What is Conservation?

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​WUDPAC 2020 paintings majors Jennifer Meyers, Julianna Ly, and Tracy Lui inpaint late-19th -century Thai painting, entitled Buddha Descending from Tavatimsa owned by the Walters Museum of Art (Image credit Evan Krape, University of Delaware).

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What is art conservation?

Art conservation is the field dedicated to preserving cultural property. Our cultural property is threatened by repeated exposure to a variety of detrimental factors, including excessive light, temperature, and humidity extremes, pests, pollutants, poor handling practices, natural disasters, and accidental damage. The survival of this heritage depends on the availability of educated and trained conservation professionals. 

Conservators are professionals who are skilled in the scientific treatment and preservation of cultural artifacts. They have the specialized knowledge and skills in the arts, sciences, and other fields that enable them to undertake scientific studies on objects, stabilize the structure and reintegrate the appearance of deteriorated cultural artifacts, and establish an environment in which artifacts are best preserved.

Conservators specialize in a particular material or group of objects such as paintings, art on paper, textiles, library and archival artifacts, photographs, archaeological or indigenous materials, sculpture, furniture, or decorative objects. Our country's museums, libraries, archives, and other cultural institutions, as well as individual collectors, rely on trained conservators to document, analyze, treat, and care for their collections. This work ensures that these cultural resources are given the finest possible care and are available for the education, scholarship, advancement, and enrichment of future generations.

Additional information can be found in the new "Quick Start Guide: A Career in Conservation," prepared by the American Institute for Conservation (AIC) and the Emerging Conservation Professionals Network (part of AIC), available here.

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