INTRODUCTION: THE CONSERVATION OF SACRED OBJECTS
This group of five papers is about respect, and power, and politics, but most of all, about the growth of our understanindg of limits: limits to our present knowledge, and to the kinds and amounts of knowledge to which we may be given access. We even discovered in the course of this session that in some situations there may be limits to the effectiveness of treatments which we would expect to work predictably.
We are coming to realize that although we have great mental dexterity in problem-solving. We may not be able to solve all aspects of all problems ourselves. For example, we may be able to function effectively on a building upgrade team in addressing the problems of the interaction between environment and art objects, but that does not make us engineers.
We are also beginning to understand that there may be times when we could solve a technical problem, but when that ability does not also give us the moral right to do so.
Our Code of Ethics has always exhorted us to know our own limits, and to seek out specialists in other fields; this groups of papers suggests there may be other kinds of information which may influence our decision-making, and that we should ask ourselves not only whether we are able to achieve a technically successful treatment, but whether we should. This concept is not limited to objects from other cultures, but also includes respect for objects of our own culture; it reminds us that a clever treatment which alters the inherent nature or hstory of an object, whether done for the joy of doing it, or to include in a portfolio, may be better left undone.
All of these papers follow a common thread: They discuss the nature of the concept of Sacredness as it applies to problems of preservation, suggest models of appropriate care-giving for conservators in regard to sacred objects, describe attempts which have been made to accommodate ritual care-giving practices both when they reinforce our own approaches and when they may appear to violate preventive conservation practices, and offer practical guidelines for dealing with these types of materials in ways which are consonant both with the tradional practices which preserved the object before its entry into the museum environment, and with our own cultural values.
As Moderator of this session, I would like to express my appreciation to Sara Wolf, who conceived the idea and selected the paper, and to the speakers, whose enthusiasm, dedication, and collaboration made the session lively, unpredictable, and thought-provoking.