CRITERIA FOR TREATMENT OF COLLECTIONS HOUSED IN HISTORIC STRUCTURES
There has been a great deal of discussion in the conservation field for several years on the philosophy of “less is more,” implying that “invasive” treatments are undesirable. In settings where collections need protection, less is not more. My firm carried out a conservation assessment a few years ago in a historic house that had a painting on canvas, measuring about 30 × 40 in, hanging in the vestibule. The painting had recently been treated, and the conservator had felt that a lining was not warranted. Unfortunately, the setting had not been taken into account; the painting was hung next to the front door of the house, and the canvas flapped on the stretcher every time the door opened. In this case, less was definitely not more, and the painting undoubtedly will suffer from enhancement of stretcher creases, cracking, and accelerated aging of the linen.
The way we were all taught conservation grew out of the imperatives of the art museum. Working on historic house collections requires many changes in treatment technique and a willingness to examine and question our assumptions. The decisions that need to be made, however, require more than technical expertise. They require a close collaboration with interpreters, historians, curators, and others to sort out the complex issues that go along with the medium.