Conservation versus Access?

RAMM conservation intern Megan O’Connor wanted to share her experience of object conservation and the RAMM Leventis Project:

Megan O'Connor, Conservation intern

Megan O’Connor, Conservation intern

Why conserve museum objects?

The RAMM Leventis Project was conceived to provide access to the Greek and Cypriot collections at RAMM to people in Devon, the UK, and around the world. A key part of making objects accessible is conservation work. But why we are conserving these objects, and how are preservation decisions made?

What are we conserving?

It’s not only the physical aspects of an object and the potential for its decay that are considered when deciding how best to preserve that object. Just as important are the non-physical elements, or ‘values’, associated with the object – for example cultural significance, the potential for research, and the connections objects have to people, places, or other objects. In order to reach a decision about how best to treat the object, conservators consult with those people with a direct association with the object, whether it be through cultural, religious, political, scholarly or personal connections. The treatment of the object is best achieved through balancing its values with its preservation needs.

Conservation and the Leventis Project

For the RAMM Leventis Project, conservator Kirstie Williams and assistant curator Jenny Durrant work together to decide which objects need some TLC, and how best to do this. Kirstie says: “I look at an object’s physical needs, but from Jenny’s point of view it’s equally important how an object influences our understanding of the collection”.

RAMM’s Greek and Cypriot collection has the potential to be appreciated by a varied audience – from museum visitors who find objects aesthetically pleasing, to scholars interested in using objects for research. Almost all museum users are interested in the stories that objects can tell about the past. Conservation work increases physical stability and reassembles broken objects so they can be used for display and study. This in turn allows these objects to be further understood and appreciated.

Jenny Durrant, commenting on the progress of the project, adds: “the wider significance of the collection is only just starting to emerge now”. So, not only are values such as research potential, aesthetics, and cultural significance considered when making decisions in the lab, but conservation work allows the collection to take on new values as objects are appreciated after they are preserved.

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