Atoms form molecules by means of their electrons. Electrons move very fast through the atoms in a way which makes it impossible to determine where an electron is located at a given time. There is only a statistical certainty that electrons are in a given zone around the nucleus of the atom. Which zone this is depends on the amount of energy that an atom has at a certain moment in time.

The different zones in an atom could be somewhat compared to an onion, whereby every layer could be a limited zone where electrons can be found. These layers are called “shells”. In the inner shell, closest to the nucleus of the atom there is only space available for 2 electrons. For H (hydrogen) with 1 electron and He (helium) with two electrons this is no problem. There is enough space available. But for Li (lithium) with 3 electrons another solution is necessary. So the third electron moves to the following shell which is situated more outwards from the nucleus. This 2nd shell can contain 8 electrons, just as the 3rd shell. The 4th and the 5th shell can contain up to 18 electrons, the 6th shell up to 32 electrons.

Lithium - Pumbaa

Photo: Lithium atom - author: Pumbaa

Every time a shell has been filled the other electrons are moving up to the next shell. Chlorine with 17 electrons has 2 electrons in the 1st shell, 8 in the 2nd shell and 7 in the 3rd shell. The more shells there are, the larger the atom. We can see this by comparing the diameters of C (6 electrons) and gold (79 electrons). The diameter of C is only about half the size of the diameter of gold.

Atoms continuously strive to reach full electron shells. They do this by taking up, giving off or sharing electrons with other atoms. It is a mechanism depending on chemical reactions and leading to the formation of molecules.

Covalent bonds

Let us look at the molecule “methane”. Methane consists of 1 carbon atom (C) and 4 hydrogen atoms (H). Carbon has 6 electrons, of which 2 are on the inner shell and 4 free electrons on its outer shell (2nd shell with ultimately 8 electrons). Carbon is 4 electrons short of a full outer shell. Hydrogen lacks one electron in its outer shell (1st shell with maximum 2 electrons). The carbon atom needs to combine with 4 hydrogen atoms to fill up its outer shell (4 + 4x1 electrons). Hydrogen only needs 1 electron to complete its outer shell. So the carbon atom unites with 4 hydrogen atoms, forming 4 electron pairs (4 x 2), resulting in full outer shells for all atoms. By doing this methane becomes a stable molecule.


Photo: Methane molecule - author not found

This kind of binding is called a “covalent bond”. The electrons are shared, on an equal basis, between the carbon atom and the 4 hydrogen atoms. That way each atom has, notwithstanding the motions of the electrons, always a full outer shell. The molecule has no extra free spaces anymore and therefore is in equilibrium. It has no need anymore to form new relations. It forms therefore a stable unit. Only when heavy collisions would occur or when enough external energy would be added, bonds could be broken.

The result is a chemical reaction. This is what happens when we burn methane as natural gas for cooking or heating. Methane molecules have no common interest in each other. They live in a loose connection that we call a “gaseous form”.

aardgas essent

Photo:Combustion of methane - author: Essent Energy

When we look at a water molecule we see a different story. Water exists of 1 oxygen atom with 8 electrons, (of which 2 are in the inner shell and 6 in the outer shell) and 2 hydrogen atoms (each with 1 electron on the outer shell). Oxygen needs 2 electrons to complete its outer shell. But oxygen is quite dominant and does not share the electrons on an equal basis. The oxygen atom sits between the two hydrogen atoms and in fact attracts the hydrogen electrons towards the center with as result that these electrons are closer to the oxygen nucleus than they would be in methane.

The result is that the hydrogen atom, because it partly looses a negative ion, receives a small positive charge. The opposite is true for oxygen. Because this atom attracts 2 negative electrons, it gets a more negative charge. We know that equal charges reject each other and that opposite charges attract each other. Because there are two slightly positive atoms in water these move slightly away from each other. You can see this in the drawing below. We call this effect “polarity” and we call this kind of molecule “polar”. Polarity has an effect on the properties of the molecule.

Dan Craggs-water  pl-olarity1.svg

Photo: Polarity of water - author: Dan Craggs

The reason why water molecules attract each other is due to the fact that the negative oxygen atom of one molecule attracts the positive hydrogen atoms of another water molecule. This way mutual connections are formed which we call “hydrogen bonds”. These bonds are partly responsible for the inner structure of cellulose and responsible for binding water in, for example, paper.


