An illuminating debut memoir by one of the few prominent Latinas in the field of art and architectural conservation; a moving portrait of a Cuban Jewish family’s intergenerational trauma; and a story about repair and healing that will forever change how you see the objects and places we cherish and how we manage damage and loss.
Dwell Time is a term that measures the amount of time something takes to happen – immigrants waiting at a border, human eyes on a website, the minutes people wait in an airport, and, in art conservation, the time it takes for a chemical to react with a material.
Renowned art conservator Rosa Lowinger spent a difficult childhood in Miami among people whose losses in the Cuban revolution, and earlier by the decimation of family in the Holocaust, clouded all family life.
After moving away to escape the “cloying exile’s nostalgia,” Lowinger discovered the unique field of art conservation, which led her to work in Tel Aviv, Philadelphia, Rome, Los Angeles, Honolulu, Charleston, Marfa, South Dakota, and Port-Au-Prince. Eventually returning to Havana for work, Lowinger suddenly finds herself embarking on a remarkable journey of family repair that begins, as it does in conservation, with an understanding of the origins of damage.
Inspired by and structured similarly to Primo Levi’s The Periodic Table, this first memoir by a working art conservator is organized by chapters based on the materials Lowinger handles in her thriving private practice – Marble, Limestone, Bronze, Ceramics, Concrete, Silver, Wood, Mosaic, Paint, Aluminum, Terrazzo, Steel, Glass and Plastics. Lowinger offers insider accounts of conservation that form the backbone of her immigrant family’s story of healing that beautifully juxtaposes repair of the material with repair of the personal. Through Lowinger’s relentless clear-eyed efforts to be the best practitioner possible while squarely facing her fraught personal and work relationships, she comes to terms with her identity as Cuban and Jewish, American and Latinx.
Dwell Time is an immigrant’s story seen through an entirely new lens, that which connects the material to the personal and helps us see what is possible when one opens one’s heart to another person’s wounds.
“Dwell Time evokes a visceral, vibrant, complex materiality. Lowinger brilliantly unlocks the stories that reside in the material. This book is as intellectually engaging as it is profoundly moving.”
— Dana Spiotta, author of Wayward, a New York Times Critics’ Top Book of the Year
“It’s no exaggeration to call [Dwell Time] a work of genius. Rosa Lowinger has reinvented the genre of memoir writing, crafting a story that is deeply moving and wonderfully unique. Weaving together her vast knowledge as an art conservator with the haunting intergenerational trauma of her Cuban Jewish family, she reveals how even when our world feels broken, repair is still possible. In dialogue with Primo Levi’s The Periodic Table, this brilliant, beautiful book takes the reader on a journey from LA to Miami to Rome to Cuba to Haiti to Hawaii and other destinations, as Lowinger keeps seeking ways to fix things that seem damaged beyond hope. In the process she finds love and forgiveness and learns how to fix the fissures in her own heart. A stunning achievement!”
— Ruth Behar, author of Letters from Cuba and Distinguished University Professor of Anthropology, University of Michigan
“In Dwell Time, art conservator Rosa Lowinger delves deep into a profound insight lying at the heart of her profession: when you understand how something got broken, you cannot help but soften to it. And when you soften to the damage done to an object of art, you soften to the damage others have done to you. Bit by bit, you begin to let go of the pain of the past, learning to live more fully in the present. Deeply personal and profoundly moving, Dwell Time transcends the field of art conservation, applying its lessons to family and beyond.”
— Barry C. Michels, LCSW, JD, bestselling author of The Tools and Coming Alive
“Rosa Lowinger’s Dwell Time is the story of a family, a mother-daughter relationship, but forged of what seems like new building materials entirely. An artist has many duties, among them to conserve the traditions and innovations of the past but also to “make it new.” This memoir does just that, and delivers on its final promise, that of repair.”
— Gary Shteyngart, the New York Times bestselling author of the memoir Little Failure and novels that include Super Sad True Love Story, Absurdistan, and Our Country Friends
Tropicana is to Cuba what the Bolshoi is to Russia, the Moulin Rouge to Paris, or the Blue Note to New York—Havana’s premier 1950s cultural mecca. This definitive biography of the quintessential Cuban cabaret also vividly portrays the life of Ofelia Fox, the enigmatic wife of Tropicana’s owner. Through her eyes, and those of the dancers, musicians, and gamblers who frequented Havana’s sizzling 1950s nightclub scene, the book portrays the cultural richness and roiling social problems of pre-Revolutionary Cuba and takes the reader on a tour of one of the world’s most glamorous venues in the days that Nat “King” Cole, Liberace, and Carmen Miranda performed there.
