Conservation of Decorative Arts and Design

The National Museum’s collections of decorative arts and design span a period of time from antiquity until today.

Most of these works are from after the Reformation (1536) and are primarily related to Norway.

Techniques

The fields of decorative arts and design encompass numerous disciplines and an even greater variety in the materials used. The National Museum’s collection includes items from a wide range of genres, such as jewellery and objets d’art made from precious and base metals; wood and ivory carvings; glass objects and ceramics; furniture, mirrors, and other furnishings; and industrial design in all kinds of materials and styles.

Most of the disciplines build on traditional arts and crafts, but more recent items in the collection often blur the disciplinary boundaries in regard to material, technique, and style, so that the boundaries are not as clear-cut.

Collections care

Conservators who work with decorative arts and design are keenly interested in materials. What is the material’s chemical composition? How is the material produced? How can it be adapted? In order to make qualified decisions in regard to either so-called preventive or active conservation, the conservator should have in-depth knowledge about such material technology.

In order to determine how best to take care of an object, the conservator must analyse the object in order to identify the materials and techniques.

Despite the staggering variation in materials and forms, taking care of objects can in general be sorted into two categories: preventive conservation and active (or interventionist) conservation. Preventive conservation pertains to removing or minimizing any factor that could damage the objects, while active conservation entails that the conservator works directly on the object, usually in order to “stabilize” it.

Chemical damage

When silver tarnishes, this is the result of a chemical reaction where sulphur in the air reacts with the silver alloy. In that case, the conservator will attempt to reduce the contact with sulphur by storing the silver object along with a substance that bonds more quickly with sulphur than the silver alloy does, or wrap the object in such a way that keeps oxidization to a minimum. By contrast, polishing the object only serves to remove the bluish-black surface, even as it provides the sulphur with a “fresh” surface to bond with.

Mechanical damage

A vase that falls on the floor and breaks is an example of a mechanical damage. In order to try to prevent such damages, the conservator must make plans to ensure that the handling and transport of objects is as gentle as possible.

Biological damage

Biological damages refer primarily to mould and insects. Water damages and high levels of humidity over a period of time act as catalysers that accelerate such damages. It is the conservator’s responsibility to ensure that the humidity surrounding the object does not become too high.