Caring for Your Cultural Materials

What is Cultural Property?

Cultural property includes all objects which have aesthetic, archaeological, historic, scientific, technological, social or spiritual value for this and future generations. It includes:

  • Archaeological Objects
  • Archives and Library Materials
  • Books
  • Buildings Ceramics
  • Ethnographic Objects
  • Furniture
  • Film
  • Glass
  • Machinery
  • Maps
  • Metals
  • Musical Instruments
  • Natural History Specimens
  • Paintings
  • Photographs
  • Sculpture
  • Sound Recordings
  • Stained Glass
  • Textiles
  • Video
  • Wooden Objects
  • Works of Art on Paper

What is the Conservation of Cultural Property?

Conservation of cultural property is action taken to prevent or remedy the damage and deterioration of items of cultural significance. Conservation safeguards cultural property for the future.

What is a Conservator of Cultural Property?

A conservator of cultural property is a professional with extensive training who has a thorough understanding of the composition of cultural objects, how they respond to their environment and the processes that contribute to their deterioration.

Some conservators work for public museums. Others deal directly with private clients. Their task is the same: to ensure the long-term preservation of art and artifacts.

What Services does a Conservator of Cultural Property Provide


The conservator’s first task is to examine objects in order to assess their present condition and make recommendations for their care and treatment.

Preventative Measures

The conservator recommends, carries out and monitors procedures that will ensure the long-term preservation of objects. These include safe handling, transportation, display and storage.


The conservator cleans, consolidates and repairs objects where necessary.


In order that an object may be understood and appreciated, the conservator may replace what has been lost with new materials. In carrying out restoration, however, the conservator observes strict guidelines: it must not involve the damage, destruction or removal of any part of the original object and the compensatory material must be fully removable.

Emergency Services

When faced with the results of a disaster such as fire, flood or earthquake, it is easy to believe that cultural items affected by the disaster are so badly damaged they must be ‘written off’.

Throughout New Zealand, a number of conservators have training and experience in salvaging cultural material after fire, flood or earthquake. If approached promptly these conservators can evaluate the situation and advise on the best action to take to ensure the survival of the objects.

Choosing a Conservator

When choosing a conservator to carry out treatment, it is appropriate to ask the conservator about his/her training, experience and professional affiliation, and to ask to see examples of the conservator’s work.

Discuss with the conservator what work is to be done and clarify what results can be expected. The conservator should provide a written treatment proposal and an estimate of cost and time. Treatment proposals may be subject to change, but a client should expect to be consulted before the conservator proceeds with a different treatment.

The essential factor in conservation is that any work undertaken should be the minimum necessary to ensure preservation and safe use. If all or part of an object is not reused (a backing card from a watercolour bearing an inscription, for example), it should be kept and handed back to the owner.

Documentation of the treatment carried out should be supplied by the conservator on completion of the work, and recommendations may be given for continuing care and maintenance of the treated object.

In addition to carrying out treatments, conservators can be consulted on general aspects of the care, display, storage or transport of the objects in question. These include advice on environmental and post control and assistance with emergency salvage.