A Conservation Technician is a specialist who is trained in basic conservation methods pertaining to cultural property and may work in museums or public or private conservation organizations.Typically an individual may work with or be subordinate to a conservator. A technician may also work in conjunction with other collection staff, such as a registrar (museum) or collection manager.
A conservation technician may have a broad range of responsibilities. They may be required to create housing for objects going on exhibit or update documentation on the status of an object. Other responsibilities may include conducting tests, assessing the condition of an object and helping set up exhibits. Some types of responsibilities are dependent on the museum the technician works. In a large organization a conservation technician may conduct one specific activity, such as sampling paint layers. In other museums a conservation technician may be required to conduct a wide variety of tasks, such as research, labeling objects, monitoring environmental conditions and examining works of art.For example, a technician may be asked to examine and document a newly acquired cultural object. They may document the type of materials used in the object as well as any observed degradation to the object. Additionally, the technician will document previous restoration techniques to the object.
While a conservation technician supports the activities of the conservation department, they can also assist and collaborate with the functions of other departments, such as the collection management department within a museum. In this capacity, a technician may assist collections staff to create packing crates, take photographs to document an object or document evidence of any pests.
Mitigating and preparing for emergencies is an especially important task for conservation technicians and all conservation staff. Protecting cultural objects from fire, smoke and water damage can be particularly difficult. To ensure objects are kept as safe as possible, technician responsibilities may range from collecting appropriate equipment and supplies to creating the emergency plan. After the emergency responsibilities may include conducting conservation treatment as needed.
The knowledge and skills a conservation technician must have is as varied as their responsibilities. According to the AIC’s Requisite Competencies for Conservation Technicians and Collection Care Specialists, some of the areas technicians should be generally knowledgeable about include collection management, conservation assessment, research, data collection, examination, the environment and treatment. The AIC list the following knowledge areas as being the most applicable for conservation technicians.
Skills technicians should have include database management, documentation techniques, emergency response techniques, laboratory techniques, such as conducting the Oddy test, and treatment techniques. Similar to the knowledge areas, the AIC also lists the most applicable skills for a conservation technician.
|Collections Management||Communication Techniques|
|Conservation Assessment||Cosmetic Reintegration Techniques|
|Conservation, History, Ethics, Philosophies, and Goals||Database Management Techniques|
|Conservation Research||Documentation Techniques|
|Conservation Terminology||Education and Training Techniques|
|Data Collection||Emergency Response Techniques|
|Deterioration Processes||Graphic Illustration Techniques|
|Emergency Preparedness||Health and Safety Techniques|
|Health and Safety||Laboratory Techniques|
|Laboratory and Studio Maintenance||Mount-making Techniques|
|Materials Properties/Conservation Chemistry||Photography Techniques|
|Pest Management||Stabilization Techniques|
|Preventive Care||Superficial Cleaning Techniques|
|Treatment||Technical Examination Techniques|
In the U.S., there is no specific training or nationally recognized curriculum to become a conservation technician.Hands-on training is typically completed through internships, on the job training and mentorships. Most museums and conservation organizations require a B.A. or B.S. degree. Thus, it is beneficial to take subjects focusing on art history and civilizations as well as biology and chemistry. Individuals will also benefit from volunteering and interning at museums to acquire the appropriate skills. To be hired, some museums require at least two to five years experience.
The U.K. also does not have formalized training for conservation technicians. However, the Institute of Conservation (ICON) sponsors a Conservation Technician Qualification (CTQ), which some U.K. museums recognize. The CTQ is promoted as a way for individuals to gain training through paid or unpaid host organizations. There is no formal structure to this program; however, there are ongoing assessments looking at the progress of the individual. Furthermore, a mentor is assigned to the individual to help guide and instruct. The program is designed to help individuals gain experience and then be able to progress into conservation work or other areas.
There are a number of professional organizations available to conservation technicians. These organizations help promote the professional standards and interests of the conservator profession.
Several organizations around the globe have created guidelines for the ethical care of cultural objects. The AIC created the Code of Ethics and ICON created the Professional Guidelines.Both of these documents guide how conservators and others in the collection management field handle and respect the objects in a collection. When an object is accessioned into a collection or moved to an exhibit or sent out on loan, it requires documenting to update the conservator and collection management staff on the object’s current status. This act of documentation is a consistent theme in several of the tenets of the code. Essentially, the guidelines promote an environment of respect and honesty to ensure the objects will be preserved for the future.
