Go back to article: Challenges of conservation: working objects


Conservation emerged from the crafts of making and repairing objects. Not surprisingly, conservation at this museum developed from an engineering tradition of maintenance, keeping machinery in working order (so might involve regular lubrication, replacement of worn parts, removal of damaged varnish or paint, repainting, and so on). During the twentieth century there was a shift in the practice and philosophy of museum conservation towards a more scientific approach which sought to understand the chemistry of materials and the way they deteriorate, and to develop ways to prevent or halt deterioration (Rathgen, 1905; Plenderleith, 1998; Gilberg, 1987). At the same time a more conservative approach was evolving – aiming to retain as much of the fabric of the original object as possible.
Now in the twenty-first century the focus has broadened considerably to embrace questions about the motives for conservation: why are these objects being conserved; who is interested in them; and what do they want to know or experience? The emphasis now is on the whole object – not just its material constituents but what it may mean – its significance (Caple, 2000; Pye, 2001; Muñoz Viñas, 2005; Richmond and Bracker, 2009).

Conservation today has evolved from the narrow purpose of practical repair to a well-developed discipline with its own ethics and philosophy. In major museums conservators work as part of a wider team including curators and scientists – each member contributing to an understanding of the whole object, and to conservation decisions (Ward, 1986; Pye and Sully, 2007). The conservation procedure chosen is shaped by the ethos of the museum, the principles of the conservation profession, and by the views of those with an interest in the object. Consultation of interest groups, and sometimes their involvement in the conservation process itself, has led to the evolution of what is becoming known as social or public conservation (Clavir, 2002; Sully, 2007; Salomon and Peters, 2009).

Component DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15180/160608/002