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What Can Conservation Do for You?

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Kate Ridgway at DHR's conservation lab.
State Archaeological Conservator Kate Ridgway at the DHR conservation lab in Richmond. Photo credit: DHR.

Their services have been long perceived as esoteric, accessible only to museums or scholars within the ivory halls of academia. But conservation is not just for those institutions.

By Kate Ridgway, State Archaeological Conservator

The staff of the Department of Historic Resources (DHR) is committed to the preservation of history in the Commonwealth. As Virginia’s state archaeological conservator, I am a resource for members of the public and institutions within the state. While many outside the historic preservation community may not be familiar with my work, I’d like to invite you to learn about how artifact conservators can impact you, your family, and your community—and you may be surprised to find out how we can help!

Let’s start by talking about conservation. Conservation seeks to preserve cultural heritage for future generations. To achieve this goal, conservators study many different disciplines, like history, chemistry, art, and archaeology. We work with our hands and often use complex scientific equipment. We strive to learn as much as we can about the artifact that we are looking to preserve. The more we know about an artifact, the better equipped we will be to care for it. When we are charged to work with objects and to advise those who own them, it’s critical for us to consider what materials the objects are were made of, how the objects were made and how they deteriorated, how best to store them and to put them on display, as well as many other factors that speak to the story behind the object.

Kate Ridgway removes graffiti from Maggie Walker grave stone
Ridgway removes graffiti from the grave stone of Maggie Walker in Richmond. Photo credit: DHR.

Because conservators possess a unique and wide-ranging set of knowledge and skills, they can be a great resource for advice and assistance with any objects that a person might consider precious, from family heirlooms to national treasures. As the state archaeological conservator, my skills and expertise are available to all Virginians. I frequently respond to public inquiries as well as requests from institutions around the Commonwealth, trying to help with what I can, when I can.

So, what can conservation do for you? The most common questions I receive pertain to caring for gravestones; taking care of personal heirlooms and artifacts; identifying what exactly an object is and what it was used for; and assisting with the identification and disposal of objects that contain hazardous materials, such as historic ordnance, mercury-filled artifacts, artifacts made of—or treated with—heavy metals. Additionally, institutions in Virginia may ask for my help when there is an emergency like a flood or a fire, when they find live ordnance in their collections, or when they need general advice from a conservation professional.

Kate Ridgway with a Bartmann jug
Ridgway with a Bartmann jug, also known as a Bellarmine jug. Photo credit: DHR.

If you have an object that you’d like to know more about, please don’t hesitate to reach out! You can email me at katherine.ridgway@dhr.virginia.gov or call 804-482-6442. Be sure to include photographs of the object as that can help answer many questions and allow us to learn about its story. Bonus points if you can portray the size of the object using a scale in your photos! I look forward to hearing from you.

 

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