What is Conservation?



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Interventive conservation refers to the direct interaction between the conservator and the object.  This may include cleaning, stabilizing, repair, or even replacement of parts to the original object.  These kinds of conservation treatments take place in our studio, here in Denver.

Preventive conservation can be defined as any measure that prevents or reduces the potential for damage.  It focuses on entire collections rather than individual objects. With comprehensive preventive conservation, the need for individual treatments can be reduced to more manageable levels. Most time, preservation activities cannot be seen by the casual viewer.  The simple act of controlling temperature, relative humidity, light exposure or  air quality in an art collection are important preventive conservation actions.  Proper storage, handling techniques and display methods are critical elements which can lessen or even eliminate the everyday wear and tear.

The National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum (NCWHM), a non-profit organization, exhibits and preserves a worldwide recognized collection of Western art and artifacts. The painting collection consists primarily of works by painters of the American West.  The majority of the works are oil on canvas or canvas board.  Many of the exhibited works were treated at WCCFA as part of the Save America’s Treasures grant received by the museum in past years.

Because equipping, running and staffing a conservation laboratory is expensive, few small museums can afford their own facilities.  Curators of the various collections at NCWHM expressed an interest in acquiring additional items, as well as deaccessioning objects from their respective collections.  The NCWHM’s western fine arts collection received an award from the  Save America's Treasures Historic Preservation fund in 2000.  Between 2001 and 2004 an endowment was achieved to support the collecting and preservation of the A. Keith Brodkin Contemporary Western Artists Project.  The museum developed and implemented written policies and procedures including a mission statement, an acquisitions policy, a collections plan, as well as an emergency preparedness plan.

A General Preservation Assessment survey was conducted by WCCFA and  other assessors in June 2004.  The conservators were asked to examine the building and collections as well as provide a  report which aided the institution in improving collections care, the development of a long  range preservation plan, increasing staff awareness of collections preservation concerns and improving environmental conditions in the building.

This undertaking included three on-site projects at the museum to examine and treat several paintings. An object by object survey was performed to determine each item’s conservation needs as well as what needed to be treated in the studio. The result of the year-long study of the Museum's strengths and weaknesses supported the long range plan which was drafted in 2006.  The survey included instruction on the building environment, staff, collections, storage, exhibitions, housekeeping, emergency preparedness and a priority list.