So, er, what do you do? You repair things?
Well, no, and yes. Horses for courses, it depends on the object.
When conserving an item, the history of the item is taken into account, the materials it is made from, and how these decay, the materials we use on the object, what affect those materials will have and how the activity of conserving the item will affect the integrity and longevity of the object. These are all taken into consideration. Plus, of course, sometimes the object needs a repair or restoration to return it to a state that we can understand or use.
The aim therefore is to preserve the object so that it can be enjoyed or learned from in the future. Conservators will do the minimum necessary to an object, retaining its original fabric and intention, including ‘story’ that it can tell since it was produced.
There are other ways we can preserve these historic objects too. The message is out there. If you put your watercolour paintings in the sun, you can virtually watch it fade and discolour. By adjusting or controlling an object’s environment (in this case how much and what wave length of light) the object is exposed to over a given period of time, you can control decay processes.
So, the decisions a conservator and curator will make will take into account the type of object (it might be a working clock, a fine piece of silk, or an antiquity) and how it will be used (it might be a used object, a museum piece or a subject of scientific investigation), before weighing up how the object will be treated. That treatment will be carried out using materials which will not impede its longevity or cause damage in future interventions.