Art Restoration and Conservation: Background information when reading The Stone Girl

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The Stone Girl

A Novel

by Dirk Wittenborn

The Stone Girl by Dirk Wittenborn X
The Stone Girl by Dirk Wittenborn
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2020, 480 pages

    Jul 2021, 480 pages


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Art Restoration and Conservation

This article relates to The Stone Girl

Print Review

Section of the Sistine Chapel ceiling In Dirk Wittenborn's The Stone Girl, the main character, Evie, is an art restorer who specializes in repairing statues. Art restoration is the professional process of repairing works of art that have been subjected to the effects of damage or age, including paintings, sculptures and architecture. The restoration of art is somewhat distinct from the conservation, or preservation, of it, but both processes seek to reduce the decay and damage inflicted on artistic creations over time by aging, human interference, nature and other factors. Art conservators, like restorers, repair and restore works of art, but often with the intent of providing a temporary fix or slowing their degradation. Art restorers are more concerned with returning works to their original state. Restoration is sometimes considered a subcategory of conservation, as it deals with a specific type of preservation work.

Both professions date back centuries, but techniques have evolved significantly over time. To take one famous example, Michelangelo's frescoes in the Sistine Chapel, which have now been treated extensively by art technicians, first underwent restoration as early as the mid-16th century, when linseed and walnut oils were used to counteract water damage. Modern approaches to conservation and restoration are often more advanced and include (along with many other techniques specific to different media) using lasers to clean dirt from sculptures, a process that allows professionals to remove buildup without damaging the surface underneath.

Today, working in art restoration or conservation requires a combination of specific skills and knowledge that differ based on one's specialty. Education and experience among those in the fields vary, but art restorers and conservators generally need to have a background in art history related to the periods, styles and media of art in which they specialize as well as some scientific knowledge of the composition of materials present in the art (canvas, paper, stone, etc.).

Becoming an art restorer tends to have fewer formal education requirements than becoming a conservator. This doesn't mean that conservators necessarily have better credentials than restorers, but rather that the practice tends to adhere more closely to educational standards. The methods used in art conservation are based around advanced techniques taught in training programs. By contrast, art restorers generally rely more on apprenticeship in their area of expertise. However, both career paths require extensive hands-on experience.

Art restorers and conservators often have full-time jobs at museums, though some work freelance. Any businesses, individuals or organizations that deal with artistic antiques and artifacts, such as historical societies, private collectors, galleries or libraries, may need to make use of services provided by an art restorer or conservator regularly or at some point. The everyday duties of a conservator or a restorer may include cleaning artwork; consulting with those in other professions—such as historians, scientists and museum personnel—on large-scale projects; or performing research relevant to preserving or restoring artwork.

Filed under Music and the Arts

This "beyond the book article" relates to The Stone Girl. It originally ran in June 2020 and has been updated for the July 2021 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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