What do a plaster sculpture of an African-American Civil War soldier, a letter from a young Abraham Lincoln, archeological textile fragments and one of Lady Bird Johnson's dresses have in common?

They are all objects in National Park Service collections that have received conservation treatment to ensure their safety during analysis, exhibit, and in long-term storage. These and many other objects are preserved in the museum collections in parks and repositories throughout the NPS system. Many of these important objects are fragile. They require stabilization and restoration to be safely used. Conservators with a specialized education in conservation in art and science work behind the scenes, treating objects to make them available for exhibits, educational programs and research. Formal education is usually augmented with apprenticeship-type training. This dual background gives them the perspective to make aesthetic judgements based on a sound understanding of deterioration.

This module describes the basic approach used in conservation.  Examples of conservation treatments completed by NPS conservators to make NPS museum collections more accessible illustrate their work. Conservation can be divided into four different areas: Examination, Stabilization, Research, and Restoration; each is described in more detail later in this module. Before any work is done on an object it must be carefully examined to understand how and why it is deteriorating. Stabilization stops deterioration and preserves the object. Restoration techniques replace missing elements to make an object look more like it did originally. Research takes place during all these steps to ensure the best possible choices are considered.

All work that is done by conservators is documented. Reports, photographs, drawings, and analytical graphs are kept so that people who use the object can access this information. We have used the actual words of the conservators in the examples so you can get a sense of the careful and objective way they describe what they see and do. We have sometimes expanded on these reports to give you a more information about the object. You will also find unfamiliar technical words are linked to the glossary.

The examples in the exhibit are taken from conservation treatment reports. NPS conservators also do research, complete surveys at parks, give training courses and a variety of other activities. This online exhibit will show you a selected number of conservation treatments performed on National Park Service objects from sites across the United States. If you want help with your own objects, click on Getting Help.