scroll pattern.jpg

Conservators consider

the ethics of their actions

In order to ensure that no harm comes to either the object or the conservator treating it, ethical decision-making is the foundation of good conservation practice. Conservators consider a number of different questions when deciding on the best treatment for an object, such as whether a conservation material is suitable for the chosen treatment, whether the treatment poses a risk to the stability of the object being treated, and to what extent an object should be treated. In order to sufficiently answer these questions, conservators must thoroughly test their methods and materials before using them on an actual object. Conservators also consider wider ethical concerns, including the environmental impact of using certain conservation materials, how to respectfully treat culturally sensitive materials such as religious artefacts and human remains, and whether interventive conservation treatments are even sustainable in the long run.

Photograph in a leather and velvet case

Photographs in hinged case

UL 18/076

Photograph, leather, velvet, brass

The leather on this photo case had been torn off, and a velvet border had become detached. One consideration was how much new leather should be added to the object. To preserve the original material and appearance of the photo case, it was decided that new leather would only be applied on the hinge, because this area was very delicate. Another consideration was the vulnerability of the photograph to moisture: because of this, the velvet border was reattached with stitching rather than using a wet adhesive to repair it. These discreet and easily reversed repairs restored the object’s integrity while maintaining its authenticity. Talene Bush.

Medicine bottle

UL 17/012

Glass, enamel

A glass bottle from 1916, which had contained a medicine. The bottle was broken into four fragments. Before being suitable for display, the fragments would need to be joined. As glass is transparent, the adhesive used to join the fragments would be visible. Choosing the adhesive was therefore an important consideration: frequently used adhesives like epoxy resins can turn yellow over time and some lack the optical qualities of glass. Additionally, some adhesives are more difficult to remove than others. Paraloid B-72 was selected because of its similarity to glass and ease of removal, should the treatment need to be reversed for any reason. Samuel Revell.

Japanese hanging scroll

UL 20/006

Textile, paper, paint, wood, ivory

A Japanese painting mounted on a hanging scroll. Despite being complex constructions of valuable textiles and layers of paper, the scroll mount is typically considered disposable. Traditionally, the painting is what should be preserved, and remounting it is the usual course of action when scrolls start creasing and cracking like this one was. Conventional Western conservation ethics however demand that original material is preserved where possible. Additionally, the student’s lack of expertise limited which treatments could be safely performed. Therefore, it was decided the scroll would undergo minor repairs and be mounted in a frame to preserve the textiles as well as the painting, allowing them to still be viewed. Samuel Revell.

Architectural plan with missing fragments

Architectural drawing

UL 18/049


Decision-making was an important part of treating this architectural plan on tissue, which had fragmented because the paper was so brittle. It was imperative to find a repair method that would create a flexible join and be reversible. If the joins were too strong, the plan would not possess a similar flexibility to the original. If they were difficult to reverse, they would not be able to be adjusted if they were incorrect. The translucency of the paper meant that repairs needed to be transparent, so that the plan remained readable. In response to these considerations, a flexible adhesive and light paper were chosen to repair the plan. Emily Makinson.

Goryeo celadon dish

UL 15/101


This dish arrived at the labs with limited information on its provenance; research and analysis revealed it to be a Goryeo celadon piece, from 9th-12th century Korea. A large piece of the ceramic was missing, and there was some debate about the ethics of creating a fill piece. Filling the loss would restore the object’s appearance but could misrepresent the object as being complete. As the object’s value was mainly decorative, filling the loss was ultimately considered acceptable. A removable fill was created and attached with a reversible adhesive. The fill was sympathetically colour-matched and retouched but could still be distinguished from the original ceramic. Isabel Okaya.

Flow blue porcelain dish

UL 20/009


There is an intense debate within the world of ceramics and glass conservation over the suitability of epoxy resins as adhesives. Epoxy resins are strong, and their various properties and appearance can be easily manipulated through the use of different aggregates, pigments, dyes, and catalysts. However, epoxy resins can only be removed from objects using harsh, hazardous chemicals, and many tend to yellow as they age. Their manufacture also carries a significant carbon footprint. Nevertheless, they are routinely used by conservators to repair porcelain objects.

Epoxy resin was selected as an adhesive and fill material for this treatment because of its superior strength and versatility; however, it is worth questioning whether these advantages are enough to justify their use, given their irreversibility and environmental impact. Isabel Okaya.

Cased botanical specimen (Hazel)

UL 19/191.1

Wood, glass, paper, plant material

The botanical specimen and its case form an object with a complex structure. A balance had to be found between the owner’s request to clean the inside, and preserving the integrity of the object. As the case was sealed, the proposed treatment had to consider the impact of accessing the specimen on its structural condition. It was decided that opening the case was acceptable as the tape securing it had aged, resulting in weaker adhesive bonding and compromised structural strength. The request to clean the inside was approved because treatment to re-stabilise the structure would be recommended, regardless of the owner’s requirements. Roksana Drobinoga.

An earthenware dish with a painting of a man with a sword in the middle.

18th century decorated wall plate

UL 16/084


This hand-painted wall plate is a decorative item. It was chipped, and had a large piece missing. A decision was made to only replace the major loss and not to fill in every minor loss. The replacement piece's purpose is solely to improve the aesthetic value of the object and not to be disguised as a part of the original material. Since the underside of the dish would be hidden from view, small gaps in the joint were not filled. By adding as little new material as possible, the treatment respected the object’s integrity while achieving the aim of restoring its aesthetic values. Ayaka Ajiki.

Beaded flapper purse

UL 19/197

Fabric, beads, metal

This beaded flapper purse from 1928 was in a dirty, unstable and fragile state before conservation treatment. The client wished the purse to be repaired for use or display. Although the beaded fabric was relatively stable despite its age, a treatment had to be developed which took into consideration any damage that may occur from various processes. Testing the processes on the materials of the object was crucial in developing an ethical treatment plan. Disassembly, cleaning the fabrics with water and reconstructing the purse were found to be safe processes through this testing process, and the original appearance and structure of the purse were restored in this way. Maria Maidment.