What is Conservation?
The main goal for the conservation of cultural heritage objects is to slow deterioration and maintain respect for the integrity of the object.
In a discussion about conservation, you will frequently hear the terms stabilization, restoration, and preservation three terms that are often interchanged.
- This is the first step when dealing with a heritage object. Since the main goal of conservation is to slow deterioration thus extending the longevity of an object, this step involves reinforcing, strengthening, or consolidating already existing deterioration.
- This is another term often used in conjunction with stabilization. Here existing deterioration is actually repaired, returning it as close to its original state as possible, using modern conservation-safe materials.
- This is the result of stabilization, restoration, and cleaning combined with recommended mounting,display, and storage techniques, thus increasing an object’s longevity and reducing the appearance of existing damage.
The preamble of the AIC Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Practice undertaken by the American Institute for Conservation (Washington, DC, 202-452-9545), states “The primary goal of conservation professionals, individuals with extensive training and special expertise, is the preservation of cultural property. Cultural property consists of individual objects, structures, or aggregate collections.
It is material which has significance that may be artistic, historical, scientific, religious, or social, and it is an invaluable and irreplaceable legacy that must be preserved for future generations.
In striving to achieve this goal, conservation professionals assume certain obligations to the cultural property, to its owners, and custodians, to the conservation profession, and to society as a whole. This document sets the principles that guide conservation professionals and others who are involved in the care of cultural property.”
Respect for the integrity of an object refers to preserving the original and historic character and components of that object. This respect influences treatment, display, storage, and restoration recommendations made by conservation professionals. The materials and methodology a conservator utilizes during conservation must be stable and conservation-safe, another important aspect of conservation ethics.
In addition, conservation ethics directs that conservators employ materials and techniques that guarantee reversibility, as some treatments will not last forever and may have to be repeated.