Friday, August 31, 2012

Restoration VS Conservation

Finally, the banjo is back!

My banjo, my circa-1796 violin, and a western-themed painting stored in my house were the last items that were conserved with insurance money from a 1993 fire that damaged my family home. Set by an arsonist, the fire started outside the library, burned the back of the clapboard building and spread up the second floor to the attic. It caused an estimated $80,000 to $100,000 worth of damage.

Thankfully, the firefighters who rescued the house were very sensitive to the history of the structure, keeping damage to a minimum and carrying artifacts stored in the upstairs rooms out before they could burn as well. Repairs to the house were extensive and ongoing until 2001, when it was re-opened to the public. Some of the smoke damage can be seen upstairs today (right).

The objects’ return raises another question, though. The building was restored and the objects were conserved. What is the difference?

“Conservation focuses on stabilizing and preserving historic artifacts,” says curator Jennifer Royer. “Conservators take preventative measures to inhibit ongoing or future deterioration. They use methods and materials that do not adversely affect the original materials.”

The banjo before conservation.  Notice that strings are broken
and the bridge is missing.

My banjo’s finish remained intact, though a few of the strings and the bridge needed to be replaced, the tears in the skin head part needed to be mended, and corrosion needed to be removed. What makes this conservation versus restoration is that these changes can be undone or re-done, if the need arises. The changes bring the piece, with all of the customizations it’s undergone over the years, back to a better condition that makes it exhibit-able—though not necessarily play-able. Because the bridge sits on skin that has been repaired and not replaced, when the banjo is in storage, the bridge will rest on its side, relieving the pressure on the torn skin and the pegs that the strings are attached to. When it is exhibited, it will look like it did on the last day I set it down--scuff marks and all.

The banjo after its conservation.
Notice the bridge resting on its side to relieve tension
and pressure on the strings and the skin.
 Restoration, though, is another story.

“Restoration focuses on returning an object to its original state,” says Royer. “Restorers are not concerned with changes that have occurred over the years.”

For example, Rick’s Restorations, a family-owned shop featured on the television show, “American Restoration,” will take a bicycle and sand-blast all of the old paint and finish off of it, bang any dents out, re-spoke it, and then paint it to look like new. The owner can then ride the bicycle around town and not worry about destroying it.

This is the type of thing that my house needed. Obviously, the building could not withstand the effects of weather and time without being restored, so it had to be done. New lathes, plaster, siding, wallpaper and paint will ensure that the building will be around for a long time to come.

The conserved circa-1796 violin

To those who know the house inside and out, it’s not like the fire never happened. Some good did come of it, though, as it allowed the museum to conserve valuable artifacts that might otherwise have had to wait for funds and/or opportunity to come along. My museum is in good hands and I’m just glad that my banjo is safe at home at last.