This presentation is intended to provide general information on the field of conservation. Topics include “What is conservation?”, “What does a conservator do?” and “How do you find a conservator?”.
This Powerpoint presentation was created by the American Institute for Conservation (AIC) to provide an introduction to the field of conservation. Before discussing the field itself, an introduction to AIC is essential because it is a crucial resource for conservation information and assistance. The American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (AIC) exists to support the conservation professionals who preserve our cultural heritage. As the only national membership organization in the United States dedicated to the preservation of cultural material, the AIC plays a crucial role in establishing and upholding professional standards, promoting research and publications, providing educational opportunities, and fostering the exchange of knowledge among conservators, allied professionals, and the public. The AIC membership currently includes over 3,300 conservators, educators, scientists, students, archivists, art historians, and other conservation enthusiasts in over twenty countries around the world, all of whom have the same goal: to preserve the material evidence of our past so we can learn from it today and appreciate it in the future. (AIC website, “About Us” page)
So what is the field of art conservation? Conservation is defined by the American Institute for Conservation as the profession devoted to the preservation of cultural property for the future. The term cultural property describes a wide variety of material culture including objects, collections, specimens, structures, or sites identified as having artistic, historic, scientific, religious, or social significance. (1) (1) AIC Definitions of Conservation Terminology
Cultural property is threatened by exposure to a variety of detrimental factors including excessive light, temperature and humidity extremes, pests, pollutants, poor handling practices, natural disasters, and accidental damage. Our country’s museums, libraries, archives, other cultural institutions, and individual collectors rely on trained conservators to document, analyze, treat, and care for their collections. This work ensures that these cultural resources are given the finest possible care and are available for the education, scholarship, advancement, and enrichment of future generations. (2) Because cultural property is so diverse in materials the conservation field is made up of conservators specializing in the preservation of specific types of cultural property. For example… (2) University of Delaware, Department of Art Conservation web site, www.artcons.udel.edu
There are painting conservators that specialize in the conservation of easel paintings
And there are conservators specializing in the conservation of painted surfaces – that is architectural surfaces that are painted as seen here, polychrome sculpture, painted furniture and other painted objects
There are also object conservators, professionals that specialize in preserving 3-dimensional objects of cultural property – some object conservators may specialize in a certain type of material,
Such as organic or inorganic objects
Others specialize in the preservation of archaeological artifacts
Paper conservation is another discipline within the field – paper conservators care for works of art on paper as well as historic documents in library and archive collections.
Conservators may also specialize in textile conservation,
Natural history collection conservation
or outdoor sculpture
A conservator is a professional trained to physically save cultural property. Conservators are knowledgeable in material science, the history of material culture and must have fine hand skills in order to carry out conservation treatment techniques.
The primary goal of conservation professionals is the preservation of cultural property. In striving to achieve this goal, conservation professionals assume certain obligations to the cultural property, to its owners and custodians, to the conservation profession, and to society as a whole. Like many professional fields, conservation has established guidelines for professional practice. These guidelines have been formerly written by the American Institute for Conservation(AIC) and are referred to as the Code of Ethics. The Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Practice of the AIC, sets forth the principles that guide conservation professionals and others who are involved in the care of cultural property. (3) (3) AIC website, http://aic.stanford.edu/about/coredocs/coe/index.html
AIC defines the six primary activities of conservation as follows, examination, documentation, treatment, preventive care, research and education.
Prior to starting a treatment, a conservator carefully examines the cultural property that will be treated. Examination is usually visual, but in some cases sampling and/or testing for scientific analysis is necessary. Understanding the chemical make up of the cultural property in question, the chemical properties of the materials to be applied, and the chemical reactions which are expected to occur during treatment are essential components of a conservator's breadth of knowledge.
A conservator can learn a lot about an object through visual examination under normal lighting conditions. However, sometimes it may be necessary to study an object under different lighting conditions and with certain instrumentation to learn more. The image in the upper left of this slide depicts 3 transparent glass vessels being examined under ultraviolet light. Glass may fluoresce under ultraviolet light if it contains certain chemical elements that are excited by UV light. This provides qualitative information about an object that may provide a better understanding of how, when and where the glass was produced. In the lower right of this slide there is an image of an x-radiograph of an ethnographic artifact. X-radiographs can reveal internal elements that are not visible under normal lighting conditions. This x-radiograph was taken to see if there was an internal armature to the object itself.
Documentation is an important aspect of the AIC Code of Ethics and is a conservation activity that may distinguish a professional conservator from an amateur. The Code of Ethics states, “The conservation professional has an obligation to produce and maintain accurate, complete, and permanent records of examination, sampling, scientific investigation, and treatment. When appropriate, the records should be both written and pictorial.”
