Coronavirus Update: Our team is here to help our clients and readers navigate these difficult times. Visit our Resources page now »

Skip to Main Content

Home Explore Careers

Conservators and Conservation Technicians

History

Conservation is the youngest of all museum disciplines. The word "conservation" has been used in reference to works of art only since approximately 1930. For at least a century before 1930, museums may have employed restorers, or restoration specialists, but the philosophy that guided their work was much different than the ideas and values held by conservators today. Early conservators were often craftspeople, artists, or framers called upon to restore a damaged work of art to an approximate version of its original condition. They repainted, varnished, or patched objects as they saw fit, working independently and experimenting as necessary to achieve the desired results. Conservators today use highly scientific methods and recognize the need both to care for works of art before deterioration occurs and to treat objects after damage has been done. A key guiding principle in conservation is to avoid introducing changes in a work that are irreversible.

The first regional conservation laboratory in the United States, known as the Intermuseum Conservation Association, was created in 1952, in Oberlin, Ohio, when several smaller museums joined to bring their skills together.

Thanks to increasingly precise cleaning methods and scientific inventions such as thermal adhesives, the science of conservation has advanced. Today, the field is highly specialized and those who work in it must face demanding standards and challenges.