Photo: hydrogen bonds - author: Qwerter

Covalent bonds are mostly fairly weak bonds. Most molecules with covalent bonds have a liquid or gaseous form. The compounds they form mostly have relatively low melt- and cooking points.

Guy De Witte

Our sponsors

cami_nv_logo  truvue-weblogo



Atoms are also called “elements” because they are fundamental building blocks nature uses for creating life and for producing raw materials. Their properties, affinities, possibilities and limitations determine what kind of combinations they will enter into to form “molecules”. Other factors involved are the physical ambient conditions these atoms are embedded in, the presence of energy and/or matter that accelerates or promotes interactions.

Not only nature, but Man also, uses atoms to produce new molecules. The most innovative field of science involved in materials production is “nanoscience”. The practical exponent of this science is “nanotechnology”.

New materials and structures that are manufactured using nanotechnology, are produced by combining individual atoms into bigger structures. The size of these elements are less than 100 nanometer, hence the name nanotechnology (1 nanometer = 1 billionth of a meter = 10-9 meter or 0,000 000 001 millimeter). These new materials show other properties than those who are naturally occuring in nature or are used in traditional industrial manufacturing. That way nanotechnology opens a door to hundreds of new applications in the fields of mechanics, electronics, medicine, space exploration, airline construction, building materials and so on.


foto: nanotechnology in perspective  (author: Sureshbup)

Interactions between atoms

Atoms always want to interact with other atoms. Depending on the atom these interactions can occur with the same kind of atom, another kind or a combination of both. The result of these interactions are what we call “molecules”. What kind of interaction occurs depends again on internal and external factors.

So an oxygen atom (O) can react with another oxygen atom. The resulting molecule is O2 (oxygen gas) and hydrogen (H) can react with hydrogen to form H2 (hydrogen gas). But oxygen can also react with sulfur (S) to form SO2 (sulfur dioxide) or with carbon (C) to form CO2 (carbon dioxide) or with nitrogen (N) to form NO (nitrogen oxide). Hydrogen can react with oxygen to form water (H2O). The molecules formed that way can be gaseous like O2, liquid as H2O or solid as NaCl (natrium chloride= kitchen salt).


foto: carbon dioxide bubbles in gaseous water (author:Guy De Witte)

The chemical formula always shows how many atoms of each kind are involved in the molecule. So O2 consists of two oxygen atoms, H2 consists of two hydrogen atoms and H2O of two hydrogen atoms combined with one oxygen atom. Kitchen salt (NaCl) consists of one sodium atom combined with one chlorine atom. Glass mostly is composed of silicon dioxide (SiO2), formed by combination of one silicon atom and two oxygen atoms.


foto: silicon dioxide (author: LHcheM)

Some molecules are composed of multiple kinds of atoms. The pigment “white lead” for example has as formule Pb2CO3(OH)2 and contains two lead atoms, one carbon atom, five oxygen atoms and two hydrogen atoms. All abovementioned combinations are considered to be inorganic, as opposed to organic.

Organic compounds have molecules containing basically carbon (C) and hydrogen (H), often in combination with other atoms. They can form very complex structures. Simple organic compounds are CH4 (methane) and C2H5OH (ethylalcohol = ethanol). These simple compounds have mostly a ramified chain structure.


foto: representation of a methane molecule


foto: representation of an ethanol molecule (author: NEUROtiker)

Complex organic compounds show one or more ring structures in their molecules. Examples are C6H6 (benzene), C6H12O6 (glucose), building block of cellulose, and C8H8 (styrene) basic molecule for the production of polystyrene.


foto: glucose molecule (author: NEUROtiker)


foto: styrene molecule (author: Benjah-hmmm27)

to be continued


cami_nv_logo  truvue-weblogo



To gain a better knowledge of the properties of objects and the dangers they are exposed to, it is important to have a better insight in their composition and the processes that have a negative impact on them.

This insight demands a basic knowledge of chemistry, physics and biology. Because not everybody involved in art and cultural heritage has this knowledge (maybe because it was never learned or maybe partly forgotten) we want to provide this basic knowledge through our blog/site. Sometimes we use a more simplified way for a better understanding.

Today we start with “THE ATOM”.

