Conservator

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Conservators plan, organise and undertake the preservation and conservation of materials and objects in private and public collections, including libraries, archives, museums, art galleries and Future Growth Very Strong historical and archaeological sites. Conservators use a combination of science and art to preserve and restore art and historical artefacts. They organise regular and systematic inspection of a collection to examine and evaluate the condition of objects, checking for damage to be repaired and ensuring they are stored in optimum conditions to minimise deterioration. Some conservators may be responsible for confirming an object's identification and authenticity. They may also undertake their own research into deterioration problems and conservation and restoration procedures, developing new methods to preserve and maintain collections.


ANZSCO description: 234911: Plans and organises the conservation of materials and objects in libraries, archives, museums, art galleries and other institutions.

Alternative names: Art Restorer, Museum or Gallery Conservator, Preservation Officer

Specialisations: Art Conservator

Conservators specialise in a range of areas including paper, paintings, photographs, social and cultural artefacts, bookbinding and archives, furniture, archaeological materials, buildings and historic sites, textiles and preventative conservation.

Knowledge, skills and attributes

Old BooksA conservator needs:

  • a keen eye for detail
  • excellent hand-eye coordination
  • a high level of creativity and good problem-solving skills
  • patience
  • an interest in history and art
  • good communication skills.
  • patience and ability for fine manual work
  • aptitude for science, in particular chemistry and physics
  • aptitude for using computers
  • attention to detail
  • ability to understand and apply professional and ethical codes of conduct
  • artistic and/or technical aptitude
  • normal colour vision
  • sensitivity to Indigenous and ethnic cultural issues
  • interest in history, art history and materials technology.

Duties and Tasks

Conservators may perform the following tasks:

  • examine and evaluate the condition of objects and confirm their identification and authenticity
  • organise systematic inspection of collections and prepare written and photographic reports
  • advise on the optimum storage and display conditions (e.g. correct light, relative humidity, integrated pest management and temperature control) for the objects in their care
  • advise on the correct methods for handling, storing, displaying and transporting works of art and artefacts
  • conduct research into the material or technological nature of collections and of materials and techniques critical to their preservation or conservation
  • undertake extensive research into deterioration problems within collections
  • undertake conservation and restoration procedures to correct damage or control deterioration and record details of measures taken.

Working conditions

Conservators typically work in a studio or laboratory environment, usually in museums, galleries or off-site storage facilities. They often work in environments where the temperature, lighting and humidity is controlled and specially designed to preserve the objects in a collection. Some conservators may work freelance, travelling between collections for short contracts when restoration work is required. They may be exposed to chemical fumes from substances such as adhesives and solvents, which can be harmful in large quantities. They generally work standard office hours, though evening and weekend work may be required to meet deadlines.

Tools and technologies

Conservators use a range of equipment depending on their area of specialisation and the type of work they are carrying out. Their tools can range from scalpels and fine paintbrushes through to heavy power tools such as bandsaws and drills. They also use a range of adhesives, solvents, paints, dyes and other chemicals to treat artworks, prolonging their life and repairing damage. They may use technologies such as x-rays, infrared photography and microscopes to examine artefacts for signs of damage and deterioration.

Education and training/entrance requirements

To become a conservator you usually have to complete a degree in heritage, museums and conservation at university. Alternatively, you can complete a science, arts or fine art degree with a major that is relevant to cultural materials conservation, followed by a Master of Cultural Materials Conservation at the Centre for Cultural Materials Conservation.

Did You Know?

Conservators strive to protect precious objects -- everything from medieval tapestries, Chinese porcelain, and Mexican murals to classic comic books -- and to restore them to their former glory.

Tapestry

Conservators know a lot about art history and chemistry. They also work with a wide range of professionals, including archaeologists, art dealers, interior designers, architectural preservationists, and even nuclear physicists.

Conservators often specialize in particular materials or types of object, such as documents and books, paintings, decorative arts, textiles, metals, or architectural materials.

The tools and techniques of conservators include x-rays, chemical testing, microscopes, and special lights.

(Source: College Board)
 

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