Go back to article: Challenges of conservation: working objects

The aims of conservation

All materials decay over time, even when housed in apparently beneficial conditions; some will change imperceptibly, some more rapidly. Conservation has two main aims: the first is to limit the rate of decay, because it leads to loss of information and significance in heritage objects. The second is to make objects physically and intellectually accessible to those interested in them (scholars, enthusiasts, museum audiences, and so on) (Keene, 2008; Pye, 2008; Saunders et al, 2008). The foundation beneath both these aims is the need to understand objects in all their complexity – fabric, structure, function, meaning (Pye, 2001; de la Torre, 2002 and 2013).

How an object may be made accessible will be dictated in part by its material condition, in part by what people want to know and experience, and importantly by the role it is to play in the museum. So, it may be used as part of an exhibition (where it will be exposed to light), or in a project working with the elderly (where it may be handled), or it may be the subject of scientific investigation (during which it may be sampled for analysis). Each of these situations will have their own risks so whether an object is considered suitable for any of these purposes will be a matter of discussion and negotiation. Modes of access may range from being able to view a fragile item only under closely controlled conditions in a display case, to being able to handle and manipulate an object, or even try it out (Feinup-Riordan, 2003).

Component DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15180/160608/003