Conservation is a profession dedicated to the long-term preservation of artistic, historic, and cultural materials. Professional conservation practice is guided by a code of ethics intended to protect the integrity and authenticity of works of art. Conservators are professionals with advanced training in art history, science, conservation techniques, and related fields.
One part of conservation practice is the physical treatment of artworks to stabilize their materials and structure or to bring back aspects of their original appearance. Treatments are customized to individual objects and may include such activities as cleaning, reinforcing fragile connections, repairing breaks, or, when appropriate, replacing missing parts.
Preventive conservation, another important part of the field, slows down deterioration of objects. In a museum setting, preventive measures require collaboration between various departments and range from controlling building-wide climate conditions to training staff in appropriate art handling skills to specifying exhibition light levels for individual objects.
To support treatment and preventive conservation, conservators carry out detailed written and photographic documentation of artworks, scientific analysis, and research into the techniques and materials used by artists throughout time.
Conservation at the Denver Art Museum
The conservation department at the Denver Art Museum was established in 1991 and initially focused on the conservation of three-dimensional objects. Now, the department is made up of five conservators with specialties in works of art on paper, photographs, paintings, textiles, archaeological and ethnographic objects, and modern and contemporary art. The department also includes a conservation technician and a conservation assistant.
The primary responsibility of the department is to care for the museum’s collection in accordance with the museum’s mission to preserve works of art for future generations. The conservation department also supports exhibition and loan programs at the DAM by assessing the suitability of artworks for display or loan, treating artworks to prepare them for display, advising on handling and transport, and collaborating with curators.
The department contributes to the conservation profession as a whole by participating in professional organizations and conferences, collaborating with colleagues outside the museum, and training qualified interns and fellows.
In the Denver Art Museum Galleries
Look for the following informational panels and displays in the DAM’s galleries.
African Art, Level 4, Hamilton Building
See the display that DAM conservators built to mimic the movements of a mask in masquerade performances.
Making Mud Stick
Learn about techniques used by African muralists to make paintings on canvas.
American Indian Art, Level 3, North Building
See how DAM conservators disassembled and rebuilt a pot that had been shattered into many pieces.
Asian Art, Level 5, North Building
Learn how copper containing metals corrode when exposed to moisture in the air, and see how conservators prevent them from deteriorating.
Find out how conservators “consolidated”—or adhered together—millions of grains of sand in order to preserve a mandala.
European & American Art, Level 6, North Building
Visit the Discovery Library on the sixth floor to see how DAM conservators treated an Italian altar painting that had been overpainted in the past.
Oceanic Art, Level 3, Hamilton Building
Preserving Powdery Paints
See how conservators preserve powdery paints that contain organic binders like tropical oils and tree sap.
Western American Art, Level 7, North Building
Fixing a Frame
See how conservators treated the original frame for Alfred Jacob Miller’s The Scalplock.
- American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (AIC): http://www.conservation-us.org/
- Heritage Preservation, The National Institute for Conservation: http://www.heritagepreservation.org/
- Western Association for Art Conservation: http://cool.conservation-us.org/waac/
- International Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (IIC): http://www.iiconservation.org/
- International Council of Museums – Committee for Conservation (ICOM-CC): http://www.icom-cc.org/