacularly high cliffs. She was most proud of her ascents in the Bugaboo Group in British Columbia, Wyoming’s Wind River Range, and, shortly before her 40th birthday, the multiday, 3,000-foot Salathe Wall, on Yosemite Valley’s El Capitan, which has been called the most beautiful climb in the world.
Among her many interests and talents, Bowen was an imaginative cook, expert skier and waterskier, prolific knitter, and implacable organizer and taskmaster. She took great pleasure in gardening, reading, and, later in life, learning to play the piano. Her children, nieces, and nephews fondly remember many summers in Maine under her tutelage, hauling brush, moving rocks (some more than once), having the climbers up for weekends, laughing, and playing cards.
Bowen is survived by her children, Andrew and Anna Bowen, of Lexington, Mass., and Arlington, Mass.; her partner, James W. Evans, of Watertown, Mass.; her father, Frederick W. Weston Jr., of Belgrade Lakes, Maine; her sister, Martha Weston Feldmann of East Greenwich, R.I.; her brother, Frederick W. Weston III of Waterbury, Vt.; friend and former husband, Mark S. Bowen, of Arlington, Mass.; and legions of devoted cousins, colleagues, and friends.
A memorial service will be held at 3 p.m. on March 22 in the Calderwood Courtyard at the Fogg Art Museum on the campus of Harvard University. In lieu of flowers, donations in Bowen’s name may be made to The Belgrade Regional Conservation Alliance, P.O. Box 250, Belgrade Lakes, ME 04918; Harvard University Art Museums, 32 Quincy St., Cambridge, MA, 02138 (for the study centers at 32 Quincy St.); or the Landscape Committee, PTSA, Lexington High School, 251 Waltham St., Lexington, MA 02421.