In Summary - Conservator - Museum / Art Gallery
Conservator - Museum / Art Gallerys typically work in the following Career Sectors:
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The Work - Conservator - Museum / Art Gallery
Conservators work to preserve artistic and cultural objects and to preserve and protect artefacts from decay by applying scientific methods.
They use their knowledge of the physical and chemical properties of objects and storage materials to control the environment in which artefacts are stored, displayed and transported. They conserve artefacts that are deteriorating.
Some conservators work with a wide range of objects. Others specialise in archaeology; ceramics and glass; furniture and wood; gilding and decorative surfaces; historic interiors; metals; paintings; paper and books; photographic materials; stained glass; stone and wall paintings; textiles. Conservators also manage laboratories and do research projects.
Senior conservation work needs specialist qualifications with a major science element.They usually specialise in a particular material or group of objects such as architecture, archaeology, art on paper, books, decorative arts, natural science or ethnographic materials, paintings, photographs, sculpture or textiles.
The Conservators will analyse and assess the condition of an item, and try to understand the processes and evidence of deterioration. They may be involved in planning the care of a collection, or site management strategies to prevent damage. They may carry out conservation treatments, and conduct research.
Conservation work is both art and science. It is an interdisciplinary field involving practical studio work, science, and the humanities.
Conservators check that objects are genuine and put a date to them. They then combine craft techniques and scientific principles to treat the object. Treatments are reversible where possible, as new methods may replace previous work. So it is vital that the conservator keeps detailed records of what they do during the conservation process.
Conservators also monitor and control the conditions in which objects are kept. To do this, they use their knowledge of physical and chemical properties of objects, and their reaction to light, temperature and humidity. They advise other museum staff on the correct handling and storing of objects. Senior conservators research new materials and methods. They also supervise junior conservators.
A Conservator’s responsibilities include:
- Examination to determine the materials, the method of manufacture, the properties or structures of objects, and the causes and extent of deterioration or alteration
- Scientific analysis and research to identify historic and artistic methods and materials of fabrication, and to evaluate the efficacy and appropriateness of materials and procedures of conservation
- Documentation procedures to record the condition of an object or site at a specific time, or before, during, and after treatment, and to outline treatment methods and materials in detail
- Carrying out treatment, including intervention procedures, as well as passive measures to stabilise an artifact or retard its deterioration
- Restoration procedures to bring a deteriorated or damaged object or structure closer to a previous or assumed appearance or function
- Advising on procedures for the safe exhibition and travel of cultural materials
Most commonly reported Work Tasks
- Clean objects, such as paper, textiles, wood, metal, glass, rock, pottery, and furniture, using cleansers, solvents, soap solutions, and polishes.
- Determine whether objects need repair and choose the safest and most effective method of repair.
- Install, arrange, assemble, and prepare artifacts for exhibition, ensuring the artifacts' safety, reporting their status and condition, and identifying and correcting any problems with the set-up.
- Direct and supervise curatorial, technical, and student staff in the handling, mounting, care, and storage of art objects.
- Perform tests and examinations to establish storage and conservation requirements, policies, and procedures.
- Prepare artifacts for storage and shipping.
- Photograph objects for documentation.
- Coordinate exhibit installations, assisting with design, constructing displays, dioramas, display cases, and models, and ensuring the availability of necessary materials.
- Notify superior when restoration of artifacts requires outside experts.
- Lead tours and teach educational courses to students and the general public.
Most commonly reported Work Activities
- Handling and Moving Objects Using hands and arms in handling, installing, positioning, and moving materials, and manipulating things.
- Identifying Objects, Actions, and Events Identifying information by categorizing, estimating, recognizing differences or similarities, and detecting changes in circumstances or events.
- Getting Information Observing, receiving, and otherwise obtaining information from all relevant sources.
- Documenting/Recording Information Entering, transcribing, recording, storing, or maintaining information in written or electronic/magnetic form.