This is an example of pictorial conservation documentation.
Based on the examination of an object, a conservator offers a treatment plan to the custodian of the cultural property in question. The conservator's objective is to undertake a treatment that is suitable to the preservation of the aesthetic, conceptual, and physical characteristics of the cultural property. This treatment plan, which is preferably in writing, describes the course of treatment, states the objective(s) for the treatment, justifies the course of action, and lists alternative approaches and potential risks involved.(4) The plan may need to be adjusted as the treatment progresses, but any deviations from original course of action should also be communicated to the custodian. (4) AIC Guidelines for Practice Section 26, p.26
Interventions during the course of treatment should be reversible. There are some cases where this is not possible. Surface cleaning is a common form of conservation treatment and is an action that can not be reversed. Prior to cleaning an artifact, a conservator will consider its historical context: Does the staining/discoloration offer evidence of use? Does this use hold historical value? For Instance, a decision not to remove blood stains from a flag used in battle would be justified by a conservator's ethical standards, if those stains hold valuable information.
When determining the need for cleaning, the conservator also considers whether this action will enhance the chemical stability and increase the longevity of the cultural property. If the cleaning is for purely aesthetic purposes, other alternatives may be considered; such as placing or lighting the object in a certain way when on display or making a reproduction for display.
For paper objects treatment may include surface cleaning, as well as tear mending, and humidification and flattening.
Consolidation is an important treatment technique that involves the introduction of an adhesive to ensure unstable surface material is not lost.
Another intervention often confronting conservators is compensating for losses of original material. Not only should compensations be reversible, but they should also be detectable by common examination methods. In this way, the conservator's intervention is not confused with the original material. This is a critical difference between the traditionally accepted practice of “restoration”, where the attempt has been to make the artifact look like new, and the practice of conservation. Conservators do the utmost to provide the viewer with a visually cohesive result while still maintaining the historical information offered by the vestiges of time. By clearly indicating the difference between the compensation and the original, further study and analysis of the object will not be mis-leading.
Conservators are also involved in preparing cultural property for display. They build mounts and work closely with other mount-makers to ensure that the objects will be displayed in the safest manner possible. Techniques for mounting artifacts vary.
Preventive care covers all aspects related to warding off anticipated causes of deterioration and/or damage to cultural property. One conservator can care for more objects of cultural property by establishing and enforcing good preventive care conditions for a collection then he/she could by treating objects everyday. As the saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”.
Preventive conservation includes proper handling, packing and transport, housing/storage, monitoring the environment, conducting surveys and assessments, preparing for emergencies, and providing guidelines for the continuing use and care of a collection
Conservators monitor the environment in which the cultural property is displayed and/or stored. They measure and monitor relative humidity, temperature, and light levels, set up integrated pest management programs, and help reduce exposure to pollutants. Exposure to light can have a severe adverse effect on cultural properties. This is particularly true for textiles, works on paper and photographs. The detail on the right side of this slide shows how yellowed the print’s paper support has become where exposed to light while the outer edge, protected by a frame, remains white. Maintaining low light levels while objects are on display and in the dark while in storage can have a large impact on the longevity of the object. Conservators work with lighting engineers to provide appropriate light levels for artifacts on display, finding a balance between allowing enough light for viewers to appreciate the object without severely jeopardizing the object's safety. Damage due to light exposure is cumulative, so conservators will often request for specific objects to be rotated on exhibition in order to reduce the length of exposure.
