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Oc logo.gif Objects Specialty Group Conservation Wiki

Welcome to the Objects section of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (AIC) Conservation Catalog Wiki site, compiled by members of the AIC Objects Specialty Group.

  • The Objects Specialty Group (OSG) was organized to support professional development of art conservators specializing in three-dimensional art and artifacts. OSG members treat a broad range of artifacts including archaeological and ethnographic objects, decorative arts, sculpture, contemporary art, and historic collections. The 600+ members include conservators employed at museums, private practices, regional centers, universities, and training programs.
  • The goal of the OSG Conservation Catalog Wiki is to provide information on the broad range of materials and topics encountered in the conservation of objects. The wiki will reflect the exciting variety of techniques, treatments, and approaches currently being used by objects conservators-- so if you're a practicing objects conservator, this is the place to talk about the particulars of the profession. To use this wiki you can either browse the headings below or you can type your topic directly into the search box at the left of the screen to find a page.
  • This wiki is currently under construction and all pages should be considered drafts. The Objects Conservation Catalog is an ongoing process rather than an end product. Consider getting involved and sharing your expertise in your favorite subject whether it's materials, techniques, philosophy, or style. Here is how to contribute, including information on getting started.
  • The Objects Conservation Catalog wiki pages are published for members of the OSG. Publication in the catalog does not endorse, approve, or recommend any treatments, methods, or techniques described. Individual conservators are solely responsible for determining the necessity, safety, and adequacy of a treatment for a particular object and must understand the effect of their treatment. This information is intended to be used by conservators, museum professionals, and members of the public for educational purposes only. It is not designed to substitute for the consultation of a trained conservator. To find a conservator, please visit AIC's Find a Conservator page.

Objects Specialty Group Conservation Catalog

What is Objects Conservation?[edit | edit source]

Objects Conservation is the term commonly used to refer to the conservation of three-dimensional artifacts and works of art. The knowledge and skills required for this work overlap heavily with other conservation specialties, necessarily including experience with many of the same materials (such as paper and paint) with the addition of others such as ceramics, glass, and metal. The distinction between this conservation specialty and others was historically based on the traditional divisions in fine arts (e.g. sculpture, as opposed to painting or drawing). As the discipline has expanded, the role of object conservators has come to embrace many areas outside of fine arts. Some are listed below, and some, such as Wooden Artifacts, form distinct specialty groups within the American Institute for Conservation and Historic Works (AIC). Objects conservators may be members of several groups, and frequently must collaborate with other specialists, to meet the broad demands of the profession.

Objects Conservation Specialties[edit | edit source]

Archaeological Objects[edit | edit source]
Ethnographic Objects[edit | edit source]
Horological Conservation[edit | edit source]
Musical Instruments[edit | edit source]
Outdoor Sculpture[edit | edit source]

Conservation Practices[edit | edit source]

Objects conservation projects can be as varied as the routine maintenance of an outdoor bronze sculpture, the repair of a broken porcelain plate, cleaning a tarnished silver candlestick, testing a Native American shirt for arsenic (historically used as a pesticide on organic collections), or investigating the authenticity of a stone sculpture from Asia. However, in accordance with the AIC code of Ethics and Guidelines for Practice, every conservation project should include the following steps: request by the owner, examination by the conservator, proposal, approval, treatment or analysis, and documentation. Each project includes a collaboration between the conservator and the owner to understand and address the needs of the object and the demands placed on it. Treatments require a thorough knowledge of the chemical principles behind cleaning or other irreversible steps, as well as an understanding of the long-term behavior of treatment materials such as adhesives, fills and coatings.

Object Materials and Types[edit | edit source]

This section aims to unite articles that discuss conservation techniques of the various materials and object types encountered by objects conservators. Articles found here focus on the details of conservation care, but also seek to provide basic information and references on materials and technology. When you begin adding content to a new page or editing an existing page in this section, it is recommended that you use the Object Materials and Types Template created specifically for the Objects Conservation Catalog wiki.

Characterizing and understanding of materials is fundamental to the practice of conservation. Before undertaking passive or active intervention with a work of art or artifact, a conservator must identify the media to know how the object will age, deteriorate, and respond to treatment. Conservators organize materials into groups that share similar material or structural characteristics, and/or have conservation issues in common. Three-dimensional objects are typically divided into two fundamental chemical categories: organic and inorganic materials. However, many objects are constructed from a composite of these material types, and some materials themselves, such as bone and ivory, have both organic and inorganic components. Therefore, the contents of the following section are presented in alphabetical order.

