The formation of what is now the Objects Conservation Laboratory dates to 1902, when Shisui Rokkaku came from Japan to catalogue and restore the Museum’s lacquer collection. By 1910, the Museum had decided to open a "repair shop" (Department of Restoration) treating three-dimensional objects for outside clients.
In 1929, William Young emigrated from England, leading the division (then called Objects Conservation and Scientific Research Laboratory) until his retirement in 1976. During his tenure, Young pioneered dramatic restoration techniques and contributed immeasurably to the understanding of the methods of manufacture and the materials used in works of art by systematic scientific analysis. He also instituted some of the earliest international symposia devoted to conservation science, including the renowned series, “Application of Science in the Examination of Works of Art.”
Through the excavations of the Harvard University-Museum of Fine Arts Expeditions (1905-1947) in Egypt and Sudan, the Museum acquired a great number of archaeological objects. Although many of these artifacts were stabilized in the field, many more later underwent extensive treatment in the lab.
Today, objects conservators continue to examine, document, authenticate and treat a wide range of sculpture, decorative arts and archaeological artifacts. The lab works to develop new treatment methods and conduct technical research on works of art, conservation materials and causes of deterioration, so that susceptible objects can be identified quickly. Its objective is not to return objects to their original appearance, but to strive to preserve what remains of the original in a coherent way, allowing the public to appreciate an object’s history by leaving evidence of its aging process.