Insects and other pests can cause detrimental damage to various types of collections. Most museums no longer use residual pesticides to eradicate insects that can damage cultural property. Pesticide residues such as arsenic and other poisonous substances are hazardous to the health of those who handle the treated artifacts. Some residues have also been found to be detrimental to the artifacts treated (5) Integrated Pest Management, or IPM, is a term used to describe pesticide-free monitoring for pests and the modifying of the environment to discourage pest attack. (6) The first step for a conservator implementing an IPM program is to assess the problem: Are there signs of insects, rodents, or birds? Has damage been caused to objects? Sticky “blunder” traps are often used to help monitor the residual population of insects in a building. (5) Pinniger, D. 2001. Pest Management in Museums, Archives, and Historic Houses. London: Archetype Publications. p.80 Hatchfield, P.B. 2002. Pollutants in the Museum Environment:Practical Strategies for Problem Solving in Design, Exhibition and Storage. London: Archetype Publications. p.34 (6) Ibid. p.1, p.51
Conservators help make plans in preparation for emergencies and help establish emergency response teams. They recommend appropriate material-specific salvage and/or recovery procedures for collections and records, demonstrate salvage and/or recovery procedures, and advise on special supplies and equipment needs. (7) Conservators conduct surveys of collections and assess the condition of said collections and their environment. These assessments help institutions devise a course of action for the care of the collections and can aid in attaining funding to implement these actions. (7) Ball, C., Yardley-Jones, A., and Eckert, T. eds. 2001. Help! A Survivors Guide to Emergency Preparedness. Edmonton: Museums Alberta
As mentioned earlier in this presentation when discussing examination, it is sometimes necessary to sample and test the material components of cultural property. Testing can irreversibly damage material, and removing original material for sampling will permanently alter the object. These actions are not taken lightly and the conservator must establish the necessity for such procedures. Only the minimum required is altered or removed, and the material removed is retained when possible. Understanding the chemical make up of the cultural property in question is essential when developing a treatment plan. In some cases conservators collaborate with conservation scientists to conduct various analytical techniques.
This slide depicts the cross section of a paint sample taken from an historic building for analysis. The actual size of the sample is that of a pin head. However, you can see that under magnification that tiny sample can provide a great deal of information. This cross section shows at least 15 layers of paint. A conservator can study the cross section under magnification using different lighting conditions and chemical tests to learn more about the history of the painted surface and to determine how to properly treat and preserve the surface.
Conservation education includes promoting public awareness of the field as well as training conservators.
Conservators participate in the education and training of others in preventive conservation. Some institutions offer “clinics”, where members of the public bring their objects and speak to conservators about how to best care for them. Others host workshops on caring for collections.
Over time, all objects change or deteriorate as a result of environmental conditions, use, accidents, and natural forces of decay. How an object is handled, displayed, and stored can mean the difference between preserving it for many years or for only a short time. You can take an active role in preserving special objects for your own enjoyment and for future generations to appreciate. *Note: Slides 39-47 cite the AIC website’s Basic Guidelines for the Care of Special Collections
The American Institute for Conservation recommends seven steps to preservation for individuals wanting to preserve their collections. 1. Minimize the effects of light. 2. Provide stable, moderate relative humidity and temperature. 3. Minimize the effects of air pollution. 4. Minimize pest activity. 5. Know how to handle your objects. 6. Know how to display your objects. 7. Know how to store your objects.
Avoid displaying organic materials in direct sunlight, even for short periods. Do not exhibit works of art close to incandescent bulbs, which give off heat. Avoid using frame-attached incandescent lamps on your paintings. Because light damage is cumulative and irreversible, your most sensitive objects should not be on display all the time but should be rotated periodically.
Provide stable, moderate relative humidity and temperature. Extremes in temperature and relative humidity probably occur most often in basements, attics, and garages. Store important objects elsewhere, such as a closet located centrally in your home. Do not place sensitive objects over active fireplaces, next to heating or cooling vents, in direct sunlight, or in bathrooms.
Minimize the effects of air pollution. Reduce the amount of dust in your home by upgrading and cleaning the filters in heating and air conditioning units regularly. Framing works of art on paper and small textiles behind glass will protect them from the acidic, abrasive effects of dust.
Minimize pest activity. Good housekeeping and proper storage can help keep your collection free of pests. Inspect objects on display and in storage at least once a year for signs of insect activity. If evidence is found, quarantine the object and immediately call a conservator for advice.
Know how to handle your objects. Many objects are much more fragile than they appear. Observe carefully the condition and size of the object before you attempt to move it. Be sure that you can carry it alone, or arrange for help. Before you begin, clear space to set the object down. Move small or light objects in a padded tray or basket. Always handle objects with clean, dry, lotion-free hands or preferably with clean cotton or plastic gloves. The acids, oils, and salts in human skin will tarnish and corrode metals and may damage lacquer and other materials such as porous ceramics.
Know how to display your objects. Be sure that the hanging devices on paintings and other framed pieces are strong and secure. Use wall hangers appropriate to the weight of the work of art and the nature of the wall on which it will hang. Locate fragile and breakable objects away from areas of activity where they may be bumped or knocked over. Protect objects in vitrines or under glass or acrylic. Avoid the use of sticky substances to secure objects on shelves or other surfaces. Ask a conservator to help prepare mounts for objects.
Know how to store your objects. Choose the materials you use for display and storage carefully to ensure that they are compatible with the objects. There are many suppliers of archival materials and the AIC website provides guidelines for selecting materials for specific types of collection materials along with bibliographic information for additional references.
