PRIOR REPAIRS: WHEN SHOULD THEY BE PRESERVED?
JEAN D. PORTELL
The goal of conservation is to preserve art and artifacts. This article proposes that some repairs made to cultural objects in the past are worth preserving along with the objects themselves, and that it might be helpful to agree upon guidelines that would help owners and conservators to determine which prior treatments to preserve.
1.1 DEFINITION OF TERMS
The following terms will be used as defined here:
Treatment: This term refers broadly to the application of any physical or chemical means intended to correct a perceived condition problem on a cultural object.
Repair: A repair is the rejoining or reinforcement of components that have (for example) broken, torn, or delaminated. Materials added during repair may or may not be noticeable.
Restoration: This term refers to the addition of one or more materials (including paint) to an object, to replace original components that are missing or damaged beyond repair.
Substitution or migration: Both terms refer to the purposeful exchange of entire units of original material for new units. Migration in this context refers especially to components of electronic and digital artworks.
Rarely does a conservator encounter an artifact that has not already received some form of treatment intended to correct an altered condition. Perhaps a darkened varnish has been removed from a painting, or a broken fragment has been reattached to a sculpture, or a torn document has been mended. Is any of those old interventions significant in its own right, and should it remain evident even after a new conservation treatment? The reasons for retaining old repairs vary, and they may not be obvious, but it is risky to ignore this aspect of preservation. Sometimes the evidence of an old intervention adds value.
Reversing a prior repair usually results in yet another “permanent” change in the object's appearance. When a repair that has altered the appearance of an object for a time is reversed, the prior repair can be documented and the removed materials can be stored. However, these pieces of evidence can later become separated from their associated cultural objects. Historic connections may be lost. For these reasons, the decision to reverse a prior repair must be made thoughtfully, with full agreement between the owner and the conservator. If there is a chance that a prior repair enhances an object's intangible or monetary value, it is best to explore this matter before proceeding with conservation.