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What is Conservation? - ICA

Garfield School students visit ICA Art Conservation
20 Apr

by Holly Witchey

There must be thousands of blog posts out there in the multi-verse discussing the question, What is Conservation?  We talk about conservation with the school groups that visit, and when we are out and about at libraries and community centers. In April and May, the topic is particularly on our minds as North America and other parts of the world celebrate Earth Day and May Day.  Earth Day is all about one kind of conservation–the conservation of the planet on which we as humans temporarily reside,  On Earth Day, for good reason, we celebrate water, air, soil, and sun–just what the sunflowers below need to survive and grow to healthy maturity.

On May Day, conversely, conservators all over the world encourage people to think about the conservation and preservation of the material and cultural heritage of the world.  We ask you to reflect upon the objects you hold dear and what you can do to protect them in case of unexpected accidents and disasters.  The soil, air, sun, and water that are necessary for the healthy sunflowers above can all be causes for concern in connection with the sunflowers painted by artist Vincent Van Gogh.

Vincent Van Gogh (1853 – 1890), Vase with Fifteen Sunflowers, 1888.

National Gallery, London: NG 3863. Courtauld Fund, 1924

Here’s the message. It’s April! This weekend celebrate Earth Day by picking up around your neighborhood or volunteering for a stream sweep or park clean up.  And in two weeks, on May 1, make it a point to check on your personal historical material culture. Your grandmother’s vase, have you dusted it recently?  Is it sitting too close to the edge of a shelf?  How long has it been since you checked the hanging hardware on the back of those family photographs?  Do your paintings have backing boards? Are you still storing snapshots in those magnetic photo albums from the 1980s and 1990s? Maybe this is the time to see if you can salvage those snaps by removing them from the albums (fair warning, it may already be too late).  In any event, show your family treasures a little loving care this May Day.  And remember, if something is important to you, it’s important to us too.  If you’re concerned about a family treasure get in touch with ICA-Art Conservation ( for a free half-hour consultation with one of our conservators.