Who is a Conservator?
A conservator acquires skill and ability through study and practical experience. Most restorers today have completed a rigorous course of study through an accredited post-graduate program combined with several years of internships. However, there are still many top-quality restorers who are apprentice-trained.
The study which is needed includes a knowledge of art history, historical and modern artists’ materials, the structure and behavior of these materials, chemistry and knowledge of the scientific methods available for examining, restoring preserving objects of art. In practice, a restorer also needs to be able to interpret, if not obtain, documentation photographs, infra-red photographs, ultraviolet photographs and x-rays. That a restorer should know how to paint is assumed as part of their manual dexterity. A restorer is committed to the preservation of the art work and the artist’s original intent.
Selecting a Conservator
Most museums, when asked, will offer a list of various restorers in the area. It is up to the object owner to select a restorer. The list of names they offer is a convenience and courtesy to the public but never a warranty. To find a conservator affiliated with a professional organization, the American Institute for Conservation (AIC) can supply you with a list of conservators in your area.
Object owners are advised to consider the recommendations from museums, the AIC, and reputable collectors and evaluate several conservators. Selection of a conservator should be explored thoroughly.
What to Expect from Your Conservator
If you select a conservator from a list of names, get in touch with them and ask if they can come to see the object or if you can bring it to them for examination of its condition. Before you write or telephone, it is wise to have all the facts about the object at hand: its approximate date of origin, maker if you know it, dimensions and some description of what seems to be wrong with it. Once the contact has been made and the conservator has examined your object, you can ask them for a report on its condition, their proposed treatment and an estimate of costs involved. In some instances, several different treatments may be suggested with an explanation of the result each will have and a list of ranging costs. The decision as to which plan is acceptable may depend upon the value of the object to the owner and the cost of the work. When financially possible, it is always wisest to carry out the proposal which will best preserve the object.
Danger Signals in a Restorer
A good practitioner has no need for secrecy, for they prosper according to the excellence of their performance. For this reason, it is wise to avoid any restorer who declines to tell you what they propose to do and insists that their treatment is a private secret, the telling of which would endanger their income.