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Eventually, everything falls apart. Exposure to sun, wind, rain, air, and the human touch can cause everything to deteriorate. So how is it that you can go to an art gallery and see paintings from hundreds of years ago? How can we look at ancient pottery and clothing at a museum? It is because of the highly skilled, well-trained individuals who work to preserve the artifacts and artwork, preventing them from further deterioration.

Conservators can preserve and repair many items. Books, paintings, clothing, grave stones, photographs, even records and tapes can be prevented from disintegrating. Unlike restorers, who attempt to make an artifact as good as new, conservators work instead to keep an object in its present state.

Conservators are well informed about the power of chemicals, sunlight and humidity. They can examine a new acquisition to a museum or gallery, and determine where it was made, when it was made, and what it is made of. Sometimes, this calls for extensive research, including using various technologies, such as microscopy (microscopes), radiography (x-rays), and chemical analysis, to come to conclusions.

Once they determine the history and composition of the artifact, they can then begin treating it. They document all the steps they take, so future conservators and historians will know when changes were made to the artifact, and the nature of those changes. The idea is to preserve the artifact without interfering with it too much. Good conservators will be able to preserve the artifact without imposing noticeable changes to it. Often conservators will specialize in one area of conservation, and become experts in some form of preservation, such as textile, metal or ceramic.

Conservators also consult with curators about the condition of artifacts, and possible options for long-term storage and display. They monitor cases and galleries for moisture, direct sunlight and temperature. They keep complete records of all conservation projects, as well as notes about recommended storage and travel procedures for the pieces in the collection.

Conservators are important to our sense of self and purpose. They preserve the tangible objects which link us to our pasts helping us preserve our history.
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  Interests and Skills  
Conservators need to be patient individuals with good communication and teaching skills. They should have good eyesight, be able to lift heavy items and have good manual dexterity . An understanding of other cultures and their arts is important, as are some foreign language skills. They should have a love for art, history, and an understanding of various styles, genres, and time periods. Artistic as well as scientific skills come in handy in this line of work. A sensitivity to both the chemical composition, as well as the artistic qualities of an object, is important.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Research history of the artifact to be worked on
  • Take samples and/or carry out tests on artifact
  • Treat artifact with chemicals
  • Record of all decisions and the treatment procedure
  • Ensure exhibition conditions are suitable for collection
  • Decide on storage conditions for collection
  • Advises other staff or collectors on environmental issues that will damage objects
  • Demonstrate conservation techniques to volunteers and community agencies
  • Test and assess new treatment methods
  • The typical day for the conservator will involve a lot of research, working closely with artifacts and acquisitions.Their day will be spent in labs, libraries or consultation meetings with other conservators, curators and technicians. They can be exposed to dangerous chemicals, and must follow safety precautions. Conservators will spend some of each day writing up findings and recording preservation techniques. There is not much travel involved, unless it is to visit other sites where art and artifacts need examining, or to travel to a conference to learn about new conservation techniques.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Conservators can work anywhere there are museums and art pieces. Conservators may work in large government museums and art galleries, which have their own conservation departments. Smaller museums, galleries, private owners, or businesses may not have permanent conservators on staff. Conservators can also work for art or antique dealers, galleries, and auction houses. Generally, they work in a lab, studio or office.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Conservators can work with museums or galleries as interpreters, exhibit consultants or researchers. They can find work with various governmental departments. They can also open up their own private conservation agencies. They can become freelance researchers, appraisers, and consultants for lobby groups, Native leaders, and writers of historical novels, television, and film scripts. They can also become art teachers, open galleries, or become artists or art dealers.

  Educational Paths  
Most people interested in working as conservators finish a bachelor's degree in with a combination of fine arts and science, and then they learn conservation skills during a two- to four-year postgraduate program. University or college programs in photography, computer studies, and history will also benefit those wanting to become conservators.

In addition to an education, many employers ask to see a portfolio of work, including painting, drawing and sculpture to show your skills as a conservator. Volunteer experience at an art gallery or museum is highly recommended for those wishing to enter this profession.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition,
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002,

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