How to Hire a Conservation Professional

This information will help you select a qualified conservator who can provide sound, ethical preservation services for your art objects, artifacts, and other items of historic and cultural value.

What to Know

Before searching for a conservator, learn more about the field. Read through these guides to familiarize yourself with the field of conservation and how they do their work.

  1. Learn about the field of conservation. Read through our list of Frequently Asked Questions to learn more about conservation and other conservation-related topics.You may also want to familiarize yourself with some Conservation Terminology >>

  2. Learn what it takes to become a conservator. Read through our information on how to Become a Conservator to learn what it takes to get into this field.

What to Ask

When selecting a conservator, seek sufficient information on the individuals under consideration. Ask each potential conservator for the following information:

  1. What is your background?
  2. What training have you completed?
  3. How long have you been a practicing professional?
  4. What is the scope of your practice? Is conservation your primary activity?
  5. What is your experience in working with my kind of object?
  6. What is your involvement in conservation organizations?
  7. What is your availability?
  8. What are references and previous clients?

What to Consider

Choosing a conservator is not always easy. Consider some of the following issues before making your choice:

  1. Conservation treatments are frequently time consuming and expensive. Be wary of those who propose to perform a quick and inexpensive restoration job, are reluctant to discuss in detail the materials and methods to be used, or will not permit you to see work in progress. For time-consuming projects or collection surveys, you can advertise for a short-term contract conservator in  AIC News.
  2. Many conservators are willing to travel. It may not be appropriate to restrict your search geographically, especially if the object presents unique problems. 
  3. You can try a conservator out. If you have a large collection requiring treatment, you may wish to have one object treated initially before entering into a major contract.
  4. There are risks involved with certain treatment options. The added time or expense of finding the right professional will be small compared to the loss or future costs that could result from inadequate conservation treatment.
  5. Conservators do not always agree about treatments. The quality of conservation work is most accurately evaluated based on the technical and structural aspects of the treatment in addition to the cosmetic appearance; another conservation professional may be able to help you make this evaluation. Speak to a number of conservators before making a decision you are comfortable with.

What to Expect

When you have selected a conservator, you should expect the following standard practices in your experience in working with them:

  1. Procedures: A conservator will want to examine the object before suggesting a treatment. Prior to beginning a treatment, the conservator should provide for your review and approval a written preliminary examination report with a description of the proposed treatment, expected results, and estimated cost. The conservator should consult you during the treatment if any serious deviation from the agreed-upon proposal is needed.
  1. Cost and Schedule: The conservator should be willing to discuss the basis for all charges. Determine if there are separate rates for preliminary examination and evaluation and if these preliminary charges are separate or deductible from a subsequent contract. Ask questions about insurance, payment terms, shipping, and additional charges. Conservators often have a backlog of work; inquire if a waiting period is necessary before new work can be accepted.
  1. Documentation: The conservator should provide a treatment report when treatment is completed. Such reports may vary in length and form but should list materials and procedures used. The final report may, if appropriate, include photographic records documenting condition before and after treatment. Recommendations for continued care and maintenance may also be provided. Both written and photographic records should be unambiguous. All records should be retained for reference in case the object requires treatment in the future.

Find a Conservator

Use our Find a Conservator tool to search for a peer-reviewed conservator in your area.

View all peer-reviewed conservators by specialty. Click on the specialty below.