Preservation, Conservation, Storage, Exhibition Feed

Preservation, Conservation - Design for Repair

In this ongoing series about Preservation, Conservation, and Experimentation, I'd like to make a recommendation for all artists and makers  design for repair.

Windows of Memory by Harriete Estel  BermanI am sure everyone would like to think that damage doesn't happen with good care, but 40 years of experience has taught me that accidents do happen, even to the most valuable of items.



Damaged artwork constructed from recycled tin cans Windows of Memory
  Damaged corner of one window. I had to
  completely disassemble the window,
  remake a few parts, repair the pieces
  I couldn't remake, and then put it back

Through the "school of hard knocks," I've also found it far better to anticipate the possibility of damage and not just ignore the possibility.

From the beginning and during your construction, consider how your artwork or craft can be repaired. 
I design my work to be disassembled and keep the instructions and assembly methods in my sketchbooks. Not that I want to repair my work, but when damages do happen, it won't be a total loss. I would rather repair my work myself, instead of letting someone else try to figure it out. I am an expert on my own work. No one can repair it as well as I can.

Damaged artwork documented in the process of making an insurance claim.Keep your records for the materials used or possibly spare parts. Your Inventory Records might include the brand of paint, significant colors, patina, or glazes. Anything that you might need to know about a particular piece or group of work.

I charge for the repair.
Since I do silver repair and restoration, I charge the same hourly rate.  Insurance companies are glad that someone will repair the work, as compared to compensating the owner for the entire artwork.

The document Claims for Damaged Work in the Professional Guidelines will help you with a successful claim if your work is ever damaged.

To help assure the long-term future of your work, design your art or craft for repair and restoration.


This post was updated on February 27, 2023 to provide current links.


Preservation, Conservation - Essential Documentation When Working With Alternative or Unproven Materials

Andy Goldworthy twigs photoPhotographic documentation (including video and film) can be especially important when working with alternative or unproven materials. While the temporal nature of the materials may be a critical characteristic that makes the work interesting, the documentation may be the only aspect that survives for posterity.  A photo clearly establishes exactly how the artist visualized the work, fresh - before it ages, degrades, or disappears.

For example, Andy Goldsworthy frequently works with seasonal materials like leaves, ice, or twigs.  While the work of Andy Goldsworthy may be an extreme example of temporal materials, it demonstrates the importance of documenting your work. If you haven't seen the movie "Rivers and Tides" (affiliate link) I highly recommend it! It is my favorite artist video of all time.

Andy Goldsworthy  art work using red maple leavesAndy Goldsworthy's work is a superb realization for making art from alternative materials and still creating a market for the work. Goldsworthy actually makes a living selling the photographic images in books, calendars, etc. The marketing of the photographs in print media even produces a lower-priced, democratic way for a larger audience to support and appreciate his work.

The use of alternative or ephemeral materials didn't stop Goldsworthy from making a living from his art. As an artist using alternative materials, you just might have to reconsider options other than storage in a box, hanging on the wall, or placing objects on a pedestal.

Berman White Plexiglas and post consumer recycled plastic trash transformed into a necklacesNshoulder96
Necklace uses post-consumer recycled
plastic trash combined with repurposed
acrylic by Harriete Estel Berman.
Photo Credit: Aryn Shelander
Model: Jen Ohara

The realization of an idea is the ultimate expression of art.  Documenting the work, one way or another, helps the artist earn a living through promotion to exhibitions, collectors, publishers, or other consumers.  Often, the documentation of the experiment is just as important as the object lasting a lifetime or 20 lifetimes.


This post was updated on February 19, 2022, to provide current links.

  BlackPlastic4823 bent armAH
Recycle Black Plastic is from the Recycled Collection.  The series uses post-consumer plastic trash as a commentary about the impact of plastic on our environment.

Preservation, Conversation, Restoration - To Polish or Not To Polish, That is a Question!