Talk with a professional conservator About the display, storage, and preservation of your special objects About the preservation of our collective culture such as public statuary and historic buildings and sites About disaster planning for your area when you notice instability or changes in an object, such as a flaking surface or fading Before you try to repair a damaged object yourself Immediately, if your object is infested with insects or mold Before you unframe a textile, print, or photograph Conservators are always glad to give you information about the care of objects in your collection. A brochure is provided courtesy of the AIC. Among other services of the AIC is the Guide to Conservation Services, which provides a free list of conservators in your geographic region. You can access the list online at the url address provided here and call AIC if you have additional questions.
In closing, this presentation was created due to commitment of AIC to promote public awareness of the field of conservation and through the efforts of AIC members and member institutions. You are strongly encouraged to refer to the AIC website for future questions and information about the field.
An Introduction To Art Conservation
An Introduction to Art Conservation Prepared by the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works
What is Art Conservation? Image courtesy of Julie Heath & Ann Creager, Lunder Conservation Center.
Photos courtesy of Samantha Springer (top left), the Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts (lower right), and the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation.
Inpainting an oil painting on canvas Photo courtesy of the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation, by Lazlo Bodo.
Consolidating paint on an architectural interior at Shangri La Photo courtesy of Natasha Loeblich.
Consolidating paint on a mask from Papua, New Guinea Photo courtesy of Megan McFarlane.
Basket composed of organic materials Ceramics and glass are inorganic materials Photos courtesy of Winterthur Museum & Country Estate (right) & Julie Heath, Lunder Conservation Center (left).
Archaeological exploration of Sardis, Turkey Byzantine shop Photo by Dylan Smith, courtesy of Kate Cuffari.
Bathing a work of art on paper Photo courtesy of the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation, by Lazlo Bodo.
Stabilization of a tapestry Photo courtesy of Christina Ritschel.
<ul><li>Before and after treatment images of a gelatin silver print </li></ul>Eugene Smith, “Three Generations of Welsh Miners,” 1950, gelatin silver print. Photos courtesy of Christina Finlayson and Paul Messier.
Furniture conservation treatment Photo courtesy of Brian Considine, The J. Paul Getty Museum.
Monitoring a natural history collection exhibit Photo courtesy of Tania Collas and the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.
Conservators assembling a Louise Nevelson outdoor sculpture Photo courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, taken by Joe Mikuliak.
Photos courtesy of the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation. Lower left and right photos by Lazlo Bodo. What do conservators do?
<ul><li>AIC’s Code of Ethics </li></ul>Photo courtesy of Corine Norman. Surface cleaning an Andy Warhol print
Six Primary Activities of Conservation: <ul><li>Examination </li></ul><ul><li>Documentation </li></ul><ul><li>Treatment </li></ul><ul><li>Preventive Care </li></ul><ul><li>Research </li></ul><ul><li>Education </li></ul>Photo courtesy of Stephanie Oman.
<ul><li>Examination </li></ul><ul><li>Documentation </li></ul><ul><li>Treatment </li></ul><ul><li>Preventive Care </li></ul><ul><li>Research </li></ul><ul><li>Education </li></ul>Six Primary Activities of Conservation: Photo courtesy of the Art Conservation Department, Buffalo State College.
Photos courtesy of Joyce Hill Stoner. An x-radiograph of N. C. Wyeth’s sketch for a family portrait revealed his 1919 illustration “The Mildest Mannered Man” in Everybody’s Magazine
<ul><li>Examination </li></ul><ul><li>Documentation </li></ul><ul><li>Treatment </li></ul><ul><li>Preventive Care </li></ul><ul><li>Research </li></ul><ul><li>Education </li></ul>Photo courtesy of Julie Heath & Ann Creager, Lunder Conservation Center, Smithsonian American Art Museum & National Portrait Gallery. Six Primary Activities of Conservation:
Treatment images of a ceramic plate Photo courtesy of the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation. Treated by Kate Cuffari.
<ul><li>Examination </li></ul><ul><li>Documentation </li></ul><ul><li>Treatment </li></ul><ul><li>Preventive Care </li></ul><ul><li>Research </li></ul><ul><li>Education </li></ul>Photo courtesy of Anya Shutov. Six Primary Activities of Conservation:
Surface cleaning a Pablo Picasso drawing Photo courtesy of Adam Novak.
Bathing two works of art on paper Photo courtesy of the Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts.
Treatment of an engraved print from 1553 made up of 17 sheets of paper for a total of 15 feet in length Photo courtesy of the Board of Trustees, National Gallery of Art, Washington.
