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Kissel, E. the Restorer. Key Player in Preventive Conservation. 1999

Kissel, E. the Restorer. Key Player in Preventive Conservation. 1999

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Kissel, E. the Restorer. Key Player in Preventive Conservation. 1999
Kissel, E. the Restorer. Key Player in Preventive Conservation. 1999

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Categories:Topics, Art & Design
Published by: Trinidad Pasíes Arqueología-Conservación on Jan 29, 2012
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MuseumInternational
Preventive conservation
Vol LI, n°1, january 1999
 
 In this article the author presents and clarifies the concepts of preservation, preventive conservation, curative conservation and restoration. She then sets out her personal view as a practitioner of conservation/restorationabout the scope for and value of  integrating restorers into preventive conservation projects in Frenchmuseums. Eleonore Kissel is aconservator-restorer of graphic documents and a consultant in preventive conservation. She holds a Master's degree in the sciences and techniques of conserving and restoring cultural property and a Higher Specialized Studies Diploma (DESS) in preventive conservation from the University of Paris-I PantheÂon-Sorbonne.She is a specialist in preventive conservation work which she carries out mostly in archives and museums in France and Canada.
Before examining the main subject of thisarticle, namely, the scope for integratingrestorers into preventive conservationprojects, I will first of all try to define thedifferent activities covered by thedisciplines whose common objective isto safeguard cultural property, andsecond, will briefly determine how the various responsibilities are shared by museum personnel. I should mention atthe outset that this article concernspractices in French museums only; otherkinds of heritage institutions such asarchives, libraries and historical sites andmonuments, as well as the situation inother countries are not reflected here. What do the terms `restoration', `curativeconservation' and `preventive conserva-tion' mean, and who are the individualsresponsible for carrying out each of thesetasks in the heritage institutions?French popular usage gives a meaning tothe term `restoration' which is differentfrom its technical definition, and this leadsto confusion when the subject orestoration is being discussed in public.Following the definition given by theEnglish-speaking world, `restoration' wasdescribed in 1992 as all the work carriedout on a cultural property in order toimprove understanding of it.
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The work inquestion is therefore optional, andexecuted on an object whose continuedexistence is not at issue. By contrast,`curative conservation' can be defined asencompassing all the work done on adamaged object in order to rescue it fromdanger. None the less, both verbal and written shortcuts show how even today the term `restoration' and, therefore, thatof `restorer' are readily used in a broadersense which takes in all the work donedirect on an object. Bearing this in mindand to avoid any confusion, the term`conservation-restoration' will be used inthis article, but together with that of `restorer', and it is hoped that readers willaccept this refusal to submit to officialterminology.
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Restoration and curative conservation work both concern individual objects which have usually suffered damage, whereas preventive conservation is adifferent discipline whose purpose is tolessen the risks of deterioration. As aresult, on the one hand, preventiveconservation work is, in general, aimedprimarily at the environment rather than atindividual objects, although it isunderstood that it is the materiality of the object which determines the nature of the actions taken. On the other hand,given that action aimed at the environ-ment often benefits several objects,justification for such action is seen interms of its expected impact on thecollection as a whole rather than onindividual objects. Adopting a broader view of materialconservation issues, which are definednot in terms of a potential improvement of the state of the object but, rather, astabilization of its present condition,requires a considerable change of per-spective on the part of the restorer. Thisnew angle of analysis leads the restorer toaccept that his or her preventiveconservation work will not bring backthe object's lost splendour, but that, atmost, it will continue to exist for theinitiation and pleasure of future genera-tions. This is what restoration work meansin both psychological and concrete terms ± restorers can, perhaps, merely lessen theeffects of deterioration agents by ensuringthe daily, although perhaps minimal,protection of the collections.This shift in role is not without realsignificance, given the scale of the effects
ISSN 1350-0775,
Museum International 
(UNESCO, Paris), No. 201 (Vol. 51, No. 1, 1999)
33
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UNESCO 1999Published by Blackwell Publishers, 108 Cowley Road, Oxford, OX4 1JF (UK) and 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148 (USA)
The restorer: key player in preventiveconservation
 EleÂonore Kissel 
 
of any major action aimed at a collectionof objects or their environment. Theactions taken and results obtained in thecontext of prevention and protectionagainst damage are often unspectacular,but the responsibility is none the lessheavy given that any mistake made risksaffecting thousands, if not millions, of objects.
 Who does what? In theory ...
These introductory remarks bring us tothe question of whether restorers are theright people for the work of preventiveconservation. Are they able to do such work given a training and professionalactivity centred on the treatment of individual objects? Can restorers justifiably claim to be specialized in preventiveconservation?To be able to answer this question, wehave to look into the origins of preventiveconservation as a discipline in its ownright. The relevant bibliography is very revealing: the basic reference works havemostly been written by restorers. Why?First, because of what I would call thephysiological reason that conservation-restoration is, by far, the discipline whichis closest to the materiality of the objectfrom which it derives its
raison d'e Ãtre 
andsubstance. The second reason is linked tothe specific circumstance of museumprofessionals, especially in North America, being faced with the problemof both the increasing quantity of collections and increased pressure forthe conservation of the works. Therestorers working in museums gradually found themselves having to justify the way the funds allocated to their sector of activity were used. Public financingdecreased whilst private financing in-creased, and the new `investors' havebeen demanding the production of tangible results as they would do in thebusiness world. In this way, it becameunacceptable to use money from privatefoundations to finance, for instance, aspecific conservation-restoration action if the conditions of storage of the restored work were unsatisfactory. This simple andconsistent principle obtains whether thefinancing is public or private, but it is stillfar from being systematically applied inthe domain of culture. To sum up, theforegoing informs us about both thegeographic origins of preventive con-servation and the existence of a literaturespecific to restorers, many of whom havebecome, officially or unofficially, fully fledged `preservation managers' as wellas personnel who work direct onindividual objects.
... and in practice
 Who are the people responsible forcarrying out preventive conservation work in French museums in day-to-dapractice, and how is it done?Until now, only conservators had beenable to do such work. Once again, thereasons for this were structural, with themanagement of museum collectionshaving always been governed by thepresence and decision-making of con-servators, and conservators alone. Verfew museums have administrators amongtheir executives; only a few managers are
 Piling up various types of objects in the reserves without regard to their shapes or materials creates problems of access and conservation and makes an inventory extremely difficult to undertake.
    P     h   o    t   o     b   y   c   o   u   r    t   e   s   y   o     f    t     h   e   a   u    t     h   o   r     /    M   u   s   e     Â   e    L   o   r   r   a     i   n ,    N   a   n   c   y ,    F   r   a   n   c   e
 EleÂonore Kissel 
34
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UNESCO 1999

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