Profession of Conservator: Honor the Artist’s Wishes

Terry Boyle in his studio, Collector’s Art Group gallery, 2009 COURTESY COLLECTOR’S ART GROUP PHOTO MARK MUSSIO

Restoration, as a profession emerged in medieval times when owners of private art collections wanted to keep their art objects in a pristine condition. The main mission of a restorer was to maintain the fine appearance of paintings, sculptures and decorative items. Often done in preparation for sale, the principal goal of restoration today is about the same – to restore the original appearance or functionality of a piece. In contrast, conservation typically aims to preserve artwork against the damaging effects of the environment and maintain the remaining material as being valuable on its own without necessarily being functional or looking new. As a professional discipline, art conservation was initially developed at the end of the 19th century, when Germany scientist Friedrich Rathgen was the first chemist to be employed by the Royal Museums of Berlin. Since that time, the fields of science and art became increasingly intertwined and devoted to the preservation of cultural heritage for the future.

The rapid growth of conservation and restoration professional organizations has spearheaded the development of the conservation profession, both practically and theoretically. Both, restoration and conservation of objects of cultural, historic and artistic value requires many skills including mastery of a fine artist, meticulousness of a historian, precision of a surgeon and the scientific knowledge of a chemist. In addition to requiring manual skills, artistic talent and analytical mind, an art preservation specialist needs to be methodically trained.

Terry Boyle, president of the Collector’s Art Group, has developed a reputation as one of the premier conservators in Cincinnati. He is a classically trained artist who graduated from the Art Academy of Cincinnati where he studied painting and sculpture. For over 30 years, Boyle has been involved in the preservation, conservation and restoration of art objects, many of which have joined the revered works of the Cincinnati Art Museum. His master skills have brought him the work of some of the great Cincinnati painters including Frank Duveneck, T.C. Lindsay, Dixie Selden, C.A. Meurer, Elizabeth Nourse, Herman Wessel and others.

ARTS CONNECTION OF CINCINNATI –The concept of reversibility that is the object should be able to be returned to the state in which it was prior to the conservator work remains a guiding principle of the conservation. However, this concept has been widely critiqued within the conservation profession. In contrast, another principle of conservation is that all alterations should be clearly distinguishable from the original object. Terry, what is your understanding of conservation and restoration?

TERRY BOYLE – In my understanding, conservation is to keep art from deteriorating further and hold onto all of the historic aspect of a particular work of art. My inclination is always to honor the artist’s original idea. Everything I do is reversible as far as paints and varnishes…

Please read full article in Winter issue