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Selecting A Conservator

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.

What is a conservator?

A conservator is someone who is involved in the care and treatment of objects of artistic or historical significance. Qualified conservators are highly skilled practitioners with years of training and experience. Conservation treatments can be complex and may involve some risk to the object. Because a high degree of expertise is required, conservators may specialize in one particular field such as paintings, books or artifacts and even within these categories they can be further specialized, such as art works on paper, archival materials, textiles, furniture, etc. Experts in preventive conservation are usually qualified to provide advice or services for more than one type of collection.

Selecting a conservator

As a rule all conservators in Canada should:

  • know and abide by the Code of Ethics;
  • be able 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

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 complaints against 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 specialization.

What is involved once you have selected a conservator?

Before any work begins, you should discuss a contract that outlines both the scope of the work and its estimated cost. From this discussion you should be informed of the conservator's fees and what they include. 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: assessment and treatment. Usually these two steps and their fees are contracted separately. The first phase is assessment, which includes the object's examination to determine its condition and to propose a plan for its treatment and care as well as to provide the estimated cost.

If you accept this treatment proposal, the second phase, the treatment, will follow. You are under no obligation to have the work done by that conservator and should seek a second opinion from another qualified conservator if you have any concerns.

If, during treatment, new information is discovered that necessitates a significant deviation from the proposed treatment, you will be informed of 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, and recommendations for the ongoing care of the object.

A conservator can also be contracted to provide expert recommendations on preventive conservation for your collection. This could be in the form of a complete facility assessment, conservation criteria for renovations, new constructions or exhibitions, storage reorganization, pest management strategies, or any number of other projects.

What not to expect of a conservator

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 arise

If you are dissatisfied with the conservator's work you should first approach the conservator to ensure that there has not been a simple 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 dispute.

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.