Photo courtesy of Megan McFarlane. Consolidating paint on a mask from Papua, New Guinea
Reconstruction and compensation for loss of a ceramic pitcher Photo courtesy of the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation, treated by Samantha Springer.
Sculptures by John Rogers, during treatment (above) and on display at the Luce Foundation Center, Smithsonian American Art Museum (below) Photo courtesy of Julie Heath, Lunder Conservation Center, Smithsonian American Art Museum & National Portrait Gallery.
<ul><li>Examination </li></ul><ul><li>Documentation </li></ul><ul><li>Treatment </li></ul><ul><li>Preventive Care </li></ul><ul><li>Research </li></ul><ul><li>Education </li></ul>Photo courtesy of Anya McDavis-Conway. Conservator measuring light levels Six Primary Activities of Conservation:
Preventive Conservation Includes: <ul><li>Proper handling </li></ul><ul><li>Packing and transport </li></ul><ul><li>Housing/storage </li></ul><ul><li>Monitoring the environment </li></ul><ul><li>Conducting surveys and assessments </li></ul><ul><li>Preparing for emergencies </li></ul><ul><li>Guidelines for use of artifact or collection </li></ul>
Photos courtesy of Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, The Joseph H. Hirshhorn Bequest, 1981. Photo by Chris Smith. Pablo Picasso’s Head of a Woman damaged by light exposure
Insect damage on an historic carpet Photo courtesy of Lauren Cox.
Paper documents and American Civil War era swords damaged by Hurricane Katrina at Beauvoir, the Jefferson Davis residential library and home Photo courtesy of the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation. Photo Debra Hess Norris.
<ul><li>Examination </li></ul><ul><li>Documentation </li></ul><ul><li>Treatment </li></ul><ul><li>Preventive Care </li></ul><ul><li>Research </li></ul><ul><li>Education </li></ul>Photo courtesy of the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation. Six Primary Activities of Conservation:
Cross section of a paint sample from a historic dining room at Eppington, Chesterfield County, VA seen at 200x magnification in reflected visible light Photo courtesy of Susan Buck.
<ul><li>Examination </li></ul><ul><li>Documentation </li></ul><ul><li>Treatment </li></ul><ul><li>Preventive Care </li></ul><ul><li>Research </li></ul><ul><li>Education </li></ul>Photo courtesy of Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation. Photo by Joyce Hill Stoner. Six Primary Activities of Conservation:
Teaching the public about art conservation at the Lunder Conservation Center, Smithsonian Institution Photo courtesy of Julie Heath, Lunder Conservation Center, Smithsonian American Art Museum & National Portrait Gallery.
What can you do to care for your collections? Photo courtesy of the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation. Photo by Lazlo Bodo.
Seven Steps To Preservation: <ul><li>Minimize the effects of light. </li></ul><ul><li>2. Provide stable, moderate relative humidity and temperature. </li></ul><ul><li>3. Minimize the effects of air pollution. </li></ul><ul><li>4. Minimize pest activity. </li></ul><ul><li>5. Know how to handle your objects. </li></ul><ul><li>6. Know how to display your objects. </li></ul><ul><li>7. Know how to store your objects. </li></ul>
Minimize the effects of light <ul><li>The moccasin on </li></ul><ul><li>the left was light damaged while on display; the moccasin on the right has always been kept in storage </li></ul>Photo courtesy of the National Museum of American Indian, Smithsonian Institution. Photo by Kelly McHugh.
Provide stable, moderate relative humidity and temperature Photo provided by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.
Minimize the effects of air pollution Photo courtesy of the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation.
Minimize pest activity Photo courtesy Paul Messier. Insect damage to a 19 th century photograph, anonymous photographer.
Know how to handle your objects Photo courtesy of the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation. Photo by Lazlo Bodo.
Know how to display your objects Photo courtesy of Winterthur Museum & Country Estate.
Know how to store your objects Photo courtesy of Jae Gutierrez.
<ul><li>www.conservation-us.org </li></ul><ul><li>(202) 452.9545 • firstname.lastname@example.org </li></ul>How to find a conservator…
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS <ul><li>Many thanks to all the individual and institutional members of AIC that contributed images to make this presentation possible. </li></ul><ul><li>Thanks to AIC 2008/2009 Public Outreach Lecture Task Force members Jae Gutierrez, Yadin Larochette, and Julie Heath for their work on this presentation. </li></ul><ul><li>Sincere thanks to Brett Rodgers of AIC for his contributions to the project. </li></ul>