Proper conservation of a painting or any artifact represents a major investment in time for the conservator. Like all fine repair work, great care must be taken at all stages to preserve the integrity and life of the original piece. A conservator will not “jump into” any repair work quickly or begin a treatment without first familiarizing themselves with the object. A series of tests are run, basic research on the artist is done and photographs of the object prior to treatment are taken to create a record of condition before repair work is started.
There are always some surprises in the exam stage. No two paintings are alike. Even two paintings done side by side, by the same artist, using the same materials may end up looking completely different after fifty or one hundred years. Each may have undergone a different history as it aged – one varnished, one not; one torn then patched by a restorer, one undamaged and “untouched”; one hung over a fireplace in a dark room while the other resided in a brightly lit room, at times in direct sun. Paintings brought in for simple cleanings are often found to be extremely fragile on close inspection and not strong enough to withstand any surface cleaning without some structural work. Collectors have to be prepared to face the possibility of major investments of time by a conservator working to save and stabilize an artwork so that it may withstand cleaning.
There are no licensed conservators. Anyone can call themselves a restorer and anyone can work on ‘fixing’ your artwork. Quick fixes, many times, cause additional damage to the art and do not stand the test of time. The same object can be taken to two different shops and receive very different estimates. The bottom line is that the most competent conservators give real value for their services. At West Lake Conservators, we strictly adhere to the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (AIC) Code of Ethics, ensuring that the best interest of our clients and their cultural property is at the forefront of every treatment that we undertake. More time is spent with the object, more experience is brought to the job and the repairs are accomplished with higher quality materials. Overall, both the repairs and the object should last much longer, giving the client the most value and satisfaction over time.
Here are some suggestions to help keep the costs of managing your collection down:
1. Have your artwork looked at by a conservator before it deteriorates to a point that it needs major structural repairs. There are simple techniques that can be done to extend the life of paintings considerably before major work is necessary. Valuable artwork on paper needs preservation framing to prevent costly future damage.
2. When purchasing artwork for your collection keep in mind that paintings in poor condition or severely damaged condition, tears, etc., are expensive to repair. It is not unusual for the costs of conservation to exceed the purchase price or value of the artwork. Plan on making a considerable investment in any damaged artwork you find. In other words, save some of your budget for the inevitable trip to the conservator!
3. Think about conservation framing and replacing inappropriate frames with period framing to enhance your collection. Many museums today are upgrading the framing of their collections to both protect and enhance the art. Corrective framing adds real value to your collection.
Remember: Professional painting, paper, textile and frame conservation is a long-term investment in your artwork. It will outlast and add greater value over the long run than any ‘quick fixes’ known.