The AIC has an additional document called the Guidelines for Practice that supports and complements the Code of Ethics. The guidelines pertain to professional conduct, examination and scientific investigation, preventive conservation, treatment, documentation, and emergency situations. With regard to examination and scientific investigation the guidelines expect conservators and technicians to understand the justification for the examination, the reasoning for sampling, testing and subsequent interpretation.
The conservation and restoration of cultural heritage focuses on protection and care of tangible cultural heritage, including artworks, architecture, archaeology, and museum collections. Conservation activities include preventive conservation, examination, documentation, research, treatment, and education. This field is closely allied with conservation science, curators and registrars.
The Institute of Conservation (Icon) is a charity and the professional body for conservators and restorers in the United Kingdom. It has over three thousand members, including professional conservators working with heritage objects and buildings.
The conservation and restoration of photographs is the study of the physical care and treatment of photographic materials. It covers both efforts undertaken by photograph conservators, librarians, archivists, and museum curators who manage photograph collections at a variety of cultural heritage institutions, as well as steps taken to preserve collections of personal and family photographs. It is an umbrella term that includes both preventative preservation activities such as environmental control and conservation techniques that involve treating individual items. Both preservation and conservation require an in-depth understanding of how photographs are made, and the causes and prevention of deterioration. Conservator-restorers use this knowledge to treat photographic materials, stabilizing them from further deterioration, and sometimes restoring them for aesthetic purposes.
In library and archival science, preservation is a set of activities aimed at prolonging the life of a record, book, or object while making as few changes as possible. Preservation activities vary widely and may include monitoring the condition of items, maintaining the temperature and humidity in collection storage areas, writing a plan in case of emergencies, digitizing items, writing relevant metadata, and increasing accessibility. Preservation, in this definition, is practiced in a library or an archive by a librarian, archivist, or other professional when they perceive a record is in need of care.
With respect to cultural heritage, conservation science is the interdisciplinary study of the conservation of art, architecture, technical art history and other cultural works through the use of scientific inquiry. General areas of research include the technology and structure of artistic and historic works. In other words, the materials and techniques from which cultural, artistic and historic objects are made. There are three broad categories of conservation science with respect to cultural heritage: 1) understanding the materials and techniques used by artists, 2) study of the causes of deterioration, and 3) improving methods/techniques and materials for examination and treatment. Conservation science includes aspects of chemistry, physics and biology, engineering, as well as art history and anthropology. Institutions such as the Getty Conservation Institute specialize in publishing and disseminating information relating to both tools used for and outcomes of conservation science research, as well as recent discoveries in the field.
A conservator-restorer is a professional responsible for the preservation of artistic and cultural artifacts, also known as cultural heritage. Conservators possess the expertise to preserve cultural heritage in a way that retains the integrity of the object, building or site, including its historical significance, context and aesthetic or visual aspects. This kind of preservation is done by analyzing and assessing the condition of cultural property, understanding processes and evidence of deterioration, planning collections care or site management strategies that prevent damage, carrying out conservation treatments, and conducting research. A conservator's job is to ensure that the objects in a museum's collection are kept in the best possible condition, as well as to serve the museum's mission to bring art before the public.
The International Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (IIC) is a global organisation for conservation and restoration professionals with over two thousand members in over fifty countries. IIC seeks to promote the knowledge, methods and working standards needed to protect and preserve historic and artistic works throughout the world.
Object conservation is a term used to denote the conservation of works of art and three-dimensional artifacts. Conservation encompasses all the actions taken toward the long-term preservation of cultural heritage. Activities include examination, documentation, treatment, and preventive care, which is supported by research and education. Object conservation is specifically the actions taken to preserve and restore cultural objects. The objects span a wide range of materials from a variety of cultures, time periods, and functions. Object conservation can be applied to both art objects and artifacts. Conservation practice aims to prevent damage from occurring. This is called ‘preventive conservation’. The purpose of preventive conservation is to maintain, and where possible enhance, the condition of an object, as well as managing deterioration risks, such as handling and environmental conditions. Historically, object conservation was focused on the category of fine arts but now many different types of objects are conserved. Each type of object material, typically denoted by organic or inorganic then the specific medium, requires a specialized professional conservator and often requires collaborative work between museum staff, scientists, and conservators.
