Conservation vs. Restoration

John Reid from OzFilm has written two excellent articles on linenbacking:

The first article questions the use of wheat paste as an adhesive in restoration. The second article suggests some separation between conservation and restoration.

First, I want to strongly state that wheat paste (conservation grade – highly refined) should be the preferred adhesive for any support work that is done with conservation as a priority.

Let me say it again in case you missed it:

Wheat paste should be the preferred adhesive for any support work that is done with conservation as a priority.

But for the focus of this post, I want to clarify two words that often get mixed together: conservation and restoration.  I use to think that these two words were interchangeable, but am finding that they are very far apart in some cases. I think that like me, most collectors just assume restorers are conservators and approach any restoration with conservation in mind.  The other shitty thing, is that this is what they tend to sell you.

We are going to take your pig, put some lipstick on it and you will be happy.  All the while giggling because they have your money and you have no way to tell what was done to your poster or not done to your poster.

These two words are different. For example, you can have a restoration that is done using conservator best practices or have a restoration that doesn’t have conservation in mind at all – like using wall paper paste and non-pure water sources.  At the end of the day, you get your poster and it looks great and you stick it in a drawer or hang it up. The question is, which one has been given the conservation “muscle” for the long haul?

Conservation vs. Restoration

The basic definition of Conservation is the act of preserving, guarding, or protecting. Conservation involves protection and restoration using “any methods that prove effective in keeping that property in as close to its original condition as possible for as long as possible.”

The waters are muddied even more when you consider there is an American Institute for Conservation (AIC) whom certifies conservators and has a dedicated subgroup called the Book and Paper Group (BPG) which happens to be the largest of the specialty groups within the Institute.  Have you ever heard of the AIC before reading this?  Why haven’t you?!  I would take a guess and say that 95% of all the poster being linenbacked and supposedly conserved for generations to come, weren’t treated by an AIC professional (or similar agency abroad) and better fit the definition of restoration versus conservation on methods performed alone.

You see conservation is a funny thing, technically.  You can’t use conservation principals in one step and neglect them in the next.  You can’t use purified water and the correct deacidification solution and then used a wall paper paste adhesive which hasn’t been studied for its longevity and may have chemicals that can degrade the paper over the long term.

John’s article illustrates the idea of best practices which should be followed for conservation.  So I ask you, why are you not demanding conservation based practices on your posters?   So onto the idea of Restoration.

Restoration, simply, does not imply conservation. Period.

Let me say that again.

Restoration, simply, does not imply conservation. Period.

Restoration, simply, means the act of returning something to a former condition. There are no attached guidelines on how the item is supposed to be returned to this former condition…

Reading Restoration on your favorite restorer’s (I will now refrain from using conservator unless I am sure) website does not make it automatic that your paper article will be conserved at all. Worse and most likely, is that these restoration “businesses”  (I stress businesses because they exist to make a profit) are not out to preserve and protect your item, but to sell you the idea that your paper item, quickly, through the use of this super secret magic trick, will become like it was when it rolled off the press.

The problem is that in order to continue perpetuating this illusion to customers, conservation takes a back seat to speed and the need to mask defects with permanent and semi-permanent mediums. In fact I would challenge any of you to actually find a prominent movie poster restorer that has an AIC professional on staff.  I would go even farther, with the “pass it down” ideology that is prominent with our (movie poster) restorers, to question if any actually have a degree in conservation.  “uh, well, uh, I just learnt from the guy before me – but I have an art degree…”

What I have also found is that most conservation based organizations don’t use the term restoration alone, often not at all.   My next challenge for you is to find the term conservation on your restorer’s website.  If they are not conservators, it won’t be there. And don’t be fooled by the “museum” standards bit…  If they don’t have a section on conservation, it’s not a priority IMO.  Or… They don’t know what it is.

So what have we learned today?  It has been a long time since I found something worthy of posting about.  Some may consider this just a rant, which is fine.  But if I have enlightened anyone about something that is truly missing from our hobby – conservative practices… Then rant = success.

Pulpfixin out…


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