The Importance of Heirloom Conservation

One of the misconceptions concerning work performed at an art preservation facility such as The Conservation Center is that an object or a piece of art must have significant value on the market to qualify for professional care. This is simply not the case. While many of our clients have high-end pieces that belong to large-scale collections and museums, our conservators also specialize in treating antiques and heirlooms that have sentimental value and meaning for individuals. 

Family heirlooms connect generations in a deep, personal way. From the handed down bible and grandmother’s knitted quilt, to a late 1800s baptismal gown and photos of a relative going off to war—anyone who has found or kept historic pieces in the family knows how moving they can be. These treasured items, passed down through the decades, provide insight into the lives of our ancestors and a richer understanding of our family's history.

Often family heirlooms make the journey from one generation to the next, but can be easily damaged by various factors such as light, heat, humidity, pests, and handling. Some heirlooms simply deteriorate due to age-related issues or poor long-term storage. 

Old family pictures, for example, often exhibit issues such as mold, tears and rips, fading due to sun damage, as well as creasing. Through advanced methods such as digital restoration and re-humidifying techniques, our conservators are able to preserve many memories that are thought to be lost.

Even if nothing out of the ordinary occurs, an object on display will decay over time, especially if it is commonly utilized—such as antique fine furniture. A perfect example is when The Conservation Center brought back to life an antique Syrian gaming table. After being passed down multiple generations, the term “wear and tear” would be an understatement. The table’s joints were failing and parts of its beautiful parquetry were either damaged or missing completely. However, the conservation process was a success and the newly revitalized table is once again proudly on display.

The Center’s textiles department also cares for many dresses and gowns with remarkable history. For example,  this christening dress was passed down in the client’s family for many generations. It was beginning to show the signs of use that well-loved pieces often do. The fabric and lace had darkened over time, and the two layers of the dress were heavily creased, with numerous tears, splits, holes, and missing areas of embroidery. As an important family heirloom, our textile conservator treated this fragile dress with special regard. 

To date, The Conservation Center has reunited families with cherished heirlooms such as shredded ketubahs and wedding documents, fire damaged photographs, flaking oil paintings, and warped water-damaged furniture. In some cases, the treatment process can even shed new light on a history or craftsmanship of a piece—which can mean so much more when that object has a direct relation to one’s family tree. 

It is The Conservation Center’s fundamental mission to treat each and every object with the highest level of care possible, regardless of its provenance and value. We are happy to assess and treat your sentimental items such as: photographs, family records, quilts, wedding and christening gowns, furniture, books, objects, and heirloom artworks. 

We welcome you to set up an appointment with The Center’s Client Services team to discuss treatment options for your family heirlooms so that they can be around for generations to enjoy.