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Conservation vs. Preservation: What’s the Difference?

One of the most important roles museums have is to care and maintain artworks and artifacts in their collections. Museums all over the world abide by this to extend the objects life for future education and for general public enjoyment for generations to come. Although museums strive to protect every single object, environmental conditions, storage control, and individual handling all influence the longevity of the artworks and artifacts.

Conservation and preservation are two methods which are used to maintain the state of the object. Conservation is the hands-on act of working directly with the object to preserve its current condition. Such method can be invasive, for example, conservators use restoration treatments to enhance the object to its original state or appearance by removing accumulated layers of dirt and/or adding necessary components that have gone missing.

MOA Conservation Intern Josh cleaning a basket from the ethnographic collection.

Preservation is the non-invasive act of minimizing deterioration and preventing future damage of the object. Some examples are outlined below:

  1. Housing the objects in an environmentally controlled storage facility (i.e., being aware of possible humidity, light damage, etc.)
  2. Monitoring the collections space bi-weekly and monthly for possible pests
  3. Practising appropriate artifact/artwork handling
  4. Storing the objects in archival boxes with archival materials (materials that preserve the quality and longevity of the object, such as acid-free tissue)
Photo of the boxes that hold the ethnographic collection!


Here at the MOA, our collections primarily consist of ethnographic (historical documentation) and archaeological materials. The archaeological material is typically made from organic or inorganic materials. Organic materials are made from living organisms, such as animal, plant, bone, wood and inorganic materials are made from non-living organisms, such as stone, metal, ceramic, glass. Organic materials are preserved more closely as they deteriorate at a faster rate. Although conservation of objects is executed when mandatory, preservation of the objects is our main goal.



MOA Blog Post. “A Journey in Conservation: Basketry.” Accessed April 11th, 2018.

Texas Historical Commission. “Basic Guidelines for the Preservation of Historic Artifacts.”Accessed April 11th, 2018.

Conserve O Gran: National Park Service. “Conservation of Museum Collections.” Accessed April 11th, 2018.


Performing Presence: Pauline Johnson and Her Predecessors

There’s a spirit on the river, there’s a ghost upon the shore,
And they sing of love and loving through the starlight evermore,
As they steal amid the silence,
And the shadows of the shore.
From “Dawendine”

Pauline Johnson (1861-1913) was the best known female Canadian poet of her time. Born on the Six Nations Reserve in Brantford, Ontario, she learned Mohawk stories and traditions from her father, Chief George Johnson. Her mother, an English immigrant, taught her British literature. As an adult, Pauline Johnson drew on both sides of her heritage for her poetry, often writing on indigenous themes within the European poetic style. While many people enjoyed reading her work, Johnson became famous for her public appearances in which she performed in both a “Mohawk princess” costume and in a Victorian evening gown.

These costume changes have fascinated scholars for years. Some believe that Johnson acted as a “cultural mediator,” conveying indigenous culture and concerns such as land rights to her white audiences. Others criticise her praise of British colonial rule, or question whether she played into the common Euro-Canadian opinion that Native culture was on the path to extinction. Johnson’s “Mohawk princess” costume, they argue, was only meant to add exotic appeal.

However, a more recent study done by Professor Manina Jones and Dr. Neal Ferris (the Lawson Chair of Canadian Archaeology) suggests otherwise. When considered in the context of Haudenosaunee diplomatic tradition, Johnson becomes one of many to use language and costume as tools for negotiation.

Take, for example, Joseph Brant (c. 1742-1807), also known as Thayendanegea. As a leader for the Mohawk Nation during and after the American Revolutionary War,

Brant spoke and wrote fluent English with his British allies. He also adapted his clothes to different situations:  he wore a European suit for formal meetings with politicians, but changed to traditional dress during a visit to Fort Niagara. The suit displayed his cultural understanding and flexibility, while the traditional costume served as a reminder of the Six Nations’ alliance with the British military.

As well as asserting his own and other Nations’ presence in British North America, Brant’s public appearances drew on Mohawk and Haudenosaunee traditions which had existed before European settlers arrived. When the Six Nations and their allies met, they often performed traditional dances for each other and shared their history, crafts, and innovations. In the nineteenth century, Pauline Johnson shared her stories and culture through poetry.

Want to learn more about Pauline Johnson’s family and the history of Six Nations’ Reserve? Stay tuned for the second post in this series, “The Two Front Doors of Chiefswood,” coming soon!

Works Cited

Ferris, Neal and Manina Jones. “Flint, Feather and Other Material Selves: Negotiating the Performance Poetics of E. Pauline Johnson.” American Indian Quarterly. 41, 2, 2017. 33-157.

Ferris, Neal. Archaeology of Native-Lived Colonialism. University of Arizona Press, 2009.

Johnson, E. Pauline. “Dawendine.” The White Wampum. Toronto: The Copp Clark Co., 1895. 19-23.

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