Conservation-restoration, also referred to as conservation, is a profession devoted to the preservation of cultural heritage for the future. Conservation activities include examination, documentation, treatment, and preventive care. All of this work is supported by research and education.
However, today the definition of the role of conservation has widened and would more accurately be described as that of ethical stewardship. The traditional definition of the role of the conservator involves the examination, conservation, and preservation of cultural heritage using “any methods that prove effective in keeping that property in as close to its original condition as possible for as long as possible.”
The conservator applies some simple ethical guidelines, such as:
- Minimal intervention.
- Appropriate materials and methods that aim to be reversible to reduce possible problems with future treatment, investigation, and use.
- Full documentation of all work undertaken.
In order for the conservator to apply their professional expertise accordingly, they must take into account the views of the stakeholder, the values and meaning of the object, and the physical needs of the material, in order to decide upon an appropriate conservation strategy.
Definitions of Conservation Terminology
The legacy of our collective cultural heritage enriches our lives. Each generation has a responsibility to maintain and to protect this heritage for the benefit of succeeding generations. Those who care for cultural property – the material aspects of that heritage – use special terminology as defined by the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (AIC) as follows:
Conservation: The profession devoted to the preservation of cultural property for the future. Conservation activities include examination, documentation, treatment, and preventive care, supported by research and education.
Examination: The investigation of the structure, materials, and condition of cultural property including the identification of the extent and causes of alteration and deterioration.
Documentation: The recording in a permanent format of information derived from conservation activities.
Treatment: The deliberate alteration of the chemical and/or physical aspects of cultural property, aimed primarily at prolonging its existence. Treatment may consist of stabilization and/or restoration.
Stabilization: Treatment procedures intended to maintain the integrity of cultural property and to minimize deterioration.
Restoration: Treatment procedures intended to return cultural property to a known or assumed state, often through the addition of non-original material.
Preventive Care: (also referred to as preventive conservation): The mitigation of deterioration and damage to cultural property through the formulation and implementation of policies and procedures for the following: appropriate environmental conditions; handling and maintenance procedures for storage, exhibition, packing, transport, and use; integrated pest management; emergency preparedness and response; and reformatting/duplication.
Cultural Property: Objects, collections, specimens, structures, or sites identified as having artistic, historic, scientific, religious, or social significance.
Preservation: The protection of cultural property through activities that minimize chemical and physical deterioration and damage and that prevent loss of informational content. The primary goal of preservation is to prolong the existence of cultural property.
Conservator: A professional whose primary occupation is the practice of conservation and who, through specialized education, knowledge, training, and experience, formulates and implements all the activities of conservation in accordance with an ethical code such as the AIC Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Practice.