Conservators keep works of art, historic buildings and other historic objects in good condition by preservation and continued care.
They deal with a wide range of objects, but most specialise in one area, such as fine art, books, textiles, archaeology and industrial exhibits.
The work usually involves three stages: examination to identify any damage and its cause, preservation to stop deterioration and ensure future stability and restoration to ensure that original characteristics are retained.
Prevention is also an important aspect. Conservators need to have an understanding of the effect of the environment on different materials, and to ensure that objects are not stored or displayed in harmful conditions. This involves monitoring and controlling light, humidity, temperature and air pollution.
Conservators use a range of scientific methods, materials and equipment, and maintain written and photographic records of their work.
Restorers/conservators in the public sector usually work 37 to 40 hours a week, Monday to Friday. In the private sector, hours can depend on the volume of work, and restorers may have to work to deadlines.
Most of the work takes place in laboratories and workshops, although some conservation work, such as stone masonry, has to be carried out on site. Restorers often spend time in museums, art galleries and private houses, giving advice on collections.
The work may involve a great deal of sitting or standing, depending on the task.
To be a conservator/restorer you need:
It is possible to get this job through an apprenticeship, otherwise a degree in conservation is normally expected. If your degree is in another subject, you'll be expected to complete a postgraduate qualification.
Given the nature of this work, experience is equally important so an internship or some kind of work-based training will go a long way.
Conservators are employed in the public and private sectors. Many conservators work in museums, but there has been an overall decrease in posts, as work is often contracted out to freelancers. There is no uniform career structure and many jobs are offered as short-term contracts.
Conservators also work for the National Trust, English Heritage and the heritage bodies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Some cathedrals have studios to care for their stained glass, libraries and wall paintings.
Experienced conservators may become self-employed.
Opportunities for promotion with larger organisations may mean moving into a managerial, rather than practical, role. Those seeking advancement tend to apply elsewhere or move into related occupations.
There may be opportunities for trained conservators to work abroad, especially in Australia, Canada and the USA.
If you would like to learn more about becoming a conservator/restorer that does not appear on Hotcourses, further information can be found below.
24 Calvin St
Institute of Conservation
1 London Bridge
Tel: 020 7785 3807
Guild of Master Craftsmen
166 High Street
Tel: 01273 478449
Museums, Libraries and Archives Council
Tel: 020 7273 1444
Creative and Cultural Skills
Tel: 0800 093 0444
Creative and Cultural Skills
11 Southwark St