Saving cultural treasures in war-torn lands

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Weston, Conn. - Stuart Gibson reveals not one soupçon of jet lag as he recounts his just-concluded visit to Iraq's Mosul Museum, now a husk of a building where chunks of plaster still litter the floor. Instead, this champion for preserving world cultures seems to radiate energy.

Mr. Gibson has become a world traveler: helping a textile museum in Kurdistan, organizing a cultural conference in Mongolia, assisting the Hermitage museum in St. Petersburg, Russia. As senior cultural expert for the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), he's devoted the past 19 years to saving museums threatened by strife.

"Every museum has a soul," he says. "It's different for each of them. You have to be very sensitive to the soul, to the spirit of the space."

His graceful style and gentle suggestions have won him many friends.

"We've been isolated from the entire museum world, that is true," says Lolan Sipan, curator of the Kurdish Textile Museum in Arbil, the capital of Iraq's Kurdish region. "Stuart Gibson spent three weeks in Kurdistan helping us and giving us advice. During the time that he worked with us, it became personal."

Gibson often befriends his drivers and translators. The friendships result in relationships that span decades. Yet he also understands the need to tread lightly, that ultimately he is a guest in whatever country he is visiting.

"I like impossible projects, it's the missionary in me," says Gibson, who is on the road nearly 300 days a year. "We are all part of the same human body, and no one should be left out of it. I have a soft spot for projects that have been left out in the cold."

Because he finds letting go of a project so hard, he doesn't like to just pop in, offer advice, and leave.

"Iraqi experts are thirsty for truly international equal cooperation, and Dr. Stuart Gibson is the person who can offer it in a very gentle, but professional way," says Tamar Teneishvili, UNESCO's culture program specialist for Iraq, Jordan, and Syria...

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