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What are the Different Careers in Art Conservation and Restoration?

Art conservation and restoration careers span various fields, including archaeology, architecture, and fine arts. Professionals may work as conservators, restorers, or technicians, preserving historical artifacts, restoring damaged art, or researching new preservation techniques. What specific role could you see yourself in within this fascinating field?
Patrick Roland
Patrick Roland

Art conservation and restoration involves preventing the decay of a work of art and bringing it back to its original quality, often after years of neglect. Careers in this field tend to be divided by what type of art is being conserved. Experts focus on a particular medium: either paintings, sculptures, textiles, or paper. Art restoration professionals in any one of these mediums must be experts on artistic style, history and safe preservation methods.

Chemistry is a major component of art conservation and restoration efforts dealing with painting. One of the biggest jobs of a painting restorer is to first diagnose the level of damage to a work, often caused by smoke, dirt and sunlight, and second determine how to repair this damage. Understanding the chemical makeup of the paint and canvas helps experts determine the best way to clean and restore the paint to its natural luster. Painting preservation experts must also know how to repair torn canvases and antique frames.

A paper conservationist or restorer works with historic documents, such as antique maps.
A paper conservationist or restorer works with historic documents, such as antique maps.

Sculpture experts must have a firm understanding of stoneworking and metalworking. In art conservation and restoration, most sculptures fall into these two categories and it is crucial that these experts can diagnose weather damage and other forms of decay on sculptures. Regular tasks for a sculpture conservator include cleaning statues, preventing future damage, and making minor repairs to the work. In most cases, sculpture experts place a higher emphasis on cleaning and prevention instead of fixing problems.

Sculpture experts must be able to clean and repair sculptures, as well as prevent future damage.
Sculpture experts must be able to clean and repair sculptures, as well as prevent future damage.

Textile preservation careers encompass anything from cloth to woodworking and even pottery. Art conservation and restoration jobs dealing with fabric art, like tapestries and antique clothing, require a strong understanding of sewing and cleaning techniques from various periods in history. Similarly, repairing and restoring antique furniture requires a vast understanding of woods and building techniques in order to bring a table, chair or bedroom set from hundreds of years ago back to life. Objects like antique plates, pottery, and silverware must also be preserved and demand a full understanding of glass and metal types.

Woodworkers preserve different pieces of furniture.
Woodworkers preserve different pieces of furniture.

Careers in paper art conservation and restoration are among the most delicate of these jobs. Drawings, paintings on paper, and historic documents are particularly susceptible to decay. Professionals who care for these works must understand how to handle works so more damage does not occur and how to defend against paper's enemies: moisture and sunlight.

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Discussion Comments

pastanaga

@indigomoth - It is a difficult job but look at the rewards an art conservator gets.

They are able to participate in great works of art like no one else ever has, except for the people who originally made them. They get to see them up close, take care of them and do a service for every person who ever gets the chance to see them from that time.

Artwork restoration isn't always selfless, I mean it's a job like any other, and sometimes it is done for privately owned pieces, rather than for the public.

But, it would still be very satisfying for the right kind of person to know that you were preserving something wonderful.

indigomoth

This career must involve some serious study and passion.

Not only do you have to understand science, especially chemistry, and perhaps the weather, or even biology, but you also have to know the process of creating an artwork, as well as art history and perhaps the cultural history of whatever piece you are restoring. On top of all that, you'd have to learn the restoration techniques you can apply in each situation. And I'd imagine it is a long and painful process to restore a badly damaged piece of art.

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    • A paper conservationist or restorer works with historic documents, such as antique maps.
      By: RTimages
      A paper conservationist or restorer works with historic documents, such as antique maps.
    • Sculpture experts must be able to clean and repair sculptures, as well as prevent future damage.
      By: Pavel Losevsky
      Sculpture experts must be able to clean and repair sculptures, as well as prevent future damage.
    • Woodworkers preserve different pieces of furniture.
      By: kartos
      Woodworkers preserve different pieces of furniture.
    • A furniture restorer may fix antique rocking chairs.
      A furniture restorer may fix antique rocking chairs.
    • Smoke can cause damage to art.
      By: Samo Trebizan
      Smoke can cause damage to art.