What is Conservation and Selecting a Conservator

This article provides a concise definition of the difference between conservation, restoration and preservation of cultural heritage, as well as recommendations for choosing a conservator.

What is Conservation?

Conservation is a science-based discipline, based on technical principles and a professional Code of Ethics.

The intention of conservation treatment is to improve the condition of an object by stabilizing its physical condition. The conservator strives to retain as much original material as possible and to employ the best quality materials and the most carefully considered methods available.

Conservators are highly trained professionals who thoroughly examine and document objects in order to choose the most appropriate treatment options. A detailed written report and photographs describing the object’s material, condition, and treatment will be provided to the client.

What is Restoration?

Restoration is one aspect of conservation.  Conservation treatments may also require restoration, referring to the incorporation of replacement parts and compensation for losses in order to allow proper visual interpretation of an art object and evoke an acceptable esthetic appearance.

What is Preservation?

Preservation is an umbrella term that encompasses all of the varied activities involved in preventing damage and reducing the rate of deterioration for cultural heritage objects.  In addition to conservation treatments, professional conservators provide advice on preservation issues including display methods, archival quality storage options, environmental condition challenges, pest management, and packing for transportation.

For more information, please refer to the Canadian Association for Conservation (CAC) and the Canadian Association of Professional Conservators (CAPC) websites.

How to Select a Conservator?

As a rule, a conservator has the training and experience to treat objects.  Conservators often work according to their particular specialty, which means that they focus their practice on a certain type of object, for example, photographs, books or watercolours. 

A professional conservator will work according to the Code of Ethics and be willing to show examples of their work and provide references.

The CAPC is building a registry of professional conservators who have met strict entrance requirements and who adhere to the Code of Ethics. For more information, please consult the CAPC website for a list of qualified conservators.