Basketry[edit | edit source]

Ceramics[edit | edit source]

Feathers[edit | edit source]

Glass[edit | edit source]

Horn[edit | edit source]

Ivory[edit | edit source]

Ivory Laws and Regulations[edit | edit source]

Lacquer[edit | edit source]

Leather and Skin[edit | edit source]

Metals[edit | edit source]

Copper alloy[edit | edit source]

Gold[edit | edit source]

Iron[edit | edit source]

Silver[edit | edit source]

Mirrors[edit | edit source]

Pharmaceutical and Medicinal Collections[edit | edit source]

Plant Materials[edit | edit source]

Skeletal Materials[edit | edit source]

Stone[edit | edit source]

Textiles[edit | edit source]

Wood[edit | edit source]

Conservation Tools, Equipment, and Materials[edit | edit source]

Objects Conservation Equipment[edit | edit source]

Information about frequently used equipment, instrumentation, and tools used by conservators.

Hand Tools[edit | edit source]

Information about frequently used hand tools.

Materials[edit | edit source]

Bibliographic references on cleaning, Gels and thickeners, adhesives and consolidants, fill materials, Molding and casting, colorants, and protective coatings.

Field Kits[edit | edit source]

Mounting and Display[edit | edit source]

Contributors: Grace Wilkins

Proper support while in transit or on display is a critical element of the long-term preservation and care of an object, and as such falls under the conservator's area of concern. Conservators are also often involved in the testing of the materials used in mountmaking and display, to assess their longevity and stability for use in contact with artworks of various media. For more on the specialized field of Mountmaking, including publication references and information about the Mountmakers Forum, please visit the AIC Mountmaking page.

Magnet Mounts

When constructing a stable and secure mount, or consulting in the mount fabrication, it is important to consider not only the overall size and weight of an object, but also the work’s relative dimensions and weight distribution. The ratio of a work’s height to its base width, referred to as its aspect ratio is a key determinant in the stability of a freestanding object. A work that has a narrow base relative to its height, for example, is more likely to rock or be overturned in the case of a strong horizontal force i.e. accidental contact or seismic activity. When considering a proper mount for such works, plinths or auxiliary bases should be designed to both increase the aspect ratio of the work and/or lower the object’s center of mass. This may take the form of internal weights, if such access is possible and structurally feasible, or may involve anchoring or fixing the work to a wider, weighted platform.

There are, however, risks as well as benefits to anchoring an object to a wall or display plinth, especially if your institution is situated in areas of known seismic activity. While anchoring an object can be a straightforward way of minimizing the likelihood of rocking or overturning, the object will now act as an extension of the structure to which it is anchored, meaning that any vibrations or forces experienced by the structure will reverberate, at least to some degree, into the object itself. If the anchor points are stronger than the internal strength of the object’s material(s), there is a risk that such reverberations will result in mechanical failure not at the anchor point, but somewhere else in the object—damage that may be just as severe as that sustained by overturning.

Many institutions in areas of high seismic activity have invested in the construction of base isolators for particularly large, fragile works—mechanisms hidden within the plinth or platform that allow for attenuated horizontal movement of the upper layers of the support and the attached work in order to dissipate strong vibrational forces that would otherwise be transmitted directly to the anchored object.

It may often be the case that supports and mounts for display are not suitable or optimal for storage, and vice versa. In either situation, structural versus aesthetic concerns are likely weighed differently. A subtle contour mount or discrete anchoring with translucent wire can be a sufficient compromise in display contexts in terms of a mount that renders adequate structural support without disrupting or distracting from the visual effect of the work. On the other hand, supports and enclosure for storage—both long term and otherwise—are likely not bound by the same aesthetic considerations and may thus take up more surface area, or include auxiliary components that provide additional points of contact. This must take into consideration, of course, that such prolonged contact, even with relatively inert, conservation-grade materials, can present additional risk to the surface of an object especially one with friable materials or under bound media.

Contribute to the Objects Wiki[edit | edit source]

Getting Started and Community Guidelines[edit | edit source]

Content and Formatting Guides [edit | edit source]

Basic Objects Template[edit | edit source]

The basic template includes the standard Objects Wiki introductory text and formatting guides, such as the specialty group logo, contributors, copyright information, cautionary text, draft banner, and standardized headers.

Object Materials and Types Template[edit | edit source]

The template for object materials and types is more specific and should be used for articles found in the Objects Wiki section on Object Materials and Types, and can be used as a guide for general pages as well.

Copyright: 2011. The Objects Group Wiki pages are a publication of the Objects Specialty Group of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works. The Objects Group Wiki pages are published for the members of the Objects Specialty Group. Publication does not endorse or recommend any treatments, methods, or techniques described herein.