What exactly is a conservator’s role when dealing with huge, monolithic objects?

The objects conservation lab is busy doing their part for the installation of Olmec: Colossal Masterworks of Ancient Mexico. So what exactly is a conservator’s role when dealing with huge, monolithic objects?


The museums or sites where the Olmec monuments usually reside send representatives familiar with the monuments to serve as art couriers. It is the FAMSF conservator who relays the condition concerns that these couriers might have regarding any inherent weaknesses in the stone or special rigging requirements. In the case of the Olmec exhibition, a fluent knowledge of Spanish is an invaluable asset.


The conservator also makes sure that all teams and their members are on the same page regarding the different stages of installation from the unloading to the movement and mounting of the object.



The conservator, in consultation with the courier, makes the call if a mount might need modification or if additional support may be needed for these massive objects. As a result, an objects conservator must work closely with the mount makers.  An understanding of weight distribution and how objects behave in earthquakes, and an ability to communicate clearly and concisely are much-needed attributes.



The conservator also serves as liaison with the engineering staff to make sure that the climate conditions in the gallery spaces meet the requirements that have been agreed to in the contract. Sometimes, as in the case of a rare wooden Olmec object, the conservator needs to create a special microclimate within a sealed case for a particular object.



Finally, the conservator reviews the objects carefully to make sure that they have not suffered during their travel and installation process, signing off on the condition report at which point the courier hands over the care of their object to the FAMSF conservator for the duration of the exhibition.

–Lesley Bone, Objects Conservator

Courier – a specially trained museum staff member whom is responsible for overseeing the transportation of artworks going on loan for an exhibition.  A courier carefully assesses the condition of each artwork before and after the exhibition, and ensures that the contract conditions as regards to the climate, installation, and mount requirements are met.

Condition report – a document that tracks the condition of an artwork over time, noting changes that may have occurred and mentioning special requirements for handling or exhibition of the object.  Condition reports often included annotated photographs or diagrams that aid in describing observed condition issues.

Olmec: Colossal Masterworks of Ancient Mexico will open February 19, 2011.