The purpose of conservation lies in the importance of preserving our heritage.
Our past legitimizes our present, and we continually seek a connection with it. The physical artifacts we've produced over time—sometimes referred to broadly as cultural property or cultural material—are one way we find that connection with our heritage.
Objects come to us directly from our ancestors, representing a physical certainty or truth to revere, study and interpret, as we assign to them a complex array of values ranging from the monetary to the sentimental. The field of conservation endeavors to protect and preserve these objects for the future.
Hathor Temple, Dendera complex, Egypt
Conservators are professionals trained extensively in the preservation of cultural property, and they serve as advocates for that preservation. They typically have an advanced degree in conservation with interdisciplinary backgrounds that include art history, studio art, materials science, chemistry, archaeology, and other related fields. If they haven’t attended a graduate conservation program, they have trained in long apprenticeships with recognized senior professionals.
Conservators usually specialize in a specific area, such as paper, photographs, paintings, textiles or objects.
There are archaeological conservators, architectural conservators and conservation scientists, among others.
Conservators are called to respond to emergencies to save cultural heritage in areas struck by conflict and natural disaster.
In addition to a broad skill set, conservators follow a code of ethics and guidelines designed to protect the integrity of cultural material, to respect its history and intent, and facilitate its care and interpretation for present and future generations.
CONSERVATION VS RESTORATION
The conservation profession today is distinguished from restoration practices of yesterday, largely due to changing attitudes and increased awareness of the responsibilities in preserving heritage. The field has developed with an integration of the sciences and an emphasis on technical investigation.
While restorative procedures may be part of a conservation treatment today, they are always secondary to measures needed to stabilize and arrest deterioration. The decision to restore an object's intended appearance is approached after careful consideration, weighing the benefits, the necessity, and the overall affect on the object.
Keep in Mind...
When seeking preservation or restoration services, it’s important to work with professionals that follow the current tenets of the conservation field. A conservation professional will:
• keep their client (the owner, custodian or authorized agent of the object) informed of their plans for treatment, and will only act with their approval and consent.
• strive to fully and accurately document their work, and will share this documentation - including full disclosure of their techniques and materials - with their client. There are no “trade secrets”.
• use informed judgment in choosing compatible materials and methods that will not adversely affect the fabric of the original work, and which do not hinder its future care and treatment.
• seek to isolate their interventions from the original, in order to ensure or increase their potential to be removed safely in the future.
Learn About Hiring a Professional
The American Institute for Conservation
The Getty Conservation Institute
The Institute of Conservation
The International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property
The Heritage Emergency National Task Force
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization / World Heritage Centre