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Question about Conservation Repainting/Ethics

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    • #134132
      Jacob Petrie

      I am a student considering possible conservation issues and so my question is purely hypothetical. That said, my example comes from a real discussion about a real object.

      If you have an object that is, for all intents and purposes, the last of its kind, but beyond that has no major historical significance, what would be a good guide for the limitations of conservation work? Specifically, if you wanted to use this object as a “stand-in” for another of its kind, but the more historically significant object (which no longer exists) was painted a different color, would it be ethical to strip the existing paint job and repaint it to match the more “important” object?

      As a secondary, and maybe more concrete question, assuming the same object: The object is going to go on display as is (not as a stand-in) but due to age/use much of the paint has chipped off or discolored, and the original paint is no longer know/accessible, would it be more reasonable to strip the object and repaint it, or try to fill in the holes with a very closely matching paint?

      I realize that these are both very open ended questions, but I’m trying to get a sense of how much is too much. For details, assume that the object (or the painted parts) is all aluminum.

    • #134133
      Anne Schaffer

      Hi Jacob,

      While there’s always a lot of discussion about how to handle any object and its presentation, there are actually fairly clear guidelines in these instances. Of course, particulars about the object and circumstances would be crucial to making any of these decisions.

      As with any objects, theoretical or no, any treatment should be evaluated and performed by a trained conservator familiar with the pieces, since the ethics in these situations can be complicated. That said, I’ll try to give a general answer.

      In the first instance, it’s important to maintain the current appearance and integrity of the “last of its kind” object, despite it not being particularly historically significant. A model could be made to replicate the “more historically significant object” if it was necessary for some didactic reason. Having a model would essentially serve the same purpose and would preserve the original object.

      In the second example: this is a bit more tricky, and really depends upon the object. Most of the time, conservators try to preserve all of the original object that they can. This means that all original paint would be kept, and the losses would be filled in, if appropriate (with some pieces, retouch might not be appropriate at all). In all cases, materials that are distinguishable and removable would be used for retouch. When a specific pristine surface or patina is important to the object itself, sometimes objects (modern sculpture, for instance) will be repainted. Again, though, this is all object and situation specific, and should be evaluated by a conservator who has all the details in hand.

      I hope I answered your questions!

    • #134135
      Jacob Petrie

      Very helpful, thank you!

      I suppose I could elaborate a little more, though I think I have a better grasp of the general idea.

      To be more specific (I’m not trying to be secretive, just leaving things open for a more broad interpretation), I often see in military museums, vehicles that appear to be either rebuilt from original parts, or totally repainted to the point that they look brand new. The object I had discussed with an acquaintance is a 35 foot welded aluminum boat. Originally painted an olive green with a black keel and black lettering. As I said, I often see other vehicles, aircraft and tanks specifically, that appear to be repainted to match their original look (various insignia and camouflage), but I suspect that some, if not many, of these vehicles were not kept in pristine condition after their service was completed.

      I know of at least a few cases where vehicles were discovered abandoned on a battlefield, some times years later, and are in dire condition indeed. I recall reading about a German airplane from WWII recently recovered from a lake somewhere in eastern Europe, obviously it would not look like it did in the 1940’s after sitting at the bottom of a lake for so long, and I think there is a project underway to restore it. The goal is to make it look as close to what it would look like when it was crashed. This of course goes beyond simply repainting it, but in the case of the boat, little more would need to be done to get it back to a “factory fresh” look.

      I know of similar projects to restore other vehicles to their original appearance, and would like to know what the “best” method would be for undertaking such a project. Obviously the goal would be to preserve as much of the original as possible, but deterioration could, as I understand it, be delayed by repainting, particularly in the case of iron based objects. Considering that the paint would be intended to match the original look, and could potentially have a preserving effect would there be any major ethical problems with going forward?

      Sorry if that rambled a bit, I’m more than happy to try and clarify!


    • #134136
      Anne Schaffer

      Restoration and conservation of vehicles, planes, tanks, etc. gets into a complicated and interesting area of the field, in which I am not an expert, but I’ll try to give a bit more information.

      In the end, as I said before, it really does depend upon the situation of each object and upon the institution and its staff – there is no “best” way for everything. For instance, a historically significant plane damaged in an important battle would probably not be repaired to remove signs of damage (because the damage is essential to its historic importance), but a plane that never saw battle, then rusted and was left in disrepair, might be given a fuller restoration treatment to show how it would have looked originally. There are many fascinating gray areas, and this particular area of the field can be in flux, working to find a balance between preservation and restoration.

      I’ve included some links below – hope they’re helpful!

    • #134137
      Jacob Petrie

      Awesome! Thanks a ton. I understand that this is a very grey area, I think that’s what makes it so interesting, and I was hoping to get a sense of what the community at large felt about it (if there was anything close to a consensus).

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