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What is Conservation?

Conservation is the profession devoted to the preservation of cultural property for the future. In order to provide the most thorough conservation assessment of any given object, a conservator specializes in areas such as:

  • fine arts (painting, sculpture, prints, drawings, photographs)
  • decorative arts (furniture, textiles, ceramics, glass)
  • paper documents and books
  • archaeological materials
  • anthropological materials
  • monuments and historic buildings

Since most of the Maryland State Archives' collections are books and papers, the conservators at the Archives primarily work on book and paper conservation.

The American Institute for Conservation (AIC) website provides more information about book conservation and paper conservation.

When evaluating an object, the conservator often incorporates his or her technical/scientific and historical/aesthetic interpretation:

  • Examination: to determine the current condition of the object.  During this step, the object is evaluated for dirt/soot, tears or cracks, and any other imperfections in the object which may decrease its stability.
  • Documentation: to create a permanent record of the current state of the object, called a condition report, as the foundation from which the conservator will make suggests on stabilizing or treating the object.
  • Preventative Conservation: allows the conservator to outline exactly what action needs to be taken to avoid future deterioriation while trying to maintain the original condition of the object as much as possible.
  • Treatment: outlines the specific steps necessary to conserve the object.  Treatment may include, but is not limited to, removing grime and other coatings, adding materials to support orginial ones, restoring appearance, displaying/storing the object in a specific way.

The AIC defines conservators as professionals who work to physically save our cultural property from the ravages of time, the threats of pollution, and the devastation brought by natural disasters. A conservator may be trained at a conservation graduate training program or by lengthy apprenticeship with experienced senior colleagues. Working in museums, other cultural institutions, research labs, and in private practice, conservators combine unique skills gained through ongoing study and advanced training in art history, science, studio art, and related disciplines to care for and preserve our tangible history.

Because of the increasingly technical nature of modern conservation, conservators usually specialize in a particular type of object, such as: paintings, works of art on paper, rare books, photographs, electronic media, textiles, furniture, archaeological and ethnographic materials, sculpture, architectural elements, or decorative arts.

For further information on Conservation and Preservation see the AIC website.

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© Copyright March 26, 2019 Maryland State Archives