Frequently Asked Questions
What is the best way to contact American
American Conservation Consortium offer products for sale?
- What Is conservation?
- How can my museum/organization fund conservation
Staff is often working at various sites throughout the country.
Therefore, it may be several days or even weeks before we are back in the office
or studio. Generally, the best method of contact is by email at
firstname.lastname@example.org. As a backup,
it is a good idea to leave a voice mail at 603-679-8307. Of course, if we
are there, we will answer your call!
Except for quantity purchases of commercial dehumidifiers by
DEC-ThermaStor and digital low-tech
environmental controls, we do not offer any products for sale.
However, we do provide supplier links
for such items. We offer the dehumidifiers and controls as a service to
the museum community at a deeply discounted-to-the-trade
Stated simply, conservation is the preservation (minimization of future
stabilization (consolidation of existing deterioration), and restoration (repair
deterioration) of historic and artistic objects. The causes of deterioration are
better understand how they can be minimized. Environmental conditions are
and adjusted to approach the optimum level. Treatment materials and processes
for stability, safety with regard to the objects for which they are intended,
effectiveness. Hand skills and knowledge are developed constantly. Education and
dissemination of information are promoted, as is fastidious documentation of
Early restorers used methods and techniques that were handed down from one
to the next and were undoubtedly borrowed from the appropriate artistic and
traditions. Due to the effect of the former guild system in Europe, many of
techniques and materials were kept secret and a mystique grew about restoration.
second half of the 19th century, economic factors came into play. Values of
pieces were rising and demand was high. Restoration ethics (or lack thereof)
the execution of invisible repairs and visual "improvements" to pieces,
culminating in an
entire industry which produced fakes and pieces assembled from old parts.
By the early 20th century, artistic and historic objects were being examined in
academic and scholarly manner. Their importance as cultural documents was being
realized and, as such, the need to preserve them in an unaltered or "original"
evident. A number of individuals in the museum world recognized the benefit of
at deterioration and preservation from an interdisciplinary perspective. They
science, particularly chemistry, could be applied to better understand the
nature of a piece. This knowledge, combined with anthropological and art
study of the object and its original production techniques led to a better
deterioration processes. While the secrecy of traditional restoration had
information exchange, early conservators became committed to open communication
ideas and techniques. For the first time, preservation and treatment processes
As the conservation profession developed, it borrowed techniques of examination
analysis from many different fields. These included the use of X-radiographs to
hidden areas of a piece, and the determination of an unidentified finish by
spectrometry. Original conservation research added new information. All of this
the realization that many traditional restoration techniques, while providing
visual or structural improvement, were actually causing long-term deterioration.
Research and testing advanced at an ever-increasing pace.
Early training opportunities for conservators consisted primarily of hands-on
similar to a traditional crafts apprenticeship. In order to fill a growing need
broad-based training, graduate conservation training programs were developed in
1960's and 1970's. Requirements for admission to these Masters degree programs
a Bachelor's degree with significant course work in art history, chemistry, and
Most programs also require experience as a technician or volunteer in a museum
conservation laboratory. The graduate programs generally include two years of
art techniques, materials science, methods of analysis, advanced chemistry,
studies, conservation theory, and other related areas, in addition to hands-on
work in the
laboratory. Generally, the third year is an internship in a conservation
the supervision of a professionally-respected conservator in the chosen area of
specialization. The great benefit of attendance at one of the programs is the
of information and opinions that might otherwise require a lifetime to obtain.
Most treatment of horse-drawn vehicles in the past has been greatly influenced
traditions that dictated smooth, "new" surfaces. Little attention was paid to
surfaces or materials, except to serve as a model for remanufacture or
repainting, far too
often executed in an inferior manner. A conservation approach to carriages is
beginning to have wide-spread impact. Eventually, a much greater number of
vehicles and surfaces can be preserved by utilizing a conservation approach to
With the development of the conservation profession as we know it today, the
became apparent for a document outlining conservation attitudes. This was
by the American Institute for Conservation (Washington, DC, 202-452-9545). The
Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Practice is embraced by all conservation
This treatise represents and summarizes the essence of the conservation attitude
flavors every conservation activity and truly sets conservation aside as a
profession. It is recommended that vehicle caretakers familiarize themselves
Code and use it to guide their dealings both with conservators and with the
themselves (copies are available from AIC).