“Lowinger’s scintillating chronicle offers an overview…of the florid, splashy era when “Cuba was an endless party, and Tropicana was its epicenter.” —Publisher’s Weekly
“paints a vivid picture of Havana’s heyday…looks at a part of Cuban history through the most intoxicating of perspectives.” — Cigar Aficionado
“Lowinger sets the story of the Tropicana and its denizens against the background of Cuba’s political and cultural history. She places the fabulous show palace in a meticulously researched context.” — Miami Herald
“Tropicana Nights is not only a great book about a legendary nightclub, it is the premiere account of a time and place — Havana in the 1950s — that has gone down in history as an era of unparalleled entertainment. This is a wonderful book full of cultural insight and juicy detail. Lowinger delivers the goods.” — T.J. English, author of the New York Times best seller Havana Nocturne
“Por primera vez en Estados Unidos un libro sobre Cuba y su cabaré más célebre, el “Tropicana”, se distancia de los clichés y combina la política con música, danza, juego y sexo, los elementos necesarios para entender su historia.” (For the first time in the United States, a book about Cuba and Tropicana, it’s most celebrated cabaret, avoids clichés and combines politics, music, dance, gambling, and sex—the necessary elements for understanding its history.) — AOL Latino
During the first six decades of the Twentieth Century, Cuba and the United States had a symbiotic cultural love affair. This book is a visual compendium of the documents that represent that period. Using more than 150 rare photographs, advertisements, movie stills, souvenirs, and footage from the Vicki Gold Levi Collection at the Wolfsonian–Florida International University, Rosa Lowinger and Frank Luca weave a narrative that offers a vision of the days when Cuban performers fueled a craze for rumba, mambo and Afro-Cuban jazz, and celebrities were as common in Cuba as in Hollywood.
Rum, Gambling, and Showgirls
Six Historic Entertainment Venues in Havana, Cuba
What better way to travel back in time than to visit the architectural treasures where the mambo, cha-cha-cha and rumba were relished?
Rescuing the Earthquake Damaged Murals of Holy Trinity Cathedral in Port au Prince, Haiti
Rosa Lowinger presents a firsthand account of helping rescue earthquake damaged murals in 2010 at Port-au-Prince’s Holy Trinity Cathedral.
Empress of the Waves (Fiction)
An extraordinary book that pairs Cuban artists and writers to riff off of each other’s work. Editors Leonardo Padura and Wendy Guerra paired me with my dear friend Alexandre Arrechea to produce a work of fiction based on his drawing in the collection of Jorge Perez.
The Encanto File
Who did it? Who hid it? And what did they mean by it? Rosa Lowinger’s first play, staged at Spoleto USA in 1988 and produced Off-Broadway by the Women’s Project and Productions in 1991, presents a love triangle that explores how language can be used to obscure meaning.
In Defense of Decorative Finishes
Since its founding in the 16th century, Havana’s buildings have been exuberantly decorated with murals, colored glass, painted ceilings and faux finishes. This article describes how these ornaments are being conserved as part of efforts to retain the historic character of Cuba’s capital.
Editor of Change Over Time Journal: Vandalism
Change Over Time is a semi-annual historic preservation journal published by the University of Pennsylvania. Each issue is dedicated to a particular theme, such as Repair, Gentrification, Nostalgia, and LGBTQ heritage, to name some examples. Rosa Lowinger served as Literature Editor from 2011-2015 and guest edited the volume on Vandalism.
For Cuban Art News
Cuban art news was a great arts blog published by Howard and Patricia Farber for ten years. I had the pleasure of working with them on a few articles:
Treasure Hunt: Bridges to Cuba
This piece explores a common folklore motif about treasures left behind when a family is exiled from their country. And, according to novelist and editor Ruth Behar, “it reads like a detective story.”
Piedra Jaimanitas is a type of Cuban oolitic limestone used extensively in Spanish Caribbean architecture. This personal essay reflects on the metaphor of using a material that is porous and easily damaged to build one’s home.
“Havana: The All-Night City” in Cuba: Art and History from 1868 to Today.
Montreal Museum of Fine Arts Press: Montreal, Canada, 2008
This essay uses the Vicki Gold Levi photographic collection of Cuban nightlife as its jumping off point to talk about the variety of Havana’s cultural offerings in the twentieth century.
Rosa has conducted interviews with many artists including Tony Labat, Los Carpinteros, Alexandre Arrechea, Fernando Rodriguez, and KCHO.