Selecting and Employing a
Conservator in Canada
Canadians are becoming increasingly
appreciative of collectable objects of artistic or heritage value, and
concerned with their preservation.
Consequently, more and more Canadians are turning to professional conservators
to enhance and preserve their collections.
a photo-inlay to repair a marquetry box
The purpose of this article
is to help you select a conservator with the expertise needed
to preserve, repair,
and restore your object or
collection. Information is provided on what to expect and what not to
expect in your dealings with a conservator.
What is a conservator?
conservator is someone who is involved in the care and treatment
of objects of artistic or historical significance. Qualified conservators
highly skilled practitioners with years of training and experience.
Unfortunately, there are also individuals who call themselves
but who are
unqualified or do not
abide by professional standards. Consequently, it is important to
in selecting a conservator.
Conservation treatments can often be
complex and may involve some risk to the object. Because a high
of expertise is
conservators generally specialize in one particular field such
as paintings, books or artifacts. Experts in preventive conservation
qualified to provide advice or
services for more than one type of collection.
Selecting a conservator
It is your responsibility
to ensure that you select a conservator who will provide the best
possible care for your object
or collection. To
select a conservator you should first seek references from people or organizations
that employ conservators, such as public galleries, museums and archives.
It is best to ensure
that these references are from people who have dealt directly with the
conservator in question.
As a rule all conservators in Canada
- know and abide by the Code of Ethics;
- be willing to show examples of their work and discuss openly
their methods and materials;
- be able to provide references;
- be willing to discuss their training and experience;
- be members of at least one conservation organization such as
the Canadian Association for Conservation (CAC), the American Institute for Conservation
(AIC), or the International Institute for Conservation (IIC).
Although membership in these organizations is not
an assurance of professional status or competence, it does indicate
in keeping abreast of developments in the field.
There is an accrediting organization
of conservators in Canada called the Canadian Association of Professional
Conservators (CAPC). Although its
membership is currently small, the CAPC is building a registry of professional
conservators who have met strict entrance requirements and who adhere to
the Code of Ethics. It provides a mechanism for the impartial
review of consumer
member conservators. Selecting a conservator who is a member of CAPC affords
you the assurance that the conservator is qualified in his/her field of
What is involved once you have selected
You should know
will be doing the conservation work; it is better to deal directly
with the conservator involved rather than through a
third party. Before any work begins, you should discuss a contract
that outlines both the scope of the work and its cost.
this discussion you should be
informed of the
conservator's fees and what they include. As an example, you might
ask if copies of photographic documentation are included.
The division of responsibility
between you and
the conservator for packing, transporting and insuring the object should
be made clear.
The conservation of an object normally
involves two phases;
examination and treatment. Usually these two steps and their fees
are contracted separately. The first phase is the examination
of the object to
determine its condition and to propose a plan for its treatment and
Following the examination the conservator should
- a written report describing the present condition of the
- a written proposal for treatment (although a recommendation
against treatment may be a valid outcome of an examination);
- an explanation of the expected results of treatment;
- an explanation of the potential risks involved in the
- information on the type and the extent of treatment report
you will receive upon completion of the work;
- a cost estimate;
- an estimated completion date.
If you accept this treatment proposal, the
second phase, the treatment itself, will follow. Until a contract
no treatment will be
started, and you are under no obligation to have the work done by that conservator. If
you have any doubts, you should seek a second opinion from another qualified
during treatment, new information is discovered that necessitates a significant
deviation from the proposed treatment, you will be asked to
sign a revised treatment proposal or contract.
When the work is completed
you should receive a written treatment report which includes
a description of any
materials added to the object during
the treatment. Photographs will be included if specified in your contract.
You should also be given recommendations for the ongoing care of the
object. The conservator will keep
complete records of the treatment.
A conservator can also be contracted
to provide expert recommendations on preventive conservation
for your collection.
He/she will conduct a
survey of the site and the collection, and will then present a written
evaluation with recommendations for improvements in environment,
storage design, etc.
What not to expect of a conservator
should not be expected to provide
cost estimates or treatment proposals without first seeing the
object or collection. He/she
should not be expected to provide free estimates or to store
objects without charge after work has been completed. Do not
expect a conservator to be
qualified to perform appraisals
or authentications, or to buy your artwork or object, since this
may involve a conflict of interest.
What to do if problems
you are dissatisfied with the conservator's work you should
first approach the conservator to ensure that there has not
misunderstanding. If the problem cannot be resolved in this
way, and if
the conservator is a member of CAPC, you may
contact CAPC for help in mediating
The best way to ensure your satisfaction
is to be informed of the conservator's qualifications
and to have
realistic expectations of the scope and
outcome of any work performed.
Canada is known for its high conservation
standards and has many respected professionals working
in the field as practitioners, researchers,
technicians, educators and consultants. Please take
advantage of this expertise to provide the best care for your
treasured objects or collections.
Printed copies of the Code of Ethics and Guidance for Practice
of the Canadian Association for Conservation of Cultural Property and of the Canadian
Association of Professional Conservators and the information
pamphlet What is Conservation? may be obtained from either
CAC firstname.lastname@example.org or CAPC Dee.Stubbs-Lee@nbm-mnb.ca ©1997-2012 CAC and CAPC