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Subject: Conservation principles

Conservation principles

From: Richard Fuller <frichard>
Date: Sunday, August 13, 2006
George Brock-Nannestad <pattac [at] image__dk> writes
>The information content in an artefact is constituted by its
>composition and its context, and it is modified by repair. ...

and referring to solder repairs to pewter

>... We will have performed a repair of function, but the
>artefact's function for its intended purpose was per definition
>terminated when it entered a collection. From that moment, the
>purpose of the artefact became to represent best possible all the
>information that can be extracted from it. ...

I haven't read the author's published presentations but if the
posted comments assert that, as a general ethical principle,
artifacts should remain unchanged after entering museum collections,
I would have to disagree. From my perspective, as a general
historical collections Conservator, this goes beyond any "slightly
differing definitions of ethics" that various practices may have. It
must be understood that there are differing interpretations about
the 'use' of artifacts within the museum community.

Some museums consider physical use of some mechanical artifacts
appropriate and important to the interpretation of the object and
historical context represented. In other words, the 'intended
purpose' of the collection object would not be 'terminated' when it
entered a collection. Although this means a degree of change through
wear, maintenance and eventual repair, it is usually consistent with
the object's pre-collection service life and therefore does not
necessarily represent 'modification' of the object, if this is taken
to mean an 'alteration' not true to the object's normal functional
state. Otherwise, many mechanical objects in collections could not
be considered 'original' or 'unmodified' because repair and
maintenance would have been a normal part of operation.

Of course, at some point, function has to cease. Up to that point
the artifact may have provided, "all the information that can be
extracted from it". What remains is a static specimen of technology
exhibiting evidence of past use. The object is not presenting a
'lie' about the past--it is what it has become. Its past didn't
stop at the museum door. Why would this 'extended past' not be valid
part of an object's history? Information unique to its 'former past'
and beyond can be preserved through proper documentation.

Yes, irresponsible restoration, operation or repair can create a
state untrue to the object's functional life (non-mechanical objects
included) but that does not have to be the outcome if done with a
conservation-guided approach, which I've always considered to be
inherently ethical.

In establishing or promoting ethical guidelines we should consider
the broader picture of material culture use and the practical
realities of conservation practice.

Richard Fuller
Doon Heritage Crossroads

                  Conservation DistList Instance 20:11
                  Distributed: Monday, August 28, 2006
                       Message Id: cdl-20-11-004
Received on Sunday, 13 August, 2006

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