Role of Museum Galleries and Conservation for objects that are disfigured by past restoration attempts

The traditional role of museums is to collect objects and materials of cultural, religious and historical importance, preserve them, research into them and present them to the public for the purpose of education and enjoyment.

Emmanuel N. Arinze
President, Commonwealth Association of Museums
Public lecture at the National Museum, Georgetown, Guyana
Monday, May 17, 1999


What if the exhibits are vandalized or wrongly treated so much in their life time, that they are no more telling the right story of the culture/religion/history?!
As conservators, we come across many objects and exhibits that have become irreparable or extremely disfigured mainly because of unprofessional treatment/restoration attempts in past. This is actually not the mistake of people who took up the repair/restoration work or even the care-takers. The profession called conservation with its ethical and scientific pillars and foundation is relatively new and till a few years back the job was executed by anyone assumed to know something about the history or technique by which the object was supposed to be made.
May be a conservator/restorer can now work on such object and bring it back to life with a face much closer to its true image?! But again, we might come across damages that conservators/restorers cannot reverse or cure…

There are many ways such damaged objects can still be relevant in telling stories.
What can be done in such cases?

  1. They can be treated(curative conservation/restoration) to some extent. To an extent where their visual appearance is closer to what they intend to tell.
  2. Their story can be made clearer by adding replicas, and a story-line can be displayed as a printed or modeled interpretation.

Some questions that might be basic, before deciding upon what to do with the object in question and deciding upon their display are:

  1. Is the information/story associated with the object important for history, research etc.?
  2. Is the display of the object (badly damaged and not in a condition to be treated/conserved) important or justified?

There are some more things to ponder upon regarding badly damaged objects that are beyond recovery. One such area is research on ‘wrong treatments or unintentional vandalism’.



Author: namitajaspal
Namita Jaspal, with inherited skills of art and aesthetics and passion for science, opted to pursue post- graduation in ‘Conservation of Cultural Property’ after her graduation in Science from Delhi University in 1992. Four year intense training at National Museum Institute provided the right foundation to start a career in Conservation. She is currently practicing conservation consultancy for Heritage property including monuments and collections. She has been doing independent research in conservation techniques and procedures in Indian context. She is currently working on the conservation of wall-paintings of Sri Harmandir Sahib Ji (The Golden temple at Amritsar. The project is nearing completion and getting a lot of appreciation for the organized and ethical treatment it is providing. It is for the first time in the history of Sri Harmandir Sahib Ji (The Golden Temple) that wall painting conservation and preservation is being done in a scientific manner, keeping the codes of Ethics into consideration while decision making. Another project just completed is of the Conservation of Krishna Temple at Kishankot, Gurdaspur, Punjab. In her private Conservation Laboratory, she is not only providing onservation services, but also mentoring young aspiring conservators and archaeologists by the way of training and paid internships. She has been a guest lecturer at DIHRM (Delhi Institute of Heritage Research and Management). With all the updated knowledge database and innovative practical approaches relevant to the Indian conditions, she could successfully do curative and preservative treatment of very old textiles like a nine feet long flag from nineteenth century that is regarded as priceless memorabilia of second Dogra regiment at Chandi Mandir, and four hundred years old (seventeenth century) Chola Sahib Ji of Sixth Guru of Sikhs, Sri Hargobind Sahib Ji. Apart from this she has done conservation of Photograph collections, archival records, numerous paintings, manuscripts and other cultural objects. She is also involved in preparation of up-gradation proposals for museums and such organizations. Her expertise includes Conservation and preservation technologies and procedures for conservation of varied material like wall paintings, paper, photographs, textile, ceramics, stone, metal and archaeological objects.

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