RESTORATION OF A LARGE CHINESE BRONZE URN
Aron A. Apisdorf
The question has been raised as to the ethics of this restoration of a large, weight-bearing, relatively modern object. First of all, I see a difference between museum pieces, that is, pieces of high aesthetic quality and cultural importance, and objects which have sentimental value to a private owner, and, perhaps, also some historical value. I feel that a conservator working in the general community has responsibility to make his expertise available to people in the community who have damaged items which may not be bona fide antiques but which have meaning to them. Secondly, and this is especially true in the case of the urn, some “relatively modern” pieces demonstrate a beauty, a pride in being able to cast a large piece, and a quality of workmanship reminiscent of antique pieces which will in time have historical as well as aesthetic value—if they survive. This urn, however, would not have survived without restoration. Its condition was such that the owner would have discarded it, whereas now it has become again a source of great pride and pleasure to the owner and his family, and it has been preserved for future generations.
Thirdly, restoration of this urn provided me with an opportunity to devise and learn new techniques. Meeting the challenge of this piece was a source of great satisfaction to me. Needless to say, my choice of techniques is open to discussion, and this report itself is evidence of my understanding that on other pieces of comparable materials but in different condition and situation, other procedures would be more appropriate. Fourthly, and I realize that this is a very sensitive subject, a conservator working in the general community is dependent upon the restoration work available to him to make his living. While I certainly agree that he should never engage in unethical practices such as restoring an item in such a way that an unscrupulous individual could sell it as being in original, perfect condition, I submit that he cannot always engage in the luxury of refusing a commission simply because the piece is too large or too new. I took pains to restore this urn in such a way as to make it evident that restoration had been done; to me this was the most important ethical consideration.