Conservators are highly-qualified people with standards of education, training and professionalism among the most advanced in the world. They have expertise in a wide range of disciplines, including oil paintings, paper, textiles, furniture, archaeology, ceramics, buildings and display and are professionally engaged in the long-term preservation of artistic and cultural artefacts. Their principal aim is the preservation of Ireland's man-made heritage. They have responsibilities towards objects of public or personal significance from the past – a building, a book, a piece of jewellery, a steam engine, a painting, a christening dress or perhaps a treasured photograph.
Conservators combine their knowledge of the most up-to-date science with an understanding of the properties of materials and construction techniques to determine the best means of conservation of these objects. Aesthetic awareness is also essential – conservators use their knowledge of art history, architecture, changing fashions and lifestyles to understand the context of the objects they work with, and to conserve them sensitively and appropriately.
They do this by analysing and assessing the condition of cultural property, understanding processes and evidence of deterioration, planning collections care or site management strategies that prevent damage, carrying out conservation treatments, and conducting research in all of the areas previously indicated. Conservation is an interdisciplinary field involving studio practices, sciences, and the humanities.
They provide professional advice and support to curators, architects and exhibition designers. Many work with private clients and local heritage groups who are looking for guidance as how to best look after their collections or artifacts.
Conservators often specialise in a particular material or group of objects such as paintings, art on paper, textiles, archives, books, photographs, electronic media, sculpture, decorative arts, architecture, built environments, archaeology, natural science, or ethnographic materials.
- Restoring damaged objects or structures.
- Identifying and evaluating options, and deciding on treatment or preventive measures.
- Researching historic and artistic methods to evaluate the appropriateness of conservation procedures.
- Developing treatments and advising on aftercare.
- Maintaining conservation records.
- Monitoring and controlling the conditions in which objects are kept.
- Advising on procedures for the safe exhibition of cultural material.
- Managing projects and client relations.
Travel: can be a regular feature of the job.
Working hours: mainly office hours Monday- Friday with possibly with some extra hours.
Location: quite widely available in the private sector but mainly confined to large towns or cities in the public sector.
Opportunities for self-employment: possible. More conservator-restorers work in private than in institutions. For those working in museums, opportunities for private commissions can occur through general public enquires.
Conservators work in a variety of environments in both the public and private sectors on objects as diverse as oil paintings, paper, furniture, bog bodies, ceramics, buildings and sculpture including museums, regional facilities, heritage institutions, libraries, universities, archives, laboratories, government agencies, and private conservation enterprises.
The Institute for the Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works in Ireland (ICHAWI) is the accrediting body for the profession in Ireland. Membership of ICHAWI is confined to graduates of a recognised conservation training institution (such as the University of Northumbria, the Textile Conservation Centre, Camberwell College of Art, or the Courtauld Institute). This should be followed by a minimum of five years practical experience.
Professional Accreditation is also available through the Institute of Conservation. As a guide, conservators applying for accreditation have in excess of ten year's experience if they have gained their knowledge and experience in the workplace, or in excess of five years post-qualification experience if they have undertaken a formal conservation training course such as a degree.
Other relevant degree subjects
- Archive and museum studies
- Art conservation/art history
- Ceramics and glass
- History of art
- Materials science
- Textile technology.
A relevant postgraduate qualification is normally required if your first degree is not in conservation.
Specific entry requirements
Normal colour vision and good manual dexterity is normally required.
ICHAWI organises courses for conservator/restorers as part of their continuing professional development (CPD).
Tips for applications
Experience such as voluntary placement in a museum, working with a private practitioner is a definite advantage. Where possible, experience should be supervised by a qualified conservator. Put together a portfolio of any artwork or craft you do to show manual dexterity and interest in materials.
Skills and qualities
- Enquiring and flexible mind.
- Ability to work with your hands.
- Considerable patience.
- Excellent attention to detail combined with excellent observational skills.
- Ability to combine scientific understanding with artistic/aesthetic/historical appreciation.
- Enthusiasm for working with art or heritage items.
- Commitment to ongoing learning and development as demanded by the continuing professional development schemes that are integral to maintaining accredited status.
Labour market information
It would appear that the sector is entering a pivotal stage in its development. While the current outlook for the conservation sector may be challenging, there is a real future for it.