The conservation area at Glenbow Museum consists of four labs:
- textiles; and
- paintings and sculpture.
Each lab has a conservator who is specially trained to understand and repair the materials in their designated collections.
- The paper conservator deals with any object created from paper. This includes, but is not limited to, watercolours, prints, drawings, photographs, and books.
- The textile conservator cares for the Museum's collections of quilts, clothing, and other textile items.
- The object conservator works mainly on artifacts from the ethnographic, cultural history, and military history collections. This covers a vast array of substances, from leather to plastic and everything in between.
- The paintings and sculpture conservator works on paintings in media such as oil or acrylic on canvas, wood, and other materials, and also cares for the Museum's collection of bronze, stone, and mixed media sculpture.
Glenbow Museum does not work on private commissions. The conservators work only on Glenbow Museum collections but are able to give advice when time allows.
While we hope you find the information here (and the information provided by those organizations we have linked to) of use and interest, we expect people to recognize that any work done on an object is a risk and is best performed by trained professionals. Glenbow Museum is not responsible for any damage done to items due to information provided herein.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is conservation?
Conservation is the profession that deals with the stabilization and repair of cultural property. Conservation attempts to care for an object in order to maintain it, as much as possible, in its current condition, including wear and "historic dirt." It includes preventative conservation, documentation, treatment, and, if necessary, restoration.
What do the conservation professionals at Glenbow do?
The conservators ensure that artifacts in the collection last as long as possible and that the artifacts can be displayed for public and research purposes.
The first avenue of protection is preventive conservation. Preventive conservation includes things such as building maintenance, environmental monitoring, and "integrated pest management." It deals with deciding on the long term needs of objects, including controlling light levels, humidity, temperature, creating storage mounts, and using proper materials. By placing objects in an environment as ideal as possible, you can slow the aging process, making the objects last longer. If an object is damaged or disfigured a conservator can treat the artifact. For different materials this means different things. Sometimes it could be as simple as dusting, or it could involve intensive chemical treatments. The Canadian Conservation Institute (CCI), a federally run conservation lab, has a number of treatments on its website: http://www.cci-icc.gc.ca/main_e.shtml.
How do I find information about caring for my artifacts?
Any treatment on an artifact involves a degree of risk and should be done by a professional qualified to treat the material. For information on the basic care of family treasures and antiques, these websites are of great use.
Preserving My Heritage - Created by the Canadian Conservation Institute, this site is an aid for people wanting to properly care for their heirlooms.
Advice and Guidance: Conservation - This site is from the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council in the UK and includes information on conservation of many different types of materials.
AIC: Caring for Your Treasures - The site contains electronic versions of brochures that were widely available from the American Institute for Conservation. The first brochure covers many environmental concerns.
How do I find a conservator?
Conservators can be somewhat difficult to find as there are few in private practice in Western Canada. However here are some suggested sites to search.
Canadian Association of Professional Conservators - The Canadian Association of Professional Conservators (CAPC) is the national accrediting body for conservators, and they have a listing of members both geographically and by speciality.
ARG! Alberta Regional Group of Conservators - This website has a listing of members and their specialties.
What are some basic conservation guidelines?
Below are some general guidelines. See the websites listed above under "How do I find information about caring for my artifacts?" for more detailed information.
Storing and keeping your objects in the proper environment is important. Different objects have different environmental and storage needs that are often difficult to accommodate in a home. Here are some basic tips.
- Handle fragile objects as little as possible. The more frequently something is picked up and moved the more likely it is to be broken. When you have to move something use two clean, dry hands and pick the object up by the sturdiest parts (the "body" not the handles or spouts).
- Do not store things where it is cool, moist, and dark, like an unfinished basement or garage. These conditions give rise to mould and mildew. Mould and mildew can easily be identified by the "old, musty" smell even if there are no visible stains.
- Wherever you store things, keep them at least four inches off the floor. Keep things on shelves or at least on 2 x 4's turned vertical. This is a precaution against flooding. Four inches clearance should help keep materials from sitting in pools of water.
- When bringing objects from a moist climate (i.e. Vancouver) to a dry climate (i.e. Calgary), try to keep the item in its packaging for a few days. The packing materials should help buffer the changes in relative humidity, lessening the likelihood of cracking and damage.
- Valuable items should not be kept in bathrooms, kitchens, or near sources of moisture and dirt.
- Avoid large fluctuations in temperature and humidity. These can cause damage to objects. In the dry winter months you can use a humidifier to help keep the moisture content in the air higher. However, ensure that humidifiers and dehumidifiers are in good working order and are not turned off during the night or when people are out of the building. Poorly maintained or malfunctioning equipment can cause more harm than no equipment.
- It is not safe to hang or place wooden objects or pictures near forced air vents or fireplaces. The wood and/or adhesive will lose moisture and will tend to crack and split over time. Pictures will yellow, fade, or cockle.
- Hanging pictures on poorly insulated outer walls can also cause problems. If you reach behind a work and the wall feels cooler and moister than the rest of the wall you could be damaging the artwork.
- For storage, if possible, use Polypropylene (PP) containers (i.e. Rubbermaid® containers). These are water proof in floods and should help seal out excess moisture. Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) containers should not be used since they release acidic compounds over time. Other "good" plastics are polyethylene, polycarbonate, and polyester. It should state on the container what type of plastic it is made of, usually near the recycling symbol.
- When storing small fragile items wrap each one in tissue paper before placing it in a box. If possible create stacking trays to lay them on.
- Never use scotch tape or any self adhesive labels! These are for temporary use on ephemeral materials.
- Use pollutant free materials like acid-free unbuffered tissues, pre-washed unbleached muslin, and acid-free mat boards.
- Light is damaging to most organic objects: wood, leather, fur, paper, pigments, etc. Try not to expose valuable items to direct sunlight as this will cause them to fade and/or discolour. Do not leave sensitive objects on display permanently as light damage is cumulative and irreversible.
- Stored items should be checked regularly for damage. Leaks, pests, mould, etc. can all happen quickly. If anything is found to be wrong, deal with it immediately. The longer you wait the more difficult the problem will become.