Contacting a Conservator

Having identified a conservator specialised in the type of object you have, call and arrange a time and location to view the object/collection. This meeting may take place at the conservator’s work place, at your home or where the item is stored. A conservator will not offer you concrete treatment proposals or cost estimates until he/she has fully examined your object/collection.

What you need to consider before this meeting:

  • Depending on the circumstances, you may be expected to pay for travel expenses and written reports even though the work may not be commissioned. Please ensure you ask the conservator if they charge for the consultation and a written report or estimate before you arrange to meet.
  • What is your deadline? Decide in advance when you would like the work completed. Make this clear to the conservator before you meet, to ensure they can undertake the project within the time available.
  • How much money have available? This may dictate the level of treatment you can afford. Ask the conservator to discuss with you different treatment approaches and techniques that might be suitable for your object/collection.
  • What additional costs may occur? For example you may need to transport a large oil painting to and from the conservator or insure it during the treatment. You may decide to purchase a new frame. You may need to adapt a space in your home to display or store the conserved object.

Most conservators will be pleased to provide details of their training and experience and to discuss recent examples of their work.

A growing number of conservators are now professionally accredited. The benefit of using an accredited conservator is the assurance that he/she has met the high standards demanded by the conservation profession. Moreover, an accredited conservator is committed to ongoing learning and development while working to professional guidelines and the codes of ethics of the accrediting body.

What to expect

  • A condition report - this records the present condition of the object and may indicate the causes of deterioration.

  • A treatment proposal – this details a proposed treatment. A good practitioner will be prepared to discuss alternative treatment with you. For example, it may prove too costly for full conservation treatment to be applied and an alternative should be suggested.

  • A cost estimate – this may detail the hourly or daily rate, the time required to treat the work, and the cost of any materials.

Before going ahead with the treatment, double check details such as organising transportation and insurance, which you as owner may be are responsible for.

As the treatment proceeds you should expect to be informed of any developments that result in an adjustment to the original treatment proposal and estimate.

On completion the conservator will provide you with a written treatment report, including before and after photographs. They will also advise you on how best to care for the object after conservation.

Collection Care and Preservation

The conservator has a professional role to play in the preservation of heritage objects. Conservators can a survey a collection to identify preservation problems. This survey can quantify the amount of material that is stable or unstable to deterioration, which items need preventive conservation or those requiring interventive conservation measures.

A conservator can help to co-ordinate preservation strategies for an object/collection by assessing conditions that are present, and documenting any risks to the long term survival of a collection. A conservator can also offer general advice on objects that are particularly sensitive to changes to its environment. The advice a conservator can offer may save on greater expenditure down the road.

Definitions of Terms

Conservation - describes all direct actions taken by a conservator to slow down deterioration and prolong the life of an object. This can be as basic as repairing a tear on a page or as complicated as replacing a badly damaged leather binding.

Restoration – describes the treatment of an object to aesthetically return it to as close a state as its original as possible. This may be a step that follows conservation. The terms are often treated as interchangeable, but are distinctly different.

Preservation - describes all activities that help slow down deterioration and protect a heritage object or collection from physical damage. This includes providing the appropriate standards of environmental control, exhibition conditions, handling, storage, and security. It can range from providing suitable packing for storage to managing a disaster response plan.

Conservator - a professional who has gained the necessary knowledge, experience and training qualifications to act with the aim of preserving cultural heritage for the future. Every conservator will specialise in the treatment of certain types of objects, reflecting the diversity of cultural heritage that require specialist attention and care. A conservator has obligations to the integrity and survival of historic and artistic works and to their owners/custodians, the public and to posterity. Conservators follow professional ethics in the manner of their work and in the limits of what can and cannot be achieved. All treatments adhere to the ethos of minimum intervention; ‘do as much as necessary and as little as possible’.