The Art and Science of Conservation

Although conservation treatments often look like magic, they are firmly rooted in science. Conservators study chemistry, mechanisms of deterioration, preventive conservation, the ethics and principals of conservation, and specialty fields such as furniture, paper, photographs, textile, paintings, and objects. HFC's conservators use their in-depth knowledge of materials, attention to detail, good judgement, and excellent hand eye coordination to treat NPS's irreplaceable objects.

Below are before and after treatment photographs for some of the projects completed by HFC's conservators. Slide the arrows left or right across the images to see the often dramatic differences.

Dinosaur National Monument – from 1964 World’s Fair
White stegosaurus with black back plates in a pebble field. A brown stegosaurus with a tan underside in a pebble field.
Dinosaur before treatment
Dinosaur after treatment

This stegosaurus was given to Dinosaur National Monument in 1967. There were at least seven layers of overpaint the park wanted removed to have the dinosaur returned to its original colors. Based on color photographs and paint analysis the conservators were able to determine the original colors.

Manassas National Battlefield Park - Chalk/graphite/charcoal drawing
Chalk drawing with tears, stains, and smudges. Chalk drawing restored from tears, stains and smudges.
Drawing before treatment
Drawing after treatment

This portrait of Dr. Isaac Henry, naval surgeon on the frigate Constellation was done by Saint-Memin, a major portrait artist in Federalist America from 1796-1812.

The drawing suffered from numerous conditions concerns some of which were a result of the inherent vice and other due to improper handling and storage. The drawing was attached along its edges to the original wooden strainer with what appeared to be an animal glue adhesive. Severe tears existed along the inner edge of the strainer. The paper was brittle and a considerable amount of the surface was marred by grime and flyspecks.  

The friable nature of the media limited treatment options. After careful examination, the decision was made that the most viable method for removal was in a moisture chamber. The drawing was evenly humidified which allowed it to be removed from the wooden strainer. The residual adhesive was reduced and tears were mended from the reverse. 

Numerous disfiguring, dark, gray stains remained after bathing. The dark stains were reduced by gentle mechanical action and inpainted with pastel pencils and watercolors. Area where the media had been dispalaced due to a liquid staining appeared much lighter than the surrounding areas and were also inpainted with watercolors.

Last updated: December 18, 2019