Shortly after a work of art is created it begins to change. The way it is handled, stored, and displayed will affect the condition of the artwork, as will the soundness of the artists’ techniques and materials. Art Conservation involves the technical study, care and restoration of works of art.

The Art Conservation Lab is a significant resource within the Gallery: it provides facilities and equipment for the documentation, preservation and treatment of artwork from the Gallery’s collection and offers important mentoring opportunities for Mount Allison University students who wish to work with the Gallery’s Fine Art Conservator. This is the only paintings Conservation Lab in New Brunswick.

Please note the Owens does not take on private conservation work. To find a professional conservator, please visit the Canadian Association of Professional Conservators’ Directory.

In a painting vault with rows of sliding panels, an art conservator stands on a ladder cleaning the back of a large painting. The painting is tall and wide, cradled in a wooden frame. A standing lamp on the floor illuminates the back of the painting.

Caring for the Collection

The main goal of the Fine Arts Conservator is to ensure the long-term care of all works of art from the Gallery’s collection. Art Conservation involves both preservation and restoration of artwork. All works of art are carefully documented before any restoration work or change is proposed.

Research and science are important aspects of the Conservator’s work. Contemporary art presents new technology, art mediums and materials which challenge traditional conservation treatments. Historical research provides insight into the techniques and materials used by the artist. Science helps us to understand these techniques and materials and what causes them to change over time.

Conservation treatments are designed to stop or repair damages or to restore aesthetic qualities. If a yellowed varnish or dirt layer conceals the original colours of a painting then the treatment proposal would suggest testing to assess the removal of these layers. The careful removal of discoloured tape adhesive from the back of a drawing will prevent further deterioration of the paper. Each artwork requires individual assessment and treatment.

Preventative conservation

Although the exterior stone walls and the environmentally controlled interior of the Gallery building provide physical protection for the art collection, this isn’t enough to preserve it. Many artworks are made of fragile materials, which are vulnerable to damage even in the most protected environment.

Conservators have extensive training in the composition and science of art materials, and the effects of potentially destructive elements, such as excessive light, temperature, relative humidity, dust, vibration, insects and vandalism.

Routinely, the Gallery’s conservator carries out preventive conservation, working with other Gallery staff to ensure that artworks are safely displayed, handled, stored and transported. Efforts are focused on preventing damage.

Meet Owens Conservation Intern Alice Liu (’21)

Keep Learning

A painting of a woman being embraced by a man is divided into three sections. One is brightly lit showing cracks in the canvas, the centre is coloured with hues of blue and the left shows naturalistic colours.

In the Conservation Lab: Romeo and Juliet

A life-sized, rust-coloured wolf, a pair of steel split urns, and a low-lying bench are installed across the wide front steps leading to the entrance of a classically inspired stone building. Above the door, carved in stone, are the words "Owens Museum of Fine Arts, 1894".

Collection Highlight: John McEwen’s Salt/Marsh

In the foreground, an old woman sits, resting her head on her cane next to a tree stump with new shoots sprouting from around it. In the distance children dance in a circle in a field at the edge of a town.

Collection Highlight: Temps Passé by William Blair Bruce