The Code's Preamble nicely explains its entire concept:
"The primary goal of conservation professionals, individuals with extensive
training and special expertise, is the preservation of cultural property.
property consists of individual objects, structures, or aggregate collections.
material which has significance that may be artistic, historical, scientific,
or social, and it is an invaluable and irreplaceable legacy that must be
future generations. In striving to achieve this goal, conservation professionals
assume certain obligations to the cultural property, to its owners and
the conservation profession, and to society as a whole. This document sets forth
the principles that guide conservation professionals and others who are involved
the care of cultural property."
Integrity of the Object
Perhaps the most important aspect of conservation ethics is an intense respect
integrity of the object, which influences all activities of a conservator, from
recommendations for exhibition to proposed treatments. The original or historic
character and components of a piece must be preserved whenever possible. It is
important to distinguish between original appearance and original components,
many times exhibit the effects of age and use. Returning a piece to original
may necessitate destruction of important information about the materials and
used by the maker, in addition to obliterating cultural information about how
was used and eliminating the subtle marks of age. Additionally, it should be
the original appearance is not necessarily the most important one. Alterations,
intentional or accidental, may have been made to the object that are important
historic or cultural perspective. Examples include a sword slash on a table
Stonewall Jackson during the Civil War, wear on a chair rung, indicating
supported feet, or alterations to a carriage by the original maker a number of
years after its
Stable, Reversible Materials
Another important element of conservation ethics is the use of materials and
that are stable and well-tested. It is important to know that a material will
quickly and, more importantly, that treatment processes will not damage the
an object has been significantly harmed because an uninformed individual used a
or varnish that slowly but steadily degraded the underlying surface. It is
remember that such deterioration does not necessarily occur immediately, but
its effects can be compounded severely.
Additionally, every attempt must be made to use processes and materials that are
reversible or removable, both immediately following use and after aging. This is
for several reasons. Materials used in conservation treatments are subject to
deteriorative processes as is the object. They will not last forever and the
eventually will have to be re-treated. Reversibility also provides for
new and better treatments in the future by allowing removal of the initial one
causing damage. Finally, there is always a chance something might go wrong
treatment and reversibility insures being able to attempt it again.
Documentation of a piece's initial condition and record of treatment is another
ethical issue. Conservators produce a detailed treatment proposal prior to
working on a
piece and a treatment report after completion of the project listing the
and materials used. These written records are usually supplemented with a series
photographs taken both before and after treatment. The tools of X-radiography,
and ultraviolet photography, microscopic cross-sectioning, and various
procedures are used as necessary to provide further documentary information.
Documentation allows present and future owners to know exactly what has been
an object and is especially helpful during future treatments or in the event of
caused by previous treatments or improper care. It also prevents
confusion over what is original.
In a further attempt to clearly differentiate the work of the conservator from
components of the object, conservators will often choose to use materials and
that are easily detected as being modern. An extreme example of this would be
the use of
a plexiglass pedestal to support a coach wheel that is missing several spokes.
instances, this treatment option would be considered too aesthetically and
severe. A more generally acceptable approach would be to make new spokes of the
or similar species of wood as the original, with coloration as necessary to
harmonious overall appearance of the wheel. Areas that are not normally visible
not be colored, allowing easy detection of the new wood.
In determining the proper treatment for a piece, the conservator must not
piece's value or aesthetic appeal. Each and every piece, regardless of age or
deserves the same quality of treatment. In instances where time or funds are
extent of the treatment can be adjusted, but never the quality. It therefore
follows that a
conservator can never answer the question of whether it is "worth" treating an
Besides being unethical to consider the piece's value, it is obviously a
conflict of interest
for the conservator, since an affirmative answer will have a positive economic
upon him/her. Only the owner or caretaker can consider value when determining
or not to proceed with a treatment. If the owner is uncertain of the piece's
should consult with a competent appraiser and not with the conservator. Bear in
that value is not only economic, but also includes historic value, cultural
emotional value as well.
