by Laura Stirton Aust, ARTcare

The last newsletter included an article on when to call a conservator.  Unfortunately it may be easier to determine that your artwork needs conservation treatment than it is to find a conservator. Locating the appropriate conservator will require some time and energy.  The process is analogous to finding a doctor -- you want a knowledgeable professional, expert in the area of your need, to whom you can trust the health of your valued work of art.  This article is intended to identify some of the issues involved with finding and selecting a conservator.

First, the conservation profession is not regulated by law and its professional associations are voluntary.  Selecting an appropriate conservator requires learning a bit about the field of conservation and what to expect from a professional, then asking some fundamental questions of those who are being considered.

A conservator may have a graduate degree in conservation or may be trained through apprenticeship.  A professional will have theoretical and scientific knowledge as well as practical experience.  Most importantly, your conservator should have integrity and a commitment to the highest possible achievement.  Conservation entails examination, scientific analysis, and research in addition to a keen eye and steady hand. 

One of the best sources of information about conservation can be found at the American Institute for Conservation (AIC) which is the national organization for conservation professionals.  Though anyone can be a member of AIC, only those recognized as Professional Associates or Fellows of AIC have met specified levels of peer review and have agreed to adhere to the AIC Code of Ethics.  AIC has a referral network that, in response to a request, will compile a list of conservators grouped by location and specialization. 

There are also international, regional and local conservation organizations which hold lectures and meetings where individuals can learn about conservation issues and meet conservators.  Collectors also can call museums, libraries, and/or historical societies in search of conservation information.  Some institutions have conservators on staff who can answer questions or recommend private conservators.  Some staff conservators also treat private clients' artwork in the museum's facilities after normal working hours.  Bear in mind that being employed at an institution does not automatically seal a reputation.  Ask all the same questions that you would ask of any prospective conservator.

Generally a framer or art dealer does not have the professional qualifications to perform art conservation.  However, framers and dealers often work with conservators and as a service to their clients can provide names of conservators.  Be cautious if a framer offers to show your art to a conservator then gives you a call with the price.  It is important to know who the conservator is , whether they have the needed skills and exactly what work is to be performed.

Whatever the source of information on specific conservators, it is critical to ask for some basic information about their training, area of expertise, business practices and conservation ethics.

To help determine the qualifications of a conservator first ask:

For a resume that includes where he/she received conservation training.  

How long has he/she practiced conservation?

Determine the scope of the practice.  Is conservation the primary activity? 

What professional organizations does he/she belong to? 

For references from previous clients. 

Finally, find out how long treatment might take.  Some conservators have backlogs of several years.

Know what to expect from conservation treatment

Your artwork will need to be examined before a treatment can be suggested. 

The conservator should provide a written treatment proposal with estimated costs.  This is intended to protect you as well as the conservator.

Ask questions about the proposed treatment.  Will the paper color change?  Can mends be removed in the future?  How will staining be reduced?

Ask if insurance or shipping charges will be additional. 

Inquire about what documentation accompanies the artwork when conservation is complete?  You should be provided with a report and photographs documenting the artwork before and after treatment.

Finally, conservation treatments are often time consuming and expensive.  Not every conservator takes the same approach to treatment.  Ask about risks, options and results.  If possible, speak with a number of conservators and be wary of those who propose a quick and/or inexpensive fix.  Finding a professional whose conservation ethic reflects your own desires is worth the time investment.

Sources of Information

The American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (AIC), 1717 K Street N.W., Suite 200 Washington DC 20006, <> or call 202.452-9545

The Canadian Association of Professional Conservators 280 Metcalfe Street, Suite 400, Ottawa, Ontario Canada K2P 1R7

Canadian Conservation Institute (CCI) 1030 Innes Road, Ottawa Ontario Canada K1A 0M5> 613.998-3721

The International Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (IIC) 6 Buckingham Street London, England WC2N 6BA  01-1441-839-5975

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