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’.



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