- Thinking Creatively Developing, designing, or creating new applications, ideas, relationships, systems, or products, including artistic contributions.
- Updating and Using Relevant Knowledge Keeping up-to-date technically and applying new knowledge to your job.
- Interacting With Computers Using computers and computer systems (including hardware and software) to program, write software, set up functions, enter data, or process information.
- Communicating with Supervisors, Peers, or Subordinates Providing information to supervisors, co-workers, and subordinates by telephone, in written form, e-mail, or in person.
- Making Decisions and Solving Problems Analyzing information and evaluating results to choose the best solution and solve problems.
- Monitor Processes, Materials, or Surroundings Monitoring and reviewing information from materials, events, or the environment, to detect or assess problems.
Interests - Conservator - Museum / Art Gallery
This occupation is typically suited for people with the following Career Interests:
Realists are usually interested in 'things' - such as buildings, mechanics, equipment, tools, electronics etc. Their primary focus is dealing with these - as in building, fixing, operating or designing them. Involvement in these areas leads to high manual skills, or a fine aptitude for practical design - as found in the various forms of engineering.
Realists like to find practical solutions to problems using tools, technology and skilled work. Realists usually prefer to be active in their work environment, often do most of their work alone, and enjoy taking decisive action with a minimum amount of discussion and paperwork.
Creative people are drawn to careers and activities that enable them to take responsibility for the design, layout or sensory impact of something (visual, auditory etc). They may be atrracted to the traditional artistic pursuits such as painting, sculpture, singing, or music. Or they may show more interest in design activities, such as architecture, animation, or craft areas, such as pottery and ceramics.
Creative people use their personal understanding of people and the world they live in to guide their work. Creative people like to work in unstructured workplaces, enjoy taking risks and prefer a minimum of routine.
Conservators require an extensive knowledge of conservation practice, and specialism in all aspects of archival collections.
Excellent practical skills and an informed approach to the delivery of conservation treatments and current conservation standards is also required.
Conservators may also be actively engaged in data collection, knowledge sharing, teaching and mentoring others, as well as planning, and organising.
Your colour vision may also be tested.
Entry Requirements - Conservator - Museum / Art Gallery
Accepted entry routes for Conservators include:
1. A substantial period of experience backed by practical training and Continued Professional Development (CPD).
2. A directly relevant degree followed by years of relevant experience
3. A less relevant first degree or period of practical training, followed by a full-or part-time postgraduate qualification and further experience.
Undergraduate or post-graduate degree areas include: History; Art history; Fine art; Science; Archaeology. This may be followed by specialist training in Conservation.
Most conservation courses ask for some experience before applying, so many people also volunteer in museums/galleries/libraries for a short-time too. PhD level research can also be undertaken.
The training options differ depending on country and specialism. There are no training courses in Ireland, so potential future conservators must train abroad, generally in the UK. A list of training courses in the UK is available [Click here].
Details of International conservation training can be obtained at the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation & Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM)
‘Emerging professionals in conservation’, as new graduates may be called, may undertake an internship lasting from a few months to two years. Such opportunities are occasionally offered by cultural institutions worldwide. There is often a need to travel for work positions, and a second language can be beneficial in this regard.
Last Updated: November, 2014
Pay & Salary - Conservator - Museum / Art Gallery
Salary Range (thousands per year)* 24k - 50k
Last Updated: March, 2017
* The lower figures typically reflect starting salaries. Higher salaries are awarded to those with greater experience and responsibility. Positions in Dublin sometimes command higher salaries.
Labour Market Updates - Conservator - Museum / Art Gallery
Useful Contacts - Conservator - Museum / Art Gallery
Irish Museums Association
Institute of Conservators-Restorers Ireland (ICRI)
National Gallery of Ireland
The Institute of Conservation (ICON)
National Library of Ireland
The Heritage Council
National Gallery of Ireland
National Museum of Ireland