Go back to article: Challenges of conservation: working objects

Using museum objects

The conservation concepts outlined above focus on a cautious approach aimed at retaining original material and limiting change. But conservation cannot involve total protection if objects are to have a use in a museum – to make an active contribution to research and enjoyment they must be accessible. So not only are objects cleaned, reconstructed or sampled for research, but they are exposed to hazardous environmental conditions. Paintings and watercolours are routinely exhibited even though it is known that exposure to light is damaging. When lent to other institutions, valuable objects are transported across the world even though this may involve sometimes rapid environmental changes or abrupt movement and vibration. In each case the risks and benefits will be carefully evaluated. Paintings or objects will be selected for display or loan only if considered to be in a suitable state, and specific conditions (such as exhibiting in low light levels, or use of specially designed travel crates) will be agreed and applied; nevertheless, some risk remains when making these uses possible. Consequently there has been extensive research into the effects of the environment on heritage objects, and into ways to mitigate them (Ashley-Smith, 1999; Caple, 2012; Staniforth, 2013).

It is also important to remember that in the whole range of acknowledged heritage there are objects which continue in daily use: listed buildings, eighteenth-century furniture, Stradivarius violins, grandfather clocks, Victorian paintings, wooden sailing yachts. For many or most of these the benefit of continued active life has been achieved as a result of repair, replacement and adaptation, and some loss of original features.

Component DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15180/160608/010