We believe that the key criterion which distinguishes well-grounded conservation and restoration of historic metalwork is the attitude with which such work is approached. The most important aspect of this attitude is to always seek to understand the specific value of each object on which we work, and then to ensure any work we carry out does as little harm as possible to the aspects of the metalwork that express that value.
Often we can help people to identify value in metalwork which may previously have gone unnoticed, because our backgrounds mean we can highlight points of historical, manufacturing, design and construction interest. We believe this is one of the most significant benefits of combining craft backgrounds with conservation education. People are often surprised at the level of skill and craftsmanship that has gone into the metalwork objects that surround them and go unnoticed on a day to day basis.
It is because of this level of skill and craftsmanship that is invested in historic metalwork that we believe it is as worthy of safeguarding as more obviously valuable pieces of our cultural heritage. The functional role of much metalwork means that options for conservation and restoration are often more interventive than would be used for objects in collections, but this is because the metalwork we treat often has to be able to withstand everyday use, exposure to challenging conditions and infrequent maintenance.
It therefore seems worthwhile to elucidate what we mean when we talk about terms like “conservation” and “restoration”, as for us these words reveal important details about the approach we take to projects.
For us, “to conserve” metalwork means that we will seek to repair metalwork “as found”, using techniques designed to maximise preservation of existing material and minimise restoration/insertion of new material. “To restore” metalwork on the other hand, is work that is carried out with the deliberate intention of revealing or recovering some element of an object that has been lost. The majority of our work tends to fall somewhere between these two ends of conservation/restoration spectrum, and we will always tailor our approach depending on the nature of each project.
In addition to ensuring our work is carried out at the most appropriate point on the conservation/restoration spectrum, we also consistently draw on the principles contained in three sets of conservation ethics when making conservation/restoration decisions. These are ICON’s Code of Conduct and Professional Standards, the NHIG’s conservation principles and also the AIC’s code of ethics. Our approach of thorough assessment of all objects, followed by development of detailed treatment proposals ensures the work we carry out adheres to key conservation principles such as preservation of historic material wherever possible, and also that we do not restrict re-treatability of objects in the future.
The final significant aspect of our conservation philosophy is that we always seek to combine the principles mentioned above with a pragmatic approach. We are aware funding for conservation and restoration projects can be challenging to source, so we always work closely with clients to ensure budgets are spent in the most cost-effective way.