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Conservation Restoration Technician  What They Do

Just the Facts

Insider Info

dotConservation restoration technicians preserve artifacts from the past, often using the techniques of historic or ancient times to keep the objects authentic. They work as part of museum or gallery teams that strive to keep items from the past in the best shape possible -- while maintaining objects' historic integrity. Restoration technicians can also become consultants and freelance experts.

dotConserving or restoring an object isn't a simple matter. Before any preservation work is done, judgments must be made about whether the process is necessary, worthwhile or even harmful to the historic object. Professional conservators everywhere adhere to a code of ethics designed to ensure that all objects are given the same respect.

Dario Ciriello conserves and restores antique furniture in California. Since the artifacts he handles are often loaded with sentimental or monetary value, deciding how to treat them is a delicate matter.

"If you have a valuable antique, the worst thing you can do is make it look like a new piece," says Ciriello. "Really, what you have to do is respect the integrity of the piece, [and] work with the original materials....I've had people on the verge of tears when I've brought something back that they thought would never look the same, or the way it was when it was in their grandmother's house."

dotThe process begins with an examination of the object and some research on where it came from and how it was made. Conservation technicians try to find the method of preservation that will require the least amount of alteration to the object. Sometimes they will even refuse to work with a piece that is damaged beyond repair, or that is not worth the cost or care involved.

Mary-Lou Simac works for a conservation association. With her group, not all artifacts are accepted for restoration treatment. "The [conservators] determine whether or not it can be treated...whether it should be treated," she says.

The research phase may involve X-rays or chemical tests to determine age. Objects being restored or conserved can range from historic books or documents to textiles, such as clothing or linens, to furniture and even houses and other buildings.

dotRestoration technicians also work on preventing deterioration of artifacts, using the latest in air conditioning, dehumidifying and lighting technology to make sure that objects aren't "aged" by museum settings.

dotTechnicians spend their days in workshops hidden from museum visitors, hunched over a historic piece or performing archival research. Most work regular daytime hours and standard 40-hour weeks, though special projects or exhibits may require overtime work. Some well-known experts travel from museum to museum to help restore items.

Highly specialized or freelance conservators may work in fancy homes or in a private shop. Ciriello, who is self-employed, has traveled over 50 miles to spruce up an antique.

"Another thing that's fun about this work is that you're not always working in one place. I do a lot of work in my shop, but a lot of the times I'll work in people's homes. So, you're often working in very nice homes, typically for clients who treat you really well!" he says.

At a Glance

Preserve historic artifacts while maintaining their historic integrity

  • You have to decide whether preservation is worthwhile or even harmful to the object
  • You'll use the latest in air conditioning, dehumidifying and lighting technology
  • Tackle history, art and art history in university -- and get into crafts