The term "folk art" covers a large variety of objects, including those made with conventional materials such as oil paint, ceramics, and stone, and unconventional materials such as animal bones and aluminum foil. As a result, folk art problems of care and preservation also vary widely.
The "Look" of Folk Art
Early collecting of folk art
focused on utilitarian objects that had been abandoned by their users, so the appearance desired by collector
s was different from the way the objects were intended to look when they were made. Since such collectors often liked an age
d and even somewhat damage
d look, planning for conservation treatment of these objects must be done thoughtfully in order that the value
of the objects can be preserved. More recent folk art, such as that done by outsider
artists, is often regarded as art
from the beginning, so appropriate treatment is usually to try to preserve the artists' intent. The conservator
of folk art must therefore be particularly sensitive to the preferences of the owner and the standards of the marketplace
Dealing with Conservators
When owners of folk art deal with conservators, the conservator
should initiate a discussion on this subject. Otherwise, owners must reveal their preferences. Although ethical
conservators have limits about what they will alter by treatment - they will not, for example, discard an original part of an object or change the color of a part of it - there is a wide range of ethical approaches to treatment. The impact of condition on the appearance of objects can only be seen wtih a direct viewing - a photograph
is no substitute. Owners of folk art can therefore contribute useful information to the treatment decision-making process by being aware of the differences in appearances of objects they see in museum
exhibitions or in other people's collections, and deciding what the differences mean to them.
Inspection and Documentation
In other ways, the care and preservation of folk art is little different from that of other categories of collections. Owners should inspect their objects carefully, and keep photographic and written record
s of their condition as well as document
s related to each object's history
. The records should help owners decide if and when the condition of an object has changed. Inspect
ion should be done periodically for this purpose, and if changes are noted, a conservator should be contacted. Conservators can provide useful information on objects and their care as well as on recommended treatments and costs. It is often useful to have a conservator inspect objects that are being considered for purchase to avoid hidden costs in the future.
s and paper
are probably the types of objects most subject to deterioration
from poor mounting and framing methods and from inappropriate environments. It is therefore particularly important to have these objects looked at by a conservator who can recommend practical ways to limit environmental damage.
, particularly daylight
, fades colors and contributes to the deterioration of organic materials, notably paper
s. If light-sensitive objects are displayed near window
s, a great deal of damage can be avoided by blocking the light with shades or curtains during the day when no one is in the room. Again, conservators can help by, fo rexample, making sure that light-filtering glazing is used in framing
Different kinds of objects respond differently to temperature
and relative humidit
y. Painted wood
en objects are particularly sensitive to flaking in late fall
when the heat comes on and the humidity drops, so this is a good time of the year for owners to inspect such pieces. Metal
s, on the other hand, corrode
in high relative humidity, so problems with rusting of iron
are more likely in summer.
Many objects displayed in homes are damaged by careless
handling, during dusting of surfaces, and by children
s. Much of this can be avoided by careful placement of objects, and by making sure that unsteady objects are mounted to stabilize them.
For the name of a conservator in your area, contact the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (AIC). http://aic.stanford.edu
sources: myself, and Barbara Appelbaum. Node your homework.