How to become a Conservator. Read through our comprehensive job guide to learn more about this career.
What does a Conservator do?
Conservators preserve works of art and other historic objects and make sure they are looked after in the right way.
As a conservator you could work with a wide range of objects, but would usually specialise in one area, such as fine art, books, textiles, archaeology or industrial exhibits.
Your tasks would typically include:
- examining objects to identify any damage and its cause
- preserving objects to stop deterioration and make sure they stay in good condition
- carrying out restoration to make sure that original characteristics are not lost
- making sure that storage and display conditions protect objects from damage by light, humidity, temperature or air pollution
- keeping written and photographic records of your work.
You would use a range of scientific methods, materials and equipment.
In the public sector you would usually work 37 to 40 hours a week, Monday to Friday. In the private sector, your hours would depend on the amount of work you have, and you may need to work to deadlines.
You would usually be based in a laboratory or workshop, although you may do some conservation work (such as stone masonry) on site. You may spend time in museums, art galleries and private houses, giving advice on collections.
How much does a Conservator earn?
Salary and pay information:
- New entrants can start on around £18,000 a year.
- Experienced conservators can earn between £20,000 and around £35,000.
Figures are intended as a guideline.
You would usually need a degree, followed by a postgraduate qualification in conservation. Degrees in conservation are available, but other subjects like fine art, ceramics and glass, textiles or science (particularly chemistry) are also useful.
Visit the Institute of Conservation website for a training directory listing courses. You should check directly with course providers for their entry requirements.
- Institute of Conservation
For most courses you would need to have work experience in a museum, or other historic site. Large museums usually have lots of requests for volunteering, so it may be best to try smaller local museums. You can find addresses in The Museums Yearbook, which is published each year by the Museums Association. You should be able to find the book in your local reference library.
See the Museums Association website for advice on finding volunteering opportunities.
- Museums Association
Training and Development
Once you have completed a conservation qualification, you would need several years’ experience before you are considered fully competent as a conservator.
One-year internships are one way that you can get supervised practical experience in the workplace. These are run by some major museums, and advertised on their websites. Check The Museums Yearbook (in reference libraries) for contact details.
Area museums councils run a variety of in-service courses. Visit the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council website for details of the councils.
Joining an organisation such as the Institute of Conservation, the British Association of Paintings Conservators-Restorers or the Guild of Master Craftsmen would be useful. Membership would give you opportunities for making contacts, and developing your skills and knowledge by attending seminars, conferences and courses.
You could also join the Institute of Conservation Professional Accreditation of Conservator-Restorers (PACR) scheme. This is a professional membership qualification, which would assess your professional competence against set standards.
If you complete the PACR scheme, your details would be listed in the register of conservators. The register is available on the Institute of Conservation website for use by organisations and members of the public looking for reputable conservation or restoration services.
Skills and Knowledge
- good practical skills
- normal colour vision
- a patient and methodical approach
- attention to detail
- artistic, technological and scientific ability
- sound business skills (if self-employed)
- good communication skills, with the ability to clearly explain complex issues.
You could work in either the public or private sector. Many conservators work in museums, but there has been an overall decrease in vacancies, as work is often contracted out to freelancers. Many jobs are offered as short-term contracts.
You could also work for the National Trust, English Heritage and the heritage bodies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Some cathedrals have studios to care for their stained glass, libraries and wall paintings.
With experience you could progress into management, although this would usually mean moving away from “hands on” work. Alternatively, you could become self-employed.