Preservation, Conservation, What is Appropriate Restoration?
January 24, 2012
At the 2003 SNAG Conference in San Francisco, I listened to one of the most surprising lectures I've ever heard. Between the hours of 8:00 - 9:00 in the morning a collector, Steven Cabella, gave a lecture titled, "Twenty-five years of Collecting Studio Craft Jewelry: Insights, Observations, and Historical Patina". His collections are mid-20th-century objects including furniture, though this lecture focused on his collection of mid-20th-century jewelry.
For over an hour Cabella offered strong opinions from his unique perspective as a collector that I had never heard before. It seems that he often loans objects from his collection to exhibitions -- his support of the arts community is commendable. What shocked me though was his STRONG opinions about the preservation and conservation of mid-20th-century objects. In his lecture, he railed against the restoration of jewelry in his collection such as polishing the work to its original finish.
Let me make this perfectly clear:
- The silver jewelry was originally exhibited and sold with a highly polished finish in the mid-20th century.
- In one example, the silver jewelry was restored in the original maker's studio (by the maker's son).
- Cabella did not want the silver jewelry restored to its original appearance but wanted the patina of 50 years to be evident.
Cabella very consciously wanted the patina of wear and fine scratches from a 50-year lifespan to remain and not be removed.
As a maker, I was conflicted by his opinion. I had never questioned my own expectation that my work should be cleaned & polished for every exhibition.
I wonder if the original maker would want the jewelry polished for an exhibition or not? What is appropriate restoration? Should 50-year-old jewelry look like "new" even 50 years later?
Would the maker think the jewelry looked better with the "patina" of 50 years? Or should artwork look "aged" just because it is old? Should older work look its age?
I don't know. I only know that this particular collector wanted the jewelry in his collection to not look "like new".
As an artist, I have to make choices in materials all the time. And the decisions that I make today will affect collectors and curators somewhere out in the future (. . . hopefully).
Everready Working Woman by Harriete Estel Berman from 1984.
The sculpture shown above is from 1984. Titled, Everready Working Woman, this piece is an autobiographical sculpture. It was shown in an exhibition, Humor in Craft, in Phoenix during the 2012 SNAG Conference.
When work that is 28 years old goes out to an exhibition, should I touch up the chips in the painted finish, fix the lipstick, and polish the metal? I certainly planned to have the work look great for many years after its creation. So how long is long enough to not look old? When is it OK to start looking at its age?
Have you ever thought about this issue? Any comments or solutions? Stay tuned to the next post where merry renk offers her opinion (uniquely seasoned and reasoned by 92 years of experience showing her silver jewelry).
Everready Working Woman is not a found object. It is carefully constructed by the artist, Harriete Estel Berman, using traditional metalsmithing skills to create an appliance that appears to look like a manufactured object.
Details include a real drill chuck in the front, optional mixing beaters.
A Wonder Woman electric cord lariat with a suction cup plug at the end.
View the spark gun through the yellow plastic window.
A lipstick cartridge fits up inside the handle.
The six-color eye shadow compartment housed in raygun body contains real make-up.
Copper and brass construction with painted or nickel-plated finish.
This post was updated on February 27, 2023