Setting up a Conservation Lab
- 1 Basic Functions of a Conservation Lab
- 2 Documentation
- 3 Security
- 4 Insurance
- 5 Equipment
- 6 Storage
- 7 Finding Conservation and Laboratory Supplies
- 8 Examples of Conservation Lab Set-Ups
- 9 References
- 10 Further reading
Basic Functions of a Conservation Lab
A conservation lab's main functions are to receive art, provide a workspace for the conservation of art, maintain safety standards, and provide for the storage of conservation records. Conservation lab space requires more space than typical office space because the space is required to accommodate artworks, tools, the conservator, and the safety equipment required to perform safe conservation treatments (Walter Henry 1992). Conservation labs require ventilation, chemical storage with 2 ventilated storage areas so that incompatible solvents, acids, bases, oxidizing or reducing agents can be separated. It is important to include a conservator and a health and safety professional early in the process of designing a lab, so they can set up a chemical hygiene plan.
Different specializations will have different requirements for particular equipment in their labs including architecture, book and paper, electronic media, objects, paintings, photographic materials, scientific research, textiles, and wooden artifacts.
- Records Management
- Financial Records
- Digital File formats for Documentation
Some conservation labs have key-card access, that only allow authorized persons into the lab, via an ID card or similar item.
- Shipping and Receiving Art
- Insurance for the lab
- Electrical Outlets
- Benches and tables
- Task stools and chairs
Tools and Equipment
- Commercial weights are readily available for purchase and various materials are suitable for adapting as weights for conservation use.
- Water filtering system
Conservation requires a variety of different types of water including filtered tap water, distilled water, de-ionized water, and reverse-osmosis water. There should be a three component filtration system, with the preliminary column filtering gross particulates (1-5 micron), the second (activated charcoal) removing organics, and the final column removing fine particulates (0.2 microns)(Walter Henry 1992). Ideally this should feed into a deionization unit capable of providing at least 1 gal/minute and then into a recalcification column. A means of drawing off DI water prior to the recalcification column should be provided. The filters and DI unit should be situated on the wall above the deck.
- Environmental Monitoring Equipment
- HEPA vacuum
More detailed information about lab safety has been compiled by the AIC Health and Safety Network.
Documentation and Photography
- Lighting (documentation and task lighting)
- Digital Cameras
There are a variety of factors when choosing a digital camera. For photo-documentation it is crucial to have a camera that is a DSLR and can shoot in a RAW format. DSLR usually refers to a camera that has a 35mm format, these cameras are preferred by conservators because they allow an accurate preview of framing close to the moment of exposure, their larger sensors are generally closer in size to traditional film formats and allow for similar depths of field and picture angle to film formats, as well as their comparatively high signal to noise ratio(Wikipedia Contributors 2012). DSLRs also allow the user to choose from a variety of interchangeable lenses.
- Copy stand for photographing flat objects such as photographs or documents, or tripod
- Magnetic paint and magnets can be used to create a magnetized wall to which oversized paper objects can be temporarily attached for photographing. Rare earth magnets are particularly well suited, and can be fitted with small covers of blotter and fabric to prevent direct contact with the object.
- White Balance and Grey Cards
Artifact and Art Storage
- Art Storage
Art Storage will require additional security in the lab, like a locked cabinet or room. The storage environment should also be able to maintain a museum-quality environment for the materials housed there including proper temperature and humidity, fire suppressants, good shelving which may include earthquake bracing (Walter Henry 1992).
- In library conservation labs, for security reasons it is recommended to have a locked storage area in which to store Special Collections/Archives materials separately from circulating materials. This storage area should have sturdy shelves and also space to store flat or oversized items.
Conservation Materials Storage
- Flat file/map case drawers for storage of conservation tissues, papers, and other supplies.
- Rolled storage for rolls of cloth (bookcloth, linen, etc), polyester film, and other supplies
- Small taborets, tool boxes, or cabinets for storing tools used by conservators at their bench
- Labware storage, for beakers, pipettes, test tubes and the like.
- Cabinets and drawers to store other tools used by the entire lab.
- Hooks for lab coats and aprons.
Finding Conservation and Laboratory Supplies
Examples of Conservation Lab Set-Ups
- Duke University Libraries, Verne and Tanya Roberts Conservation Lab
- University of Washington Libraries
- Milwaukee Art Museum
- The Smithsonian's Freer Gallery of Art
Wikipedia Contributors. 2012. Digital single-lens reflex camera. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Digital_single-lens_reflex_camera&oldid=473740961. Accessed January 30, 2012.
Walter Henry. 1992. Notes on Conservation Lab Design. Conservation OnLine (CoOL). http://cool.conservation-us.org/byauth/henry/labdesgn.html. Accessed January 31, 2012.
- Visit the Conservators in Private Practice Home Page  on the AIC website for more information.
- For photographic inspiration, the Flickr Group "Conservation Labs" has several photos of various labs.