Is a Conservator a Scientist?
June 6, 2016 Innovation Impact
ANSWER: According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a scientist is “a person who is trained in a science and whose job involves doing scientific research or solving scientific problems.”
Based upon this definition, I agree it would be easy to consider conservators scientists. But, truthfully, scientific work represents only a portion of the work that we carry out on a daily basis.
Conservation as a field is interdisciplinary.
It involves studio practices, sciences and the humanities. As a conservator, you are responsible for the long-term preservation of artistic and cultural artifacts. We analyze and assess the condition of cultural property and use our knowledge to develop collection care plans and site management strategies. We also carry out conservation treatments and related research.
Now, there are conservation scientists, who represent a specialized, highly trained subset of conservation professionals whose work concentrates exclusively on the science of artifact preservation. Rather than conserving artifacts, they focus their daily efforts on the analysis of artifact materials to determine how to best prevent degradation. They also conduct research to establish the best materials and techniques for conservators to use when they work on artifacts.
So are conservators scientists? No, we are not. But we do use an extensive training in material science, in combination with artistic skills and knowledge of art history, to conserve museum artifacts.
Mary Fahey is Chief Conservator at The Henry Ford.
The Henry Ford Magazine, #Behind The Scenes @ The Henry Ford, collections care, conservation, by Mary Fahey