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Conservation

Conservation at SAM

The SAM collections include thousands of works of art from a spectacular range of ancient, historical, and modern cultures. SAM conservators ensure that the museum provides an appropriate environment for these works and perform treatment when necessary.​

The Conserv​ation Team

The Conservation Team 

Conservation treatment and study take many hours to complete, giving conservators a unique opportunity to examine the art in the collection. Drawing on science, art history, and their investigation into each object, conservators work with their colleagues to care for SAM's vast collection and preserve it for future generations.​

SAM Conservation is composed of conservators, collection care managers, and technicians.

  • Conservators oversee conservation policy, and determine and carry out conservation treatments.

  • Collection care managers ensure that the works of art are displayed and stored safely.

  • Technicians assist with the execution of projects, and manage framing and other activities that may affect the art physically.

In any large museum, however, preservation is a collaborative effort and staff members in departments across the museum approach their work with care of the art in mind.​​​​

Learn More

For information on conserving, repairing, or restoring ar​t, please email us.​

Studying The Collection

​In order to perform treatments, conservators require a strong grasp of materials and techniques used in producing the art. SAM conservators often work with artists, scientists, and curators to analyze the art. Findings of some such studies at SAM can be viewed through the links below​​​.​

​Conserving Jackson Pollock's Sea Change

 

Chief Conservator Nicholas Dorman discusses his treatment of Jackson Pollock’s transitional 1947 painting Sea Change, funded by a Bank of America conservation grant.

Monitoring Surface Coatings at SAM's Olympic Sculpture Park

 

Portland State University and SAM are collaborating on a project t​o monitor surface coatings of outdoor sculptures.

Conserving the Surface of Sculptures

 

Associate Conservator Liz Brown discusses the challenges of conserving the surfaces of sculptures at the Olympic Sculpture Park.

The Triumph of Valor Over Time

 

Nicholas Dorman, from SAM's Conservation Studio, talks about restoring The Triumph of Valor Over Time—a painting from 1755–1760 by Italian artist​ Giovanni Battista Tiepolo.​​​

The Life of Gensei Shonin

 

Learn about the conservation project to reproduce Scenes from the Life of Gensei Shonin.​​​

Mexican Modernism

​Explore four paintings from the Mexican Modernism exhibition through the eyes of a conservator. You'll have a new perspective on the paintings as well as how they are handled and prepared for display.

View Exhibition Site »

Poem Scroll With Deer

Explore the Deer Scroll interactive website, a virtual re-creation of a complete handscroll. Originally created in the early 17th century by two prominent Japanese artists, the handscroll was cut into two pieces in 1935.

View Exhibition Site »​​​​​​​​​​​​

Protection, Treatment & storage

Protection, Treatment, & Storage

Preventative Conservation​

The safety of works of art is enhanced by a suitable environment. SAM's galleries are carefully managed to provide a very stable, moderate climate for the art year-round.

  • Though Seattle only gets an average of 71 sunny days per year, daylight and artificial lighting cause severe, irreversible damage to sensitive materials. In the museum, we restrict the amount of light that falls on these works of art and also rotate them regularly so that they are not exposed for too long.

  • Pollutants and soiling from dust, handling, and the atmosphere can damage art, so we monitor the air quality, control all fabrication and construction materials used in the museum, and work with exhibition designers to provide suitable gallery casework and displays. We also keep a close eye on the art on display, dusting and examining art when the museum is closed to the public.

  • To some creatures, art is food! Cellulose, wool, some colorants, wood, and other organic materials are attractive food sources for many insects and other pests. SAM conservation staff is vigilant about avoiding, monitoring, and recording pest activity. Since many materials come in and out of SAM every week, we need to have procedures to manage organic matter entering the galleries, whether in the form of art, display items, or floral installations.

Display and Storage

Works of art that you see in the galleries at SAM are securely and gently held in place by brackets crafted by our expert mount-making department. These custom-made mounts enhance presentation and keep art safe while on display or during an earthquake.  Look closely at the 1,000 pieces of porcelain on show in the Wyckoff Porcelain Room ​to see an impressive yet very discreet demonstration of the mount-makers’ skills.

Thousands of stored artworks also need to be kept safe, and SAM collection care managers ensure that the storage furniture is optimal and provide safe tie-ins, storage mounts, and enclosures for all the art that is not on display.

Conservation Treatment

Each year it is determined that many works of art require conservation treatment because they are physically unstable, in need of cleaning, or otherwise unsuitable for display. SAM conservators study the art and consult with curators and other specialists to identify suitable treatments to remedy the problem. They sometimes also work with experts outside the museum to conserve the art.​​​​​​

Conservation Resources

Collections Management

National Park Service
A resource for conservation guidelines, grants, and information on how to care for collections.

Connecting to Collections Washington
Connecting to Collections Washington works to preserve Washington’s cultural heritage through education and to develop a statewide preservation plan.

Professional Associations

American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (AIC)
AIC is the national professional association for conservation in the United States. Their website includes links to preservation topics, including finding a conservator and caring for your treasures.

Western Association for Art Conservation (WAAC)
Our regional conservation organization.

Association of North American Graduate Programs in the Conservation of Cultural Property (ANAGPIC)

Other Collections

The Getty Conservation Institute
Information on the Institute’s projects with extensive links to conservation reso​urces and publications.

The Museum of Modern Art
Information on preserving MoMA’s collection, including an in-depth feature on emergency art protection developed in response to Hurricane Sandy.

Tate
The Tate museums in England share information on many research projects​.​​ ​​

Support Conservation​

Labor-intensive, painstaking, and precise treatments are expensive activities, as is the maintenance of a safe environment for the art. But these responsibilities are vital for the preservation of irreplaceable artworks.

From October 1 to December 30, 2013, SAM used the crowdfunding platform Power2Give in order to raise funds to reframe our only painting by Henri Matisse, the beautiful and important work Paysage d’Hiver aux Bords de la Seine. We met our goal thanks to donors like you, and now the painting is on display for everyone to enjoy in our fourth floor European galleries as part of the installation France: Inside and Out. You can read more about this project on the Power2Give website.

 


​Donate Now

If you would like to help us​ provide care for the collection, please call the Development Office at 206.654.3258 to make a tax-deductible donation to the SAM Conservation Fund.​​​​​​

Donate​​​​​​​​​​​​​