"Ivory: Identification & Regulation of a Precious Material"
Ivory, from the elephants that produce it to the intricately carved artifact, is a material
closely associated with Africa. Prized across world cultures from ancient times to the
present day, the incessant international demand for ivory has dangerously diminished
elephant populations in Africa.
In an effort to educate the general public, art collectors, and specialists, this webpage
includes information on how to identify ivory and its substitutes, descriptions of the laws
and regulations of its trade, and a selected bibliography. It is hoped that this information
will promote responsible collection of this valuable material and foster appreciation for
the remarkable animals that produce it.
Download the entire document
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 or for referrals to practicing conservators, contact the American Institute for Conservation (AIC).
The staff of the National Museum of African Art facility, which houses a state-of- the-art conservation laboratory has established and continues to refine conservation procedures unique to the care of African art. Conservation activities are integrated into every aspect of the museum's operation“acquisitions, exhibitions, education, and overall collections care. These activities include documenting the condition of all collection objects, treating objects, assessing the condition and previous restoration of potential acquisitions, maintaining optimal exhibition/storage conditions for preserving artifacts, executing collections-based research, conducting educational tours of the lab and preparing interns for formal conservation training.
Recent departmental highlights include developing treatment for a unique Liberian hunter's ceremonial costume, investigations into the media of classical African art, and the analysis of the deterioration processes for two contemporary works in the museum's collection.
A complete x-radiography system with digital imaging is currently being installed in the department. This equipment will enhance the museum's ability to thoroughly examine objects for evidence of manufacturing techniques and previous restorations.
The X-radiography unit was used extensively for the exhibit Artful Animals. Watch and get a glimpse into the entire process.
An exhaustive look at the conservation process is detailed within the Ethiopian Icons exhibition.
The department often works in conjunction with the Smithsonian Center for Materials Research & Education 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.
1:30 - 4 p.m., third Thursday of the last month of the quarter
(Feb., May, Aug., Nov., 2008)
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.
Stephen P. Mellor, Chief Conservator
George Washington University, BA (1976); Winterthur Museum/University of Delaware Art Conservation program, MS (1981)
Dana Moffett, Senior Conservator
University of Kansas, BA (1980); University College, University of London BSc Hons (1988); University of Denver, MA (1989)
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