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.

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.