Texas Heritage, Volume 2, Number 2, Spring 1985

I C~CONSERVATION

Chief Conservator at the Texas Memorial Museum, Sara Wolf (1) gives occasional tours in the new
materials lab at the Balcones Research Center at UT Austin to interested groups. These women are
learning about caring and maintaining antique quilts. Photo by Elizabeth Vair, courtesy of the Texas
Historical Foundation.
THE CONSERVATOR'S ART
by: John Peterson

There was an art conservator at a midwestern
museum who used to hold
forth after a few bourbons about the
sad state of conservation. "There's not
an original painting left at any museum
in the world," he'd proclaim.
They had all been retouched and repainted
many times over the years in
an effort to preserve the original work.
The result was like George Washington's
axe, with its two new handles and
three new heads. What was executed
was not a science of conservation, but

the object itself. Conservation was a
cookbook craft, full of recipes for
cleaning and stripping that often destroyed
the artifact along with the tarnish
of age. Of course, the nature of
things is to decay. The museum conservator
walks a thin line between preserving
the piece and its original character
at the same time.
Every museum has to face up to the
problem at some point, or watch as its
collections fade and crack with the col

ors of age. The commitment is often
half-hearted, a scotch tape and Duco
cement approach to torn paper and
broken pottery. But in recent years,
conservators have considerably expanded
their knowledge of materials
and treatments, and have adopted a
philosophy that each piece must be approached
individually, and that each
treatment must be reversible and nondestructive.
In short, it is a problemsolving,
experimental approach. Museums
that have budgeted their com

Texas Historical Foundation. Texas Heritage, Volume 2, Number 2, Spring 1985. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth46809/. Accessed October 31, 2014.