Museum conservators handle, preserve, and treat deterioration of works of art, artifacts, and or restore them to their original glorious state.

We like to think of it as someone who has an eye for detail, knack for science, is up to date on the latest tech and has a major love for art, artifacts, and history.

Conservators are the reason so many beautiful artifacts and works of art still exist today and look as good now as they did back when they were created.

Museum Conservator Job Description

Museum conservators typically specialize in preserving a specific type of artifact, e.g., books, documents, paintings, skeletons, textiles, sculpture, etc.

Conservators:

  • preserve artifacts by ensuring the light, temperature, and humidity stay at the proper levels
  • clean the artifacts with carefully chosen cleansers that are best for each material, whether they are made of fabric, metal, paper, glass, pottery, wood, or stone
  • must be able to accurately estimate the total cost of these tedious projects
  • often supervise curators and other museum technicians re: properly displaying artifacts within the exhibits

Check out this job description for Head of Conservation/ Senior Objects Conservator at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum:

Supervisory Responsibilities: As Head of Conservation, the incumbent supervises the operation of the Objects, Textile and Paper Conservation Laboratories of CHSDM, as well as supervising any contract conservators hired by the museum. Assigns work and research assignments to staff based upon institutional and departmental priorities determined in collaboration with the Curatorial Director and other staff.

Conservation Treatments: Serves as a Senior Objects Conservator who carries out conservation treatment on PDDA collection in support of loan and exhibition programs and the long-term preservation of the collection. Examines and conserves fragile, valuable, and rare works of art in the museum’s collection. Identifies treatment needs of objects through examination, surveys, and assessments. Develops treatment proposals recorded in the museum’s collection database, The Museum System (TMS), for objects with routine to complex conservation needs.

Exhibitions and Loans: Appoints consulting conservators from staff for each exhibition and serves as consulting conservator for applicable exhibitions in the museum. Attends exhibition planning meetings and advises on conservation issues both for loans and collection objects. Works with exhibition designers, architects, and lighting designers. Advises on materials, finishes, light levels and overall exhibition design. Supervises the implementation of conservation requirements for exhibitions and the monitoring and maintenance of those requirements.

Storage and Preservation Environment: Identifies housing and storage needs through examination, surveys, and assessments. Designs and supervises the upgrading of collection storage areas including storage equipment and storage techniques.

Collaboration: Collaborates closely with PDDA curators to establish preservation and treatment priorities and approaches; provides technical and material analyses as requested to support technical art history research; develops hybrid projects with curators.

Research and Training: Stays current with recent developments and research in the preservation field and in objects conservation. As time allows, conducts and publishes research on conservation issues that affect the preservation of the collection, its treatment, or its technical understanding. Researches new laboratory equipment as required.

Museum Conservator Salary

Most museum conservation salaries fall in the range of $27,000 to $85,000 with the median being somewhere around $40,040.

Here are some examples of museum conservator salaries from past jobs on museum.jobs:

  • Conservator at the Preservation Services department at the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution
    • $66,510 to $103,639/year
  • Head of Conservation/ Senior Objects Conservator at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
    • $82,304/year
  • Collections Care Conservator (part-time) at the National Railway Museum
    • $18,062.62/year

Museum Conservator Degree

Museum conservators typically need a background/undergraduate degree in chemistry, archaeology, studio art, or art history and at least one conservation internship before even earning the required masters degree in conservation.

Check out these awesome museum conservator schools and related programs:

Other Information

Traveling can be a big part of the job for museum conservators employed by large museums and institutions. Museum conservators may be required to travel to meet with collectors of artifacts and conservators from other museums to organize exhibits.