Slow conservation

Conservation assistant at Osterley Park cleaning one of the Robert Adam-designed pier glasses. ©National Trust Images/Matthew Antrobus

Conservation assistant at Osterley Park cleaning one of the Robert Adam-designed pier glasses. ©National Trust Images/Matthew Antrobus

Since the 1980s the Slow Food movement has championed regional cuisine, traditional food and locally sourced products. Sarah Staniforth, museums and collections director for the National Trust, has argued for some time that the same principles should be applied to the conservation of historic buildings and collections.

A young visitor at Little Moreton Hall trying out the cleaning of the transomed windows under the guidance of a conservator. ©National Trust Images/Paul Harris

A young visitor at Little Moreton Hall trying out the cleaning of the transomed windows under the guidance of a conservator. ©National Trust Images/Paul Harris

In a recently republished article entitled ‘Slow Conservation’, Sarah makes the case for ‘a holistic approach to the care of collections that reduce the rate at which damaging change occurs, whilst recognising that some change is inevitable.’

Tools used by dress conservators at Smallhythe Place. ©National Trust Images/Paul Harris

Tools used by dress conservators at Smallhythe Place. ©National Trust Images/Paul Harris

In practice this means focusing on preventive conservation, conserving what is there rather than spending a lot of energy on restoring something back to its idealised ‘original’ condition. Like gardening, preventive conservation is best done little but often. It also involves maintaining and building the right skills and sharing these with a wider public.

A conservator dusting the Elizabethan canopy in the Long Gallery at Hardwick Hall. ©National Trust Images/John Millar

A conservator dusting the Elizabethan canopy in the Long Gallery at Hardwick Hall. ©National Trust Images/John Millar

Sarah’s article can be found in the recently published book Historical Perspectives on Preventive Conservation, which she edited. This book also contains essays and excerpts on subjects as diverse as intangible heritage, Japanese kura storehouses, Mrs Beeton on housekeeping, cabinets of curiosities, the rebirth of the Louvre, the ‘Aer and Smoak’ of London and the impact of climate change.

4 Responses to “Slow conservation”

  1. Andrew Says:

    Are you aware of the Shinto shrine at Ise that has been rebuilt every 20 years for over 1200 years, exactly the same each time? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ise_Grand_Shrine The 62nd rebuilding ceremony is this year. Old and new.

  2. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Yes! A wonderful example of intangible (or semi-tangible) heritage. As a matter of fact, one of the pieces in the above-mentioned book, ‘The Past if a Foreign Country’ by David Lowenthal, discusses the Ise Jingū.

  3. Mark D. Ruffner Says:

    I think it’s great that young people are encouraged to experience conservation. It might be one way to inspire a new generation to follow that path, and at the very least, I imagine that it might make them consider how they care for their own possessions.

  4. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Mark, yes indeed we need to hand on the baton.

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