The exhibit process: One conservator’s education

Nancy Davis


In May 1988, the Rochester Museum and Science Center (RMSC) opened a new permanent exhibit entitled “At the Western Door” which chronicles the Seneca Iroquois and the Europeans who came to western New York first as traders and later as settlers. This paper will explain the conservator’s role in planning and installing this exhibit, as well as the conservation project undertaken to conserve and document the two thousand archaeological, ethnographic and historic artifacts displayed. Both the successful and more troublesome aspects of the exhibit process will be reviewed.

The exhibit was organized by a RMSC planning coordinator using staff and consultants for script writing and interpretive elements. The conservator’s involvement in the exhibit process occurred over a thirty month period. Although the conservator was included in some preliminary planning, conservation concerns had to be addressed through the planning coordinator. Communication problems caused by indirect access argue for a more direct dialogue between the conservator and designer.

In total, over twelve hundred artifacts were treated by the conservator, conservation graduate students, a private ethnographic conservator and volunteers. The work was funded by an Institute for Museum Services Conservation Grant and the museum operating budget. Premounts used to support fragile archaeological and ethnographic materials were constructed for over one hundred objects. A project to train volunteers to write condition reports on objects not treated proved very helpful.

1989 | Cincinnati