Conservation of Devout Men Taking the Body of Saint Stephen, dated 1776, by Benjamin West (American, 1738–1820):
Visitor Questions Answered

Seems stressful. Is it?
Generally no, but as in any job, there are aspects that can be stressful, depending on the activity or deadline.

What music are you listening to? (Asking for a friend.)
We listen to music, podcasts, and audiobooks. We find we are able to more fully absorb information when doing a manual task that might take hours, as is the case with certain aspects of this conservation project. For fun, one of the conservators is compiling a list of books she has listened to while working on the altarpiece.

What is chromolithography?
Chromolithography is a printmaking process, an extension of lithography, which creates an image using stones prepared with a drawing made in oil or wax. In chromolithography, each color requires its own stone. More information (and videos) on the process can be found online.

What are the steps in the Conservation in Action?
The specifics of a conservation treatment depend on the condition of the artwork and the goals of the treatment. All conservation treatments include photography, examination, and documentation, which are the backbone of ethical conservation practice. For the Benjamin West altarpiece, the conservation treatment will also includes consolidation, surface cleaning, devarnishing, repairing tears, revarnishing, and loss compensation.

Does this take away from the authenticity of a painting?
No. We are not “making” or “improving” on the artwork itself, only its condition. In fact, some conservation treatments can aid scholars who wish to authentic an artwork.

How do you get a job preserving art?
Most conservators have attained an advanced degree (usually a Master’s degree) from a graduate program. This degree is supplemented with internship and fellowship experiences at a number of museums, institutions, and regional centers that focus on the preservation and conservation of artwork.


To send a question, contact the conservators at conservation@mfa.org.