As I was writing the previous post in the series Preservation, Conservation, Restoration, it occurred to me that San Francisco jewelry maker, merry renk, could offer some experienced perspective and opinions about the issues of preservation, conservation, and restoration. At the age of 90, merry renk enjoyed a renaissance of renewed interest in her metalwork from the mid-20th century.  Numerous exhibitions at major museums have included renk's jewelry and wedding crowns.

How would merry renk want her decades of work to look in an exhibition? Restored with a pristine finish or with the more subdued appearance from 50 years of hand polishing? Since I knew merry renk for years as a San Francisco Bay area kindred spirit, I went right to the source and asked merry.

Below is her response:

"Your question is one that I am dealing with this week.  I am selling a vintage pair of earrings --- and I am having pierced ear wires attached to replace the screw backs that these earrings were made with [originally].  I considered asking my customer if she would like it to have its vintage color, but I have decided that when my earrings go to the customer, I want them to have the best finish that my jewelry can have. I make the choice."

Merry Renk Atoms Necklacemerry renk continued, "That is a  question that can only be answered by each artist---and collector.  My good friend, a collector, Steven Cabella, wants the silver jewelry to have unpolished surfaces and with the patina of age but, I do not like that idea. Since most of my silver pieces have areas that are polished, contrasted with areas that are oxidized black---so if my pieces are exhibited without polishing the true colors that I have strived for, the high shine of silver against flat black will not exist, therefore my jewelry in his collection cannot be exhibited in the original combination, missing my intentions."

Merry Renk Folded"For instance, FOLDED, from 1954, the hairband that LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art) bought and exhibited---I polished it, the outside is polished and the interior oxidized black, before I sent it off and they polished it to an even higher shine.....and I was so pleased because it looked as if I had just finished it last week...I am proud of the piece, not the age."

"I am aware of Steve Cabella's opinion [about his collection of silver objects and jewelry], but now he knows how we jewelers feel about how we present our work. Silver tarnishes in one month!!!"

"I know that bronze sculpture, if polished and vintage color is removed, lowers the price---but jewelry is another situation."

"I am delighted to receive a question from Harriete!!!!"
merry renk

Thank you merry.

I hope that anyone who reads merry's comments will think about how they want their work shown in 20 years, 40 years, or 200 years from now. As we explore this topic of preservation, conservation, and restoration, I'd love to hear your opinion as a collector, curator, or artist and maker.

This post was updated on February 27, 2023 for clarity. 

Preservation, Conservation, What is Appropriate Restoration?

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

Everyready Working Woman

Preservation, Conservation, Experimentation - Practical Recommendations

Preservation and Conservation of art or craft media starts with the artist. Yes, before work leaves the studio for a show, gallery, or exhibition I think artists and makers should take concrete actions by including care, display, and maintenance instructions with their work.

For less expensive items, care instructions may be on a hangtag or a sheet of paper included with the bill of sale. Issues may be whether the work is dishwasher safe, ovenproof, washable, fade-resistant, proper cleaning methods, recommended waxes, or best framing methods for the media, etc. This can protect the artist or maker from dissatisfied customers that did not know how to care for the work properly.

For one-of-a-kind work, I write complete instructions and glue them to my interior shipping box, and include an additional copy in the box. Informing the future owner or exhibition sponsor how to properly care for your work may help protect your work.

MaintenanceInstructions for Care and Maintenance should be very specific including recommendations for specific cleaning products and maintenance techniques.

PleaseWEARgloves Include disposable gloves in every box.  While museum professionals would normally wear gloves when handling artwork or craft, not every exhibition situation is in a museum. Protect your work from fingerprints. Acid and oils from hands can damage wood, metal, fiber, and paper. Fingerprints look unattractive on glass, ceramics, or metal.


Windows of Memory © 2003
Recycled tin cans
Artist: Harriete Estel Berman
Photo Credit: Philip Cohen

Consider the life expectancy of the materials, archival options, and maintenance issues.

