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The History of Conservation interest group
Conservators have to deal with previous repairs on a regularly basis. These restorations can be traced back to many different periods in the past. Some are quite recent, others date to the 19th century or earlier, and occasionally they even date to ancient times. When dealing with these old repairs, conservators come across many issues. How do we handle old restoration materials and their sometimes negative effects on objects? Do we have to keep them as examples, knowing that they tell us about old conservation techniques and materials? What is the best way to record them? What can old restorations tell us about ethical considerations in the past and about the history of the profession in general?
At the 15th Triennial Conference in New Delhi, September 2008, the Glass and Ceramics Working Group launched a new specialty subgroup named “History of Conservation”. During the last three years we worked on selected topics and plan to extend our activities. We defined two areas of specific interest:
1. The history, (social) meaning and technology of ancient repairs: Studying ancient repairs has a huge scientific potential, since it can contribute to the interpretation of archaeological cultures and artefacts. An ancient repair “marks” an object and provides it with a “cultural biography”. It tells us about the society in which the object played a role and about technical knowledge in the past. It also says something about ancient systems of value and ethical and aesthetic preferences.
2. The history of the profession in general, with a special focus on 19th century Europe: The emergence of museum collections and the upcoming need for conservation and restoration in this period played an important role here. Studies on how restorations were carried out show how artists-restorers approached concepts such as authenticity and ethics.
Based on the interest of members we currently concentrate on the following themes:
• Research into the use and ageing properties of synthetic polymers used for the treatment of ceramic and glass since the Second World War.
• The debate about ethical questions posed by the treatment of previous repairs by those caring for museum collections as well as those working in private practice.
• Recording the oral history of glass and ceramics conservation.