The conservation professional is dedicated to the long-term preservation of art and other cultural property and is responsible for the examination, documentation, preventative care, treatment, and restoration of these materials. For more information about the profession, contact the American Institute for Conservation (AIC).
The National Museum of African Art houses a state-of-the-art conservation laboratory and includes a complete x-radiography system with digital imaging. This equipment enhances the museum’s ability to thoroughly examine objects for evidence of manufacturing techniques and previous restorations.
The department often works collaborates with the Smithsonian Museum Conservation Institute and other SI bureaus to analyze African art materials, investigate manufacturing processes and resolve treatment problems. In turn, the department serves as a national and international authority on the conservation of African art.
Caring for your Collections
Stephen P. Mellor
Associate Director for Collections and Facilities and Chief Conservator
George Washington University, BA (1976); Winterthur Museum/University of Delaware Art Conservation program, MS (1981)
Dana L. Moffett
University of Kansas, BA (1985); Institute of Archaeology, University College, University of London, BSc (Hons, 1989); Univeristy of Denver, MA (1990)
In 2003, six icons from the museum’s collection underwent technical analysis and conservation treatment. This yearlong study is one of the first to scientifically identify and document the materials used to paint Ethiopian icons.
Ivory: Identification & Regulations of a Precious Material
The incessant international demand for ivory—a material that is prized across world cultures from ancient times to the present day—has dangerously diminished elephant populations in Africa. In an effort to educate the general public, art collectors, and specialists, this paper includes information on how to identify ivory and its substitutes, descriptions of the laws and regulations of its trade, and a selected bibliography.
Art and artifacts from Africa are sometimes comprised of materials of unknown origin, as was the case with the nkisi mbumba—medicine skull—in the Artful Animals exhibition.
Caring for Your Collections
1:30 – 4 p.m., third Thursday of the last month of the quarter
Registration required; call 202.633.4640
Conservators advise the public on the proper care of their collections. Limit two objects per visit; preference is extended to first-time participants. Please register well in advance of the date you wish to attend as these clinics are limited in terms of participants and they tend to fill up quickly.
Conservation is responsible for the care of preservation of the museum’s collection. Staff implements preventive maintenance procedures, conservation treatments, and appropriate handling and installation of objects. The department accepts interns with a demonstrable interest in the profession. The department also accepts pre-program conservation interns, conservation graduate students, and post-graduate conservation students. For more complete information, click here.