For example, tin cans (my primary materials for the past 30+ years) rust and fade. While I can not prevent this I provide instructions including:

  • Avoid display away from windows, or strong sunlight.
  • Wax artwork for protection from moisture and fingerprints.  

While there is no assurance that the collector will be able to protect your work, it does protect the artist from accusations. If your work fades and the owner complains, at least you can demonstrate that the owner was informed.

The use of unproven or experimental materials presents some unpredictable outcomes, both good and bad.
As an artist, try to think ahead for twenty to 200 years. Think about the future of your work and your reputation.

Do you have any ideas for archival options and maintenance issues for protecting the work that you can share? Please leave a comment.


Below is an image of the recently finished seder plate Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
Assiyah, Yetzirah, Beriyah followed by an example - a complete set of instructions for Unpacking, Display, Functional Use, Maintenance, and Packing.

  Reduce, Reuse, Recycle Assiyah, Yetzirah, Beriyah

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
Assiyah, Yetzirah, Beriyah
A Seder Plate for TuBishvat by Harriete Estel Berman
Constructed from recycled tin cans, 10k gold, and s/silver rivets.

Maintence and Shipping Instructions for Artwork page 1 examplepage1

Maintenance and SHIPPING PAGE 2 sample instructions for shipping and maintaining art and craftin

This post was updated on February 18, 2022.

Preservation, Conservation, Experimentation with Alternative or Unproven Materials

The previous post on ASK Harriete opened issues regarding the use of impermanent materials, long-term preservation, and conservation of artwork (or lack thereof due to unproven materials).  The post provoked some very interesting comments. 

Now to examine specific issues more closely related to alternative or temporal materials.

Yes, artists should explore unproven materials, testing and rejecting preliminary trials before deciding what merits going into their final work. Alternative or unproven materials convenient for a conceptual test, may or may not be appropriate for the final work of art.

Dirk Van Erp Lamp
The original patina of Dirk Van Erp Lamps
is essential  for the signature appearance
from Dirk Van Erp.

It seems to me that the primary question is the intent of the artist. "Do you want the piece to last . . . or be an ephemeral phenomenon?" Does a time-varying patina add to the piece . . . or is sustained color a critical characteristic? Will aging enhance the work . . . or will disintegration contribute to the conceptual theme?

The expected life and varying condition of artwork is something the artist should knowingly choose and not blithely ignore.  What will the work look like 10 minutes later, 10 months, 10 years later, or 10 decades later?

So the issue is not permanence or impermanence in itself, but whether the temporal elements are consistent with the intended conceptual theme of the work. Ten years may be stretching the life expectancy of paper jewelry,  but well within the expectation for public art.

Going back to the example in the previous post, I think it is well within normal expectations that a turned wooden bowl has a stable finish (assuming ideal storage and display conditions) for 25 - 50 years, at least.  I can not believe that the maker intended for the finish to develop "problems." Thus, going back to the artist for a remedy for an unstable finish may be appropriate. 

I also wonder if the applied finish was within the manufacturer's expectation for the medium? Isn't it better to know what will happen than to be ignorant? Was the wooden bowl labeled, "experimental finish?"

Another question comes to mind.
ShippingboxWhat about storage and maintenance throughout the years?
Work owned by a collector in a domestic environment (which is usually exposed to sunlight, and lacking temperature and humidity controls) is a completely different situation than if it was stored in museum storage in a controlled environment. Were there recommendations from the artist that were followed for storage and display?

This leads to the artist's obligation to communicate what is known about materials to a prospective buyer.  Clarity about the temporal nature of alternative materials is critical if collectors or museums are buying your work. If you, as the artist, have any concerns, then it would be best to clearly state the situation every time your work is on display or available for sale. A declaration about this fact will protect your work and your reputation.


The next posts in this series are about Preservations, Conservation, & Experimentation with Alternate and Unproven Materials. 

