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Art Conservation Treatments

Professional conservation treatments are usually carried out on fine art, special or rare books, and certificates or documents when the damage has compromised the integrity and/or stability of the artifact. For example, an etching that has gotten partially wet, with a tideline resulting, will benefit from a reduction of the stain and the removal of the contamination in the paper deposited by the flood waters. Similarly, a framed watercolor in an archival mat that has gone through a house fire has absorbed moisture because of the high level of humidity in the house. If it is unframed and air-dried, the painting should be fine and will simply need to be rematted.In deciding whether to have a piece conserved, go back to your priorities. What is the value of this piece to my total collection? What is its monetary value, its emotional value? Is this a unique piece, a duplicate or one of several in an edition? Answering some of these questions may help you make your decision.

A conservator’s code of ethics requires them to be the advocate for the artwork, in much the same way that a doctor advocates for the patient. A trained conservator will spell out your options for treatment. Treatment needs are broken into four categories:

  • If the piece is severely torn and bits are going to be lost in moving it or trying to store it, then it will be a high treatment priority.
  • If the artwork has a few small tears and is a bit dirty and rumpled, but can be stored safely, then treatment may be deferred but should be done in the near future.
  • If damage such as staining has compromised the overall aesthetics of the artwork, but the work can be safely stored, then treatment becomes an option.
  • The artwork is in good condition and needs no work.

Conservators can also work within a budget. A full treatment might cost several hundred dollars — but if you only have $200 to put toward this project, then ask what can be done for your budget.

For advice on how to choose a conservator, visit the American Institute for Conservation.