How to Become a Museum Conservator

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Museums are essential structures that house a variety of historic elements such as paintings, artifacts, jewelry, weapons, and other items that hold historic value. Museum conservators are trained professionals that care for and restore a variety of historical objects.

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What does a museum conservator do?

Museum conservators care for, manage, treat, preserve, and document many different historical items including artifacts, art, and specimens. They use microscopes, x-rays, special lights, and chemical tests to conduct historical, archaeological, and scientific research to determine the time frame and condition of objects. They often preserve wood, paper, and clay items with hardeners and sealants to prevent decay and breakage. They also clean and restore paintings, create copies of artifacts, repair objects with broken parts, repair surfaces, and create fossil mounts. Museum conservators are also responsible for determining the proper climate-control measures for specific preservation of objects. They must document their findings and properly record the essential information on the objects of the museum. Museum conservators also often participate in research work, outreach programs, and write articles and papers for scholarly journals. Some museum conservators work with a specific type of object such as books, stamps, or coins.

What kind of training does a museum conservator need?

Museum conservators typically need at least a master degree in conservation, history, library science, or other related field. Prospective museum conservators typically complete courses in art history, archaeology, chemistry, and library science. A few museum conservators complete apprenticeship programs that are offered by museums or nonprofit organizations. Many aspiring conservators complete internships while pursuing their education to gain practical experience. Conservators must complete continuing education and additional training throughout their careers to keep their skills up to date and stay abreast with advancements in the field. Many participate in conferences, workshops, seminars, and events that are sponsored by museum associations.

What are the prospects for a career as a museum conservator?

Employment of museum conservators is expected to grow much faster than average for all professions, increasing 26% from 2008 to 2018 (1). Increased public interest in a variety of museum topics will drive job growth.

Job prospects are expected to be good with strong competition. Museum conservators with advanced training and extensive experience will have the best job opportunities.

How much do museum conservators make?

As of January 2010, the average annual salary for museum conservators is $40,000; average annual conservator salaries vary greatly on location, employer, education, experience, and benefits (2).

A career as a museum conservator is a great choice for people with a strong interest in caring for and preserving a variety of historical items. Museum conservators must have a solid understanding of conservation procedures and the ability to apply them to many different objects. Patience, detail orientation, good organizational skills, and good problem solving skills are necessary characteristics. Museum conservators must carefully handle delicate items and take the proper precautions to effectively preserve the items and minimize damage.

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