  • Practical Recommendations for Care, Maintenance, Storage, and Exhibition.
  • Design for Repair
  • Photo documentation of temporal or alternative materials.

 Are there other issues that readers of ASK Harriete are wondering about? Email or comment. What am I missing?

This post was updated on February 18, 2022.

Preservation, Conservation, Experimentation -- Using Alternative Materials

A reader raises a profound question about the use of impermanent materials in an artists' or makers' work.

I have a question about how far a maker's responsibility goes for the 'lastingness' of a product. This was brought to mind recently because someone had a museum-quality bowl by a famous artist that was developing serious finish issues due to the use of polyethylene glycol as a soak to preserve the color in the material. We also sometimes see pieces put together with questionable adhesives, etc. I understand the importance of experimentation, but it troubles me as my responsibilities include the preservation and conservation of artworks.

Is this a question that has gotten much or any attention? 

I was really hoping that this was a question that artists were asking themselves (and each other) on some level.

Signed, A Concerned Curator
Glasses without a person so we can look closely at preservation, conservation, experimentation

Dear Concerned Curator,

Issues of the impermanence of materials, experimentation with materials, and long-term preservation and conservation of artworks are really complex.

The use of experimental or untested materials is a reflection of our society in a way. We applaud artists that use new materials or untested methods. The tried and true may be perceived as boring, been there, done that. Even the idea of "permanent" anything isn’t given very high regard. Buy cheap, express the "now," and throw it away seems like a pervasive trend of our culture.

Let's expand on the issues swirling around the use of alternative, untested, or experimental materials. Conservation becomes a concern of the owner, collector, or museum. I am betting that museum curators and professionals need more solutions.  To buy, or not to exhibit or not to exhibit when just the act of putting work on display (even in a  controlled environment) may cause further damage. 

Let's itemize some of the profound issues:

  • the impermanence of materials,
  • experimentation with alternative or unproven materials, and
  • long term preservation and conservation of artwork.

Conflicting perspectives abound on these issues which would provide topic material for endless debates.  So here are my dueling opinions. 

The artist has a responsibility to consciously choose how the work is made and what is intended for long-term display (if any). Basically, I think this leads to four possible scenarios from the artist's perspective:

1) Consciously choose to make impermanent work and know it will not last. The work of Andy Goldsworthy or of Eva Hesse are just such examples.

2) Consciously choose to make permanent work and use the best materials available.  e.g. Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel.

3) Consciously choose the risk of using unknown materials and accept whatever the outcome.

4) Ignore the impermanence or untested aspect of your materials and pretend indifference.

The first three are valid approaches and should be honestly communicated to any audience or potential purchaser.  The fourth scenario is questionable.

The materials used in a work will certainly affect its long-term conservation and preservation - and possibly its value.

Raise awareness
This question should certainly be on the minds of all artists who want to have their work purchased.  Artists have every right to choose how to make their work.  

What is the responsibility of the artist during fabrication?

What is the responsibility of the artist/owner? For storage? For display?

What is the responsibility of the exhibitor? Lighting? Hanging? For some work, just the fact that it is on display is destructive? 

What about care and maintenance?
Is polishing to restore the original finish a destructive act?
Is refinishing, removing grunge, old varnish, crackled surface restoration or destruction?

ANTIQUES ROADSHOW where they discuss how to preserve wood furniturefurnitureIf you ever watch Antiques Roadshow you hear the voice of the experts. Each material seems to have its own definition for proper care and maintenance.

As an artist, do you think about how to care for your work? 

Should the collector/curator have the same responsibility? It might surprise the artist to consider that a collector/curator may not have the same expectation for care and maintenance, or original finish as the original maker.

Please tell us what you think?

Have you ever thought about this before? 


The next posts will break up this enormous issue into a series of thoughts. I've heard opinions from collectors. I have practical recommendations for my work.  What about you?

This post was updated on February 18, 2022.