Museum Conservation Services

Two women move a flat artifact
Harpers Ferry Center's conservators provide professional conservation services for National Park Service (NPS) museum collections from parks across the U.S. and its territories. These services include object treatments, on-site assessments, exhibition and preservation planning, emergency response, and training.
Six people repairing an American flag from the civil war

The Lab

The conservation laboratory at HFC is the largest in the NPS. Six specialized areas are equipped to examine, analyze, treat, and document objects. Additional spaces include a wood shop, metal shop, photography studio, and secure storage areas for collections until they return to the parks after treatment. HFC's conservation labs are not open to the public.

Man painting a church icon

Treatments

Object treatments vary from surface cleaning and completing minor repairs to major conservation efforts. Conservators regularly test media, adhesives, chemical residues, and other materials before treatments begin to ensure proposed treatment steps are safe for the objects. Written reports and digital photography document all work. To see examples of HFC treatments click here.

Two women place books on stands

Preventative Care

Much of the work that HFC conservators do helps prevent the need for an object to be treated. Preservation strategies are most efficient at the collection level and include proper handling and physical security; controlling tempature, relative humidity, and light; excluding insects, food, and live plants from storage and exhibition areas; good housekeeping practices; and rotating sensitive objects off exhibit. The conservators provide recommendations, training, and on-site help in these areas to NPS staff in the field.

Artifact Conservators enter data into laptops

Preservation Planning

Planning is important for long-term care of collections, identifying needs, and justifying funding to correct deficiencies. HFC conservators often travel to parks to write museum plans.

A woman checks the temperature inside an exhibit case

Exhibit Development

The conservators work with HFC exhibit staff, NPS curators, cultural resource specialists, historians, interpreters, facility staff, and others to develop and upgrade exhibits in park visitor centers and museums. Conservators may treat objects used in exhibits and also ensure the methods and materials used to design and build exhibit cases are appropriate for the objects. They provide standards for temperature, relative humidity, and light levels to protect the objects on display, install objects in the exhibits, and recommed timeframes for exhibition of sensitive objects.

Packing water damaged books for the freezer

Emergency Response

Whether it's a burst pipe, a broken air conditioning system or natural disasters such as hurricanes, floods, fires and tornadoes, the NPS relies on its conservators to save damaged museum collections. HFC's conservators provide advice and on-site response, evaluating the effects of the disaster on collections. They plan for recovery, salvage collections, treat objects, and assist with reestablishing stabel storage environments for preservation of the recovered onjects. To see examples of HFC disaster response click here.

A man shows four other people how to repair a wooden table

Training

HFC's conseravators provide hands-on training and classroom instruction to NPS and other Department of the Interior museum staff. Conservators also present their work at professional meetings and publications.

Film Reel

Cold Storage

The purpose of this program is to provide a basic understanding of cold storage and explain how to implement it for long-term preservation of film-based photographic collections.

Getting Help for Your Objects

HFC conservators only work on NPS and other government museum collections. Members of the public looking for a conservator to treat private collections or family heirlooms can search for one through the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works' Find a Conservator program.

Learn more about caring for your objects through the NPS's free Conserve O Gram series.

Learn More about the NPS Museum Conservation Programs

The NPS has conservators at other other labs around the country. Learn more by contacting:

Last updated: October 23, 2018