The Paper Conservation Department, which is part of the Sherman Fairchild Center for Works on Paper and Photographic Conservation, is dedicated to the preservation, technical analysis, and research of works of art on paper, parchment, and related materials from all periods and cultures held in the Museum's vast collections so that they may be made available for exhibition, education, scholarship, and study.
The Paper Conservation Department is responsible for the preservation, exhibition, and analysis of works of art from the Museum's curatorial departments. These objects include historic, modern, and contemporary material, among which are: drawings in all media and techniques (such as chalk, charcoal, pen and ink, watercolor, and pastel), prints (such as etchings, engravings, and lithographs), Western illuminated manuscripts on parchment and paper, Indian and Islamic paintings and albums, ivory portrait miniatures, palm leaf manuscripts, papyrus, and composite objects, among which are paper-based sculpture, decorative arts objects, and ephemera.
Works on paper and parchment are among the most sensitive materials in the Museum's collections, due to the physical and chemical nature of their substrates (paper, parchment, plant, or synthetic based) and the variety of organic and inorganic media of which they are composed. To ensure their preservation, strict exhibition and storage requirements must be followed. These protocols include limited duration of display, periodic rotation, low light levels, storage in darkness or in light-tight boxes, environmental conditions that are maintained within specified levels, methodical handling procedures, and travel restrictions. Works on paper are nonetheless always on view throughout the Museum.
The Department is supported by a Visiting Committee, which enjoys at least three annual lecture-presentations about the materials and techniques of works of art on paper and related materials.
Conservators of works of art on paper are highly educated professionals. Their education includes a Master's or doctorate degree. They are trained in conservation and the preservation of cultural artifacts, art history, conservation science and treatment, instrumental analysis and other forms of examination, history of materials and techniques, and preservation. Most paper conservators have a particular area of specialization, such as modern materials, parchment, Islamic materials, or Old Master drawings.
Our current staff comprises five full-time conservators and two part-time special projects conservators. The department is dedicated to the education of future conservators and, to that end, accepts on an annual basis a Fellow, a graduate student intern, a special projects conservation student, and a pre-program intern. The department also offers a six-week residency for a visiting scholar. Many art historians and conservators use the well-equipped facility on a regular basis (by appointment) to study works on paper.
The department's state-of-the-art facility includes instruments for nondestructive analysis of works on paper (among them are a Raman microscope, the first to enter a North American museum), a grenze X-ray unit, stereo binocular microscopes, environmental monitoring equipment, an infrared camera with a mosaicing system, ultraviolet and transmitted light devices, polarizing light microscopes, digital cameras, and photomicrographs systems. It houses a range of technical devices and equipment for conservation treatment (such as large sinks, vacuum suction tables and plates, modified water systems, chemical storage, fume hoods, air evacuations units, and mold remediation areas). Many of these instruments are made possible by the support of the Department's Visiting Committee. The department also includes a large facility for mat-cutting, storage, and display housing, and framing.
The department houses a unique collection of eighteenth- to early twentieth-century artist materials, a collection of historic paper samples, and a pigment collection comprising Western natural and synthetic pigments.