What is Conservation?
Conservation is the art and science of preserving material culture. The professionals who do this work are called conservators. Conservators examine, study, and make recommendations for the safekeeping of historical and archaeological objects. They may work for museums, other cultural institutions such as libraries or galleries, or in private practice.
The primary goals of modern conservation are to stop or slow the deterioration of cultural materials and to ensure their long-term preservation. Agents of deterioration may include moisture, light, oxygen, heat, biological organisms, pollution, and mishandling. Preservation and stabilization may be accomplished through active conservation treatments or through preventive conservation, such as providing good storage and exhibition conditions. The methods used by conservators depend on the material of the object, the environment in which it was found, and its physical condition.
The work of conservators is important not only because it preserves artifacts, but also because the careful examination and cleaning involved may reveal information about artifacts. For example, discovering the material composition of an object may assist in dating it and in understanding the technology of the relevant time period. Or, during cleaning, a conservator might uncover features such as tool marks or maker's marks that provide information about how, when, and where an object was made. All of this information contributes to a more complete understanding of the object and culture being studied.
About the Kelsey Conservation Laboratory
The Kelsey Museum has a long history of valuing conservation and preservation. In 1975, Kelsey director John Pedley hired the museum's first professional conservator, Amy Rosenberg. Ms. Rosenberg was responsible for establishing the Conservation Laboratory, and for the first time all preservation activities began to be fully documented. Since 1975, many undergraduate and graduate students have learned about conservation through the museum's laboratory. The Kelsey currently employs two full-time conservators, Suzanne Davis and Caroline Roberts, both of whom specialize in the treatment of archaeological objects.
Conservation is a fundamental part of almost all Kelsey activities. The laboratory is responsible for all exhibit and loan conservation issues. It also pursues an active program of preventive conservation that encompasses climate control, environmental monitoring, and integrated pest management. Kelsey conservators also pursue conservation treatment and research initiatives that support the long-term preservation of the museum's collection.
Conservation education remains an important part of the lab's mission. Students are hosted by the lab on a regular basis, and the conservators lecture for a variety of university programs.
The conservation laboratory has provided conservation for Kelsey-sponsored fieldwork since 1975. In addition, the conservators provide preservation planning and grant-writing services.
Online Exhibition: "Ancient Color"
Ancient Color (February–July 2019) examined colors in the ancient Roman world, how these colors were produced, where they were found, what the Romans thought about them, and how we study them today.
Online Exhibition: "Conserving Antiquity"
The exhibition "Conserving Antiquity" was displayed at the Kelsey Museum in 2012–2013; it focused on the field of conservation, the deterioration of objects and archaeological sites, the work of conservators, and the importance of preserving material culture.
Articles on Conservation in the Kelsey Museum Newsletter
- Ancient Color Curator Interview (Fall 2018)
- Examining Bone Figurines from Seleucia (Spring 2015)
- Symposium on Abydos Conservation (Fall 2013)
- Conserving Antiquity Offers Insider's View (Fall 2012)
- Terenouthis Funerary Stelae: Development of a Treatment Protocol (Spring 2012)
- Conservation Book Donation; Kress Fellowship (Fall 2011)
- A Perfect Fit (Spring 2011)
- Conservation at Abydos (Spring 2009)
- Conserving Maria Barosso's Watercolors (Spring 2009)
- Tel Kedesh 2008: Conservation Update (Fall 2008)
- Field Conservation 101 for Archaeologists (Spring 2008)
- Conservators Prepare for Moving (but not Shaking) (Spring 2008)
- The Traveling Conservator: Tales from Turin (Spring 2007)
- Kylix Conserved by Undergraduate Apprentice (Fall 2005)
- To Abydos and Back: A Conservator's Travelogue (Spring 2005)
- Behind the Scenes at the Kelsey: Exhibition Conservation (Spring 2003)
- Conserving the Barosso Watercolors (Spring 2000)
External Conservation Links
- Conservation is regularly featured on the Kelsey blog
- The American Institute for Conservation
- Conservation OnLine
- The International Institute for Conservation
- International Council of Museums Committee for Conservations