Unlike practitioners in long-established professions such as medicine and law, art conservators do not yet have to be certified in order to “hang out their shingle.” Anyone can claim to be a conservator. No governmental or private agency administers examinations or checks credentials. Therefore, the burden is on you, the consumer of conservation services, to choose your conservator(s) with care.
Begin your search by obtaining a list of conservators in the appropriate specialty. The best sources for such lists are:
- The American Institute for Conservation (AIC) has published a brochure entitled Guidelines for Selecting a Conservator and will provide a computer-generated list of AIC members in the appropriate specialty and geographical area. The service is free of charge. Information can be found online at http://www.conservation-us.org/about-conservation/find-a-conservator or by contacting AIC at:
American Institute for Conservation of Historic & Artistic Works (AIC)
1156 15th Street NW Suite 320
Washington, DC 20005-1714
Phone: (202) 452-9545
Fax: (202) 452-9328
- Museums, especially larger ones with staff conservators.
The people appearing on lists from these sources are likely to be competent conservators, but are not guaranteed to be so. No matter where you obtain the names of prospective conservator(s), do your best to assess their competency in the conservation specialties you need.
Do this just as you would with any other type of service provider. Talk to the individuals, in person if you can. Inquire about their educational background and preservation training. Find out how long they have been in business and whether full- or part-time. Ask for references. See if their facility seems organized and well outfitted. And show them the object needing conservation: Do they seem knowledgeable about that type of object? Have they treated similar items in the past? Are they forthcoming and specific about treatment rationales and procedures? Do they seem attentive to your wishes concerning treatment? And will they be able to do the treatment within a satisfactory amount of time?
Keep in mind that qualified conservators are specialists of necessity. No one individual, no matter how well trained and educated, can possibly be proficient in several conservation specialties at once. There is simply too much to know, too many technical advances to keep up with. Avoid practitioners who claim otherwise. Consider instead those who do just one or two types of conservation exceedingly well.