PRIOR REPAIRS: WHEN SHOULD THEY BE PRESERVED?
JEAN D. PORTELL
Deciding to reverse a previous treatment is a step that warrants careful thought. The earlier intervention may add to the object's value in ways that are not immediately apparent. Therefore, on those occasions when doubts persist about whether to remove evidence of a prior repair, it may be best to postpone this action. Current thoughts about the pros and cons for removal can be documented, and the repairs can be stabilized (if necessary) and left in place for another generation to inspect. With cultural objects that are expected to last many decades, there should be no rush to intervene aggressively without clear justification.
Owners and conservators might find it useful to refer to a list of possible concerns when discussing the re-treatment of a previously repaired object. Here are some suggested talking points:
- Is the repair aesthetically unacceptable? (Who decides this?)
- Are the materials or methods used in the repair unstable, or has the repair damaged the object? (Does an unstable or hazardous condition require immediate attention?)
- Is the repair documented? (Has the old repair acquired significance as an attribute of the object, to the extent that the object is now expected to match its old description?)
- Was the repair done by a historically significant person? (If so, does this fact enhance the object's appeal or value?)
- Is the repair culturally appropriate and desirable? (Would it be helpful to consult someone who is familiar with the object's culture of origin, such as a member of that group?)
- Does the object, even after repair, have sacred or ritual significance? (Should an appropriate expert be consulted before proceeding with any further treatment?)
- Was the repair done by, or supervised by, the artist? (If so, might the repair interest art historians?)
- Is the intent of the artist known? (If the artist has documented his or her preferences regarding exhibition and preservation of the artwork, where might one find this information? If the artist is living, should he or she be consulted?)
- In the case of an electronic or digital artwork, is there a record of a prior substitution or migration? (If the work was reformatted, would knowing what method was used reveal how the work may have changed, and could that information influence a decision about how the work will be treated next?)
Many people assisted me during the preparation of this article, which was essentially a collaborative effort. I am especially grateful to the conservators and other people who are named in the text and who generously shared their views and pertinent records and helped me to state these cases clearly. (Opinions not specifically attributed to anyone else are mine, as are any errors in this article.) My thanks go also to the following individuals, whose responses to my initial queries were very helpful: Andrew Hare, Suzanne Hargrove, Helena and Richard Jaeschke, Paul Jett, Caroline Keck, Richard Kershner, Paula Pelosi, and Susan Zeller. I am grateful to Paul Whitmore and an anonymous peer reviewer for their excellent editorial guidance. Finally, I would like to acknowledge the dedication of the AIC Object Specialty Group Publications Committee, whose members proposed and planned this issue of the journal.