Iron, steel, and ferrous metals constitute a large portion of collections in museums. The conservation and restoration of iron and steel objects is an activity dedicated to the preservation and protection of objects of historical and personal value made from iron or steel. When applied to cultural heritage this activity is generally undertaken by a conservator-restorer. Historically, objects made from iron or steel were created for religious, artistic, technical, military and domestic uses. Though it is generally not possible to completely halt deterioration of any object, the act of conservation and restoration strives to prevent and slow the deterioration of the object as well as protecting the object for future use. One of the first steps in caring for iron is to examine them and determine their state, determine if they are corroding, and consider options for treatment.
A mount maker is responsible for the creation of structures called object mounts used to provide unobtrusive physical support, stability, and security of objects while on display, in storage, or being transported to museums, art galleries, libraries, archives, botanical gardens or other cultural institutions. Protection and long-term conservation of the object is a key goal of mount makers. This is accomplished through careful design, selection of materials and manufacturing process that will not inadvertently harm the object, and a cautious installation process of the object into its place in an exhibit. Professionals in this field can be employed directly by an institution, be independent contractors, or work as part of larger cultural institution exhibit design firms.
An Objects conservator is a professional, working in a museum setting or private practice, that specializes in the conservation of three-dimensional works. They undergo specialized education, training, and experience that allows them to formulate and implement preventive strategies and invasive treatment protocols to preserve cultural property for the future. Objects conservators typically specialize in one type of material or class of cultural property, including metals, archaeological artifacts, ethnographic artifacts, glass, and ceramic art. Objects conservation presents many challenges due to their three-dimensional form and composite nature.
A conservation scientist is a museum professional who works in the field of conservation science and whose focus is on the research of cultural heritage through scientific inquiry. Conservation scientists conduct applied scientific research and techniques to determine the material, chemical, and technical aspects of cultural heritage. The technical information conservation scientists gather is then used by conservator and curators to decide the most suitable conservation treatments for the examined object and/or adds to our knowledge about the object by providing answers about the material composition, fabrication, authenticity, and previous restoration treatments.
The documentation of cultural property is a critical aspect of collections care. As stewards of cultural property, museums collect and preserve not only objects but the research and documentation connected to those objects, in order to more effectively care for them. Documenting cultural heritage is a collaborative effort. Essentially, registrars, collection managers, conservators, and curators all contribute to the task of recording and preserving information regarding collections. There are two main types of documentation museums are responsible for: records generated in the registration process—accessions, loans, inventories, etc. and information regarding research on objects and their historical significance. Properly maintaining both types of documentation is vital to preserving cultural heritage.
A photograph conservator is a professional who examines, documents, researches, and treats photographs, including documenting the structure and condition of art works through written and photographic records, monitoring conditions of works in storage and exhibition and transit environments. This person also performs all aspects of the treatment of photographs and related artworks with adherence to the professional Code of Ethics.
The conservation and restoration of wooden furniture is an activity dedicated to the preservation and protection of wooden furniture objects of historical and personal value. When applied to cultural heritage this activity is generally undertaken by a conservator-restorer. Furniture conservation and restoration can be divided into two general areas: structure and finish. Structure generally relates to wood and can be divided into solid, joined, and veneered wood. The finish of furniture can be painted or transparent.
A textile conservator is a conservator-restorer charged with the care, treatment, research, and preservation of textiles. Issues addressed by a textile conservator are generally related to the field of textile preservation, and include damage caused to textiles by: light, mold and mildew, insects, cleaning, surface cleaning, washing, mounting for display, and storage. Variations in textile types and “the diversity of the textile conservator’s work makes it a very rewarding profession”. Textiles are among the most fragile artifacts, as they are susceptible to damage from atmospheric pollutants, moisture, biological organisms, and environmental changes and care varies with size, shape, material, and condition issues, all of which a textile conservator must be well versed.
The exhibition of cultural heritage objects is a practice used by organizations where collected objects are put on display to the public. The objects are carefully chosen and placed together to offer educational value, and often to tell a story.
The European Confederation of Conservator-Restorers' Organisations (E.C.C.O.) is a European non-governmental professional organisation aimed at safeguarding cultural heritage through the use of conservation-restoration techniques.
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