Each and every piece is unique. These differences may be subtle but they are
critical. Even if two identical horse-drawn vehicles were made at the same time
same person, changes occurred that were dependent upon the total environment and
history of each vehicle. Each one was probably made of slightly different
have somewhat different properties. If the vehicles had two different owners,
differing temperatures, relative humidities, light levels, and storage
conditions will have
caused differing degrees of deterioration. One owner may have used a cleaner,
affected the nature of the varnish, while the other did not. One carriage may
subjected to daily abrasion, bangs, and water, while the other may have been
for special occasions. Obviously, the vehicle receiving frequent use/abuse would
required more frequent repair and revarnishing, probably with materials that
completely different from the original, and possibly are not easily removable.
upon the abilities of the repairperson, it even could have suffered severe
damage to its
integrity and character.
For these reasons, the conservator must consider the specific needs and
condition of each
vehicle in order to determine an appropriate treatment procedure. Coupled with
that there are usually several equally acceptable treatment options, it becomes
that a conservator must personally examine an object before giving a suggested
It is impossible to approach conservation from the perspective of a definite and
"cookbook" solution for each conservation problem. This is precisely why a
must have such a broad background of training and experience.
It is the responsibility of the conservator to be aware of the latest
information in their area
of specialization in order to allow the best possible treatment of objects in
Additionally, conservators have an obligation to the profession to share their
with other conservators, including the training of students in both formal
settings and as apprentices and assistants. Education of the public and other
non-conservators is accomplished through publications, lectures, workshops, and
answering of public inquiries.
These are several of the key elements of the AIC Code of Ethics. Numerous
guidelines and concepts are generated from the use of these standards. The
and application of these are the essence of the conservation profession.
Conservation projects are funded in many different ways. Care and
preservation of collections is a fundamental responsibility of any
not-for-profit institution. However, surprisingly few actually have a line
item in the budget for this activity. This is by far the preferred method
of funding collections care. Without a collection, the public will have no
reason to visit, and the institution may cease to exist. And,
unfortunately, all collections deteriorate. So, the first
avenue of funding is to lobby appropriate staff and members of the Board to make
a permanent and serious commitment to preservation of the collections.
Many institutions, even small, all volunteer ones, have been very successful
in raising collections care funds through donations. These can be based
upon appeals for individual projects, or can be designed around forming an
endowment for overall preservation and conservation. The obvious advantage
of an endowment is that funding is available in future years, so building one
can be well worth the effort.
Grants are a common source of funding for collections care. Very small
institutions have as good a chance of receiving funding as larger ones.
The quality of the project design and the application narrative are the most
important factors. It is definitely worth while to seek professional
assistance in preparing one of these grants. The staff of American
Conservation Consortium would be glad to assist you in this process.
The Institute of Museum and Library Services
provides grants (federal) to museums and not-for-profits that allow preservation
and conservation of collections. Their Conservation Project Support Grant
(CP Grant) may be the most important avenue for conservation funding available
in the United States today. They provide the funding for the Conservation
Assessment Program (CAP - administered by Heritage Preservation) and the Museum
Assessment Program (MAP - administered by the American Association of Museums).
The National Endowment for the Humanities provides extensive funding
(federal) of cultural activities. Of
particular interest are the Preservation Assistance Grants (PAG), which are
non-match grants of up to $5,000, Grants to Preserve and Create Access to
Humanities Collections, a matching grant with awards up to $1,000,000, and
Stabilization of Humanities Collections Grants, a matching grant with awards up
Another funding alternative is
Save America’s Treasures. This program is
preservation of nationally significant collections and buildings. However,
it is not only relevant for blockbuster objects, but also for collections of
less significant individual objects that in the composite represent a nationally
significant resource. If, for example, you have the most complete group of
historic furniture made in your region, you can argue national significance for
your collection. You have the best research resource for these objects in
the country. These grants are up to $1,000,000, so the effort to apply can
be richly rewarded.
Many states have programs that will provide collections care funding.
Occasionally, there will be local businesses or foundations that can assist with
preservation. Creativity is often rewarded in the fund-raising arena, so
try all avenues available to you.