How to prepare for your appointment with a conservator

Updated: Nov 11

Congratulations on taking the first step toward preserving your object/collection/artwork/document/family history/photograph/etc.... ! Choosing a trained conservator is the best way to protect it.


Check their credentials

In the United States, most conservators have a graduate degree in conservation, or documented apprentice training. This training is rooted in an understanding of science, artist working methods, and art history. Conservators work for many years to gain the knowledge needed to preserve items in their chosen discipline.

Our US professional organization, the American Institute for Conservation provides guidance to members, including a detailed Ethics and Guidelines for Practice. These documents outline acceptable practice, guide relations with clients and our work. Before meeting with a conservator, ensure that their practice conforms to these guidelines. Look for peer-reviewed status, like "Professional Associate".


Most conservators are specialized. My expertise is in works on paper and photographs. Other common specialties are: paintings, textiles, wooden artifacts, sculpture, ethnographic objects, books, and architecture. Complex objects may require the expertise of more than one conservator.


What to expect

I prefer to directly examine a work before determining a treatment plan and price. As I write this, we are in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, so it has become more common to provide rough estimates by email from photographs or videos. Video conferences are also a great option.

Loss on a watercolor painting with new fill

For in-person meetings*, the client will bring the work to my office for examination. I will unframe the work if needed, and look closely. Some things I am looking for:

  1. Damage

  2. Missing parts/pieces

  3. Tears

  4. Stains

  5. Unstable media

  6. Tape or other damaging adhesives

  7. Distortions

  8. Associated materials that may be damaging

We will discuss the reasons the client brought the work to me. At this point I can usually give a rough price estimate and treatment plan. If we agree on the plan and rough cost, the client will leave the work with me for a detailed examination. There is some contract paperwork to sign at this time, but it it is not an authorization for the work to begin.


The details of the examination are written up and emailed to the client along with a treatment proposal. This document is appropriately named "Examination Report and Treatment Proposal". It outlines the following:

  1. What it is and maybe how it was made

  2. Descriptive information like dimensions, date, maker, title, accessories

  3. The current condition of the work, including any tests performed

  4. Proposed treatment of the work

  5. Expected outcome of the treatment

  6. Expected completion date

  7. Cost

*which are now restricted, see our COVID policy post.


Other considerations

If you have a budget, be clear about what you are willing to invest. The conservator may be able to give you options for treatment at different price points.


Conservation takes time. Communicate about any deadlines as soon as possible.


Timeline of a typical project

  1. The client reaches out via email, phone, or our website.

  2. The client sends photographs of the item via email or text OR we go directly to scheduling an appointment. If the client is based in another town or state, they arrange to ship the item to my studio.

  3. A preliminary examination takes place at the scheduled appointment, or when the item arrives at the studio. The treatment plan and cost are discussed with the client. If approved, the work is left at our studio for a detailed examination.

  4. The client is emailed a detailed "Examination Report and Treatment Proposal for review.

  5. Upon receipt of approval and a 50% initial payment, the treatment work can begin. The actual start time may depend on other ongoing projects.

  6. Photo documentation and treatment are performed. Depending on the treatment, this may take from 1 to 6 months.

  7. Upon completion, the client is notified. The treatment report, treatment photographs and final invoice are sent via email.

  8. An appointment is scheduled for pickup, or the work is packed for shipment back to the client. Final payment is requested at the time of pickup or shipment.

© Jennifer McGlinchey Sexton 2016-2020. All Rights Reserved