About Conservation


The Conservation Profession

The purpose of the modern conservation profession is to restore and preserve culturally significant material for the future.

Conservators examine, document, and restore collections, and provide for their long-term preservation. They also carry out research and work on projects in the areas of authentication and dating. Many conservators work in museums and other institutions that have collections that are important to society at large. But conservators also work on a variety of things owned by private individuals, some of which are mainly of importance to the people who own them. Proper conservation treatment assures the long-term preservation of things that people want to keep.

Conservators in the United States are represented by the American Institute for Conservation of Historic & Artistic Works (AIC) which promulgates a Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Practice. This document stipulates certain kinds of professional behavior, including written and graphic documentation of works undergoing treatment. Ethical treatments are also reversible, meaning that they can be undone without damage to the object. Another working rule is that conservators use only materials that are chemically stable, which means they do not change with time. This helps to assure the safety and longevity of the object.

Conservation can be a highly technical field, and we realize that conservation terminology can be confusing. In addition, conservation ethics requires that conservators do certain things in a specific way that may be unlike the ways that other people do them.  A good example is what conservators do when they treat things with damage or areas of lost paint: inpainting

(A ‘Before and After’ example of inpainting; an oil painting of Samuel Fraunces {artist unknown} from the Fraunces Tavern Museum that we performed conservation on. Note the areas of damage and missing paint, before inpainting was done, then after…)

inpainting example

Inpainting, as opposed to restoration in general, means that all the added paint goes into the area of missing paint and none covers the existing original paint. Doing this may take longer than repainting a whole area because colors have to be matched precisely, but it assures that the treated object or painting looks the way it should. 

These issues, and others, are set down in the Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Practice of The American Institute for Conservation of Historic & Artistic Works (AIC), the American professional organization for conservators. The Code is available on the AIC website.