Guidelines for Choosing and Working With a Conservator-Restorer

Introduction

Do you have an item or collection in your care, which is in need of conservation?  Do you want to know more about how to look after it? Do you need advice on packing or display conditions?  The information below will help guide you through the process of choosing and working with a Conservator-Restorer.

Choosing the right Conservators-Restorers to look after a whole collection or one item is an important decision; the wrong choice could result in permanent damage or loss in value whether that is monetary, or of historical and cultural significance.

If you are responsible for the care of a larger collection, the process for commissioning a Conservator-Restorer will vary in part depending on the scale of the work being undertaken. The National Trust and many similar organisations have a great deal of experience in commissioning Conservator-Restorers.  Some of the following information draws on guidance produced by the National Trust. 

As a private individual, there are several key areas to consider when choosing a Conservator-Restorer that will ensure you receive best advice and best practice with regards to your specific needs.  The information presented in the Checklist below will also help you understand what to expect when you work with a professionally qualified Conservator-Restorer.  Further information can be found in the notes section.

Checklist for Choosing and Working With a Conservator-Restorer

Activity

Check Box

1. Outline your requirements.

 

2. Contact possible Conservator-Restorers with relevant experience.

 

3. Meet with Conservator-Restorer in presence of object to enable the Conservator-Restorer to prepare a treatment proposal and quotation.

 

4. Decide on most suitable candidate taking into account factors such as experience (supported by references), cost and availability

 

5. Ensure that the Conservator-Restorer has appropriate security arrangements and insurance cover in place

 

6. Agree a written contract including timeframes.

 

7. Keep in contact with Conservator-Restorer once work commenced.

 

8. On completion of the project ensure that all work has been fully documented in the ‘Project Report’.

 

9. Pay Conservator-Restorer’s final invoice once the final Project Report has been received.

 

Notes

  1. Depending on the extent of the work required, you may have a short brief or a detailed document.
  2.  Decide whether to approach a single Conservator-Restorer, or request quotations from a number of Conservator-Restorers.   See: Writing Tender Specifications.  Look for evidence of appropriate training and experience. In addition to the initial training, a Conservator-Restorer may be professionally qualified. See Training and Accreditation.  The Icon Conservator Register is the main source of professionally qualified Conservator-Restorers with a range of specific expertise and experience.
  3.  You should agree the work to be carried out and ask for a written treatment proposal to be submitted with the estimate.  Additional charges may be made for extensive documentation. See: Treatment Proposals and Quotations.   Depending on the size of the project, you may also be consulted periodically during the course of the work.  You should expect to be consulted before the treatment proposal is altered or any additional work is carried out.
  4. Conservator-Restorers work in a variety of locations and conditions, purpose-built or adapted and many are small Practices operating from home. However, the workspace should always be self-contained and fitted out for the purpose. Does the workspace appear well-ordered, with careful handling and storage of the objects undergoing or awaiting conservation? Does the Conservator-Restorer operate within current health and safety legislation and guidelines? (For example, you could look for toxic fume extraction apparatus. Does the Conservator-Restorer have an emergency response plan in case of fire, flood or building damage? Do they operate in a professional and efficient fashion?  If the agreed work is undertaken on the Conservator's premises, the Conservator shall be responsible for the risk of damage to or loss of the Item whilst in the Conservatorís custody. However, the Client shall be responsible for arranging transit of the Item to and from the Conservatorís premises unless otherwise agreed in writing and the Client shall be responsible for the insurance of the Item whilst in transit. If the agreed work is undertaken on the Client's premises, then (a) the Conservator shall be responsible for any loss or damage to the Item caused as a result of the Conservator's negligence, or (b) in all other circumstances the Client shall be responsible for any loss or damage to the Item and shall take all necessary steps to insure the Item. See here for more information.
  5. The Contract (or ‘Work Order’) document should include a basic description of the treatment plan and expected start and finish dates plus any other relevant terms and conditions.  The cost quoted should be broken down and VAT clearly shown. The payment structure will differ depending on the Conservator-Restorer and the value of the work to be carried out.  It is usual to pay a deposit at the outset of the work with additional payments made at specific stages or upon completion of the work.  The value of work should also be stated.  Conservator-Restorers usually know a lot about the history and composition of objects and may be able to advise you on the significance of the object, but for a valuation you should consult an auction house or a valuation expert.  The Conservator-Restorer may request to see proof of ownership documentation.
  6. Where items are being treated off site you may wish to view the treatment in progress by prior arrangement with the Conservator-Restorer. On occasions you may be contacted during treatment for example if the Conservator-Restorer has uncovered something particularly interesting or unexpected during the course of the work or where a Conservator-Restorer decides during treatment that changes should be made to their initial treatment proposal.
  7. The Conservator-Restorer should always keep careful records of work carried out. This is what is expected of a professional and is vital if the object requires work at a later time. You should expect a final report which, along with any photographs, can be kept with the item or collection. See: Introduction to Conservation Reports.

Further Information

Training and Accreditation

Look for evidence of appropriate training and experience. Conservator-Restorers learn their skills in a variety of ways. Most professional Conservator-Restorers have a recognised conservation qualification from an established training course, as well as several years experience. However, for some disciplines there are no formal training courses and the Conservator-Restorer might have learnt their skills through an apprenticeship with an established and reputable practitioner.

In addition to their initial training, a Conservator-Restorers may be accredited. Accredited status recognises a combination of technical capability and experience. The benefit of using an accredited Conservator-Restorer is the assurance that the individual has met the high standards demanded by the conservation profession, is committed to ongoing learning and development and works to the professional guidelines and codes of ethics of the accrediting body.

The Conservation Register recognises several different accreditation schemes. The most widely used is the PACR (Professional Accreditation of Conservator-Restorers) scheme. This is a multi-disciplinary scheme which can be used to accredit Conservator-Restorers of all types. Conservator-Restorers accredited under this scheme may use the letters ACR (Accredited Conservator-Restorer) after their name and the registered trade mark as shown below:

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If there is more than one person in a Practice, you may wish to ask if the work will be delegated to a more junior member of staff. If this is the case, you need to be assured that the person has appropriate training and experience and that they will be properly supervised by the accredited conservator in the organisation. Similarly if part or all of the work is to be subcontracted you should satisfy yourself that the subcontractor is appropriately qualified and, if they are not accredited, that they will be supervised by the accredited Conservator-Restorer.

Junior members of staff may hold ordinary or associate membership of one of the professional organisations or trade organisations specific to conservation-restoration. This membership usually denotes a commitment to professional standards and ethics and an interest in keeping up to date with new approaches, techniques and materials. However, it does not provide an assurance of expertise.

© Icon, the Institute of Conservation 2006.Revised 2011

This article offers general guidance and is not intended to be a substitute for the professional advice of an accredited Conservator-Restorer. The views expressed are those of the author or authors, and do not necessarily represent the views of the Institute of Conservation. The Institute of Conservation and its partners accept no liability for any loss or damage which may arise if this guidance is followed.