A conservation staffer using tools to clean an object

Conservation

How we preserve and restore our works of art.

The conservation department at the Denver Art Museum was established in 1991 and initially focused on the conservation of three-dimensional objects. Now, the department is made up of five conservators with specialties in works of art on paper, photographs, paintings, textiles, archaeological and ethnographic objects, and modern and contemporary art. The department also includes a conservation technician and a conservation assistant.

The primary responsibility of the department is to care for the museum’s collection in accordance with the museum’s mission to preserve works of art for future generations. The conservation department also supports exhibition and loan programs at the DAM by assessing the suitability of artworks for display or loan, treating artworks to prepare them for display, advising on handling and transport, and collaborating with curators. The department contributes to the conservation profession as a whole by participating in professional organizations and conferences, collaborating with colleagues outside the museum, and training qualified interns and fellows.

Staffers lifting a heavy object off the floor
DAM curator John Lukavic examining an upper Missouri shirt.

What is Conservation?

Conservation is a profession dedicated to the long-term preservation of artistic, historic, and cultural materials. Professional conservation practice is guided by a code of ethics intended to protect the integrity and authenticity of works of art. Conservators are professionals with advanced training in art history, science, conservation techniques, and related fields.

One part of conservation practice is the physical treatment of artworks to stabilize their materials and structure or to bring back aspects of their original appearance. Treatments are customized to individual objects and may include such activities as cleaning, reinforcing fragile connections, repairing breaks, or, when appropriate, replacing missing parts.

Preventive conservation, another important part of the field, slows down deterioration of objects. In a museum setting, preventive measures require collaboration between various departments and range from controlling building-wide climate conditions to training staff in appropriate art handling skills to specifying exhibition light levels for individual objects. To support treatment and preventive conservation, conservators carry out detailed written and photographic documentation of artworks, scientific analysis, and research into the techniques and materials used by artists throughout time.

Staffer using tool to clean head of Apollo statue

Conserving an Ancient Roman Statue

Bust of Apollo was acquired in 1966. To prepare it for display in The Light Show exhibition, our conservation team needed to remove dirt from the porous marble. Read how they experimented with agar and a chelator to clean the bust, and how they analyzed paint pigments discovered on it.

The conservation staff working on a large map

Ming Dynasty Map of China Created in Japan

Traditional conservation embodies history, artistic competency, and science. The marriage of these three areas make conservation stand apart from restoration—or simply making something look good or better. Learn how the conservation team applied these three disciplines while conserving a map created in 1681.