What is an atom?

The word “atom” is derived from the Greek word “atomos” which means ‘indivisible”. The ancient Greeks thought the atom was the smallest particle in the universe and that it was indevisible. Today this idea is outdated.

But the atom remains the smallest building block of which all matter and materials, as well vegetable as animal or mineral are composed of. Atoms are the “lego blocks” of nature. There are different kinds of atoms. They have a different composition and different properties and can be combined to form living materials or non-living materials. The way they combine happens according to coded instructions inherent to nature. These instructions can be of a physical or chemical nature. They are a kind of “manuals” according to which the building blocks are combined to form an entity. Because these “manuals” are often more “guidelines” instead of a strict program, it is possible to find a lot of variations on the theme, especially in living materials. Living creatures or objects composed from once living matter we call “organic”. Non-living materials we call “inorganic” (= non-organic).

How is an atom structured?

Atoms have a diameter of about one tenth of a million of one millimeter. This is very small and invisible for the naked eye even using a normal laboratory microscope.

An atom consists of smaller particles of which we will only mention the ones most important to our purpose: protons, neutrons and electrons. The most simple representation of an atom is comparable to our solar system: a central core (consisting of protons and neutrons) around which circulate smaller objects (electrons). In practice the system is more complicated. The electrons move at a crazy speed aorund the core and not in planetary orbit as our planets, but criss-cross through a spherical or elliptical space around the atom core.


Representation of atom (Adrien Facélina)

The amount of protons can be equal or not to the amount of neutrons. In an atom there are always as many protons as electrons. Protons have a positive electrical charge, electrons a negative electrical charge. This way the particles keep each other balanced. Neutrons do not have electrical charges.

The core of an atom is very small. The diameter is about 1/1000 of the total diameter of the atom. The electrons are smaller still. Everything in between is empty space, which allows for a lot of movement. All objects, even living creatures are thus composed of a lot of empty space.

There is a whole variation of atoms. This is based, amongst others, on the different amount of protons and neutrons in the core. The properties of these atoms are therefore different. Atoms can contain up to 92 protons. Based on the amount of protons the atoms have received what we call an “atom number”. All these atoms occur in nature. Number 92 is uranium. Every type of atom has specific properties and behaviour and react in specific ways with other atoms. There are also atoms with a higher atom number (up to 118 nowadays), but these atoms are not occurring spontaneously in nature. They can only be synthesized with scientific equipment.

The table of Mendelejev

Based on the diversity of properties the Russian Dmitri Mendelejev devised a clear table of elements for all known atoms in his time. Elements have been added to this table when they became available. This table shows the various relations between the different atoms.


Table of Mendelejev (DePiep)

Names and symbols

Each atom is represented by a letter symbol. Mostly, but not always these are the first letter(s) of the Greek or Latin name for the atom. So the letter H stands for Hydrogenium (Hydrogen), He for Helium (Helium) and Cl for Chloros (Chlorine).

In conservation practice we will encounter often the same atoms. That is why it is important to know the exact names, shortenings and properties of these atoms. Lacking the right knowledge can have a large impact on conservation and survival of materials.

The most occurring atoms we will work with are: H (hydrogen), C (carbon), N (nitrogen), O (oxygen), P (phosphor), S (sulfur), Cl (chlorine). Depending on the materials we work with we will also need knowledge of Na (sodium), Mg (magnesium), Al (aluminium), Si (silicium), K (potassium), Ca (calcium), Fe (iron), Ni (nickel), Cu (copper), Zn (zinc), Ag (silver), Sn (tin), Au (gold) and Pb (lead).

In a next post we will cover the interaction between identical and non-identical atoms.

Guy De Witte

We thank our sponsors for their generous support

cami_nv_logo  truvue-weblogo


People who are acquainted with me will know that climate change and its possible impact on life on earth has always been a topic I have been interested in. My first confrontation with climate change dates from 1972 when the Club of Rome published their report “The Limits to Growth”. At that time is was already clear that Humanity lived above its means and that sustainability would become a hot topic in the future.

Through the years sustainability has become more and more important, also due to the actual climate change, of which we gradually start to see and feel the consequences.

Since I am professionally involved in conservation of cultural heritage it was a logical step for me to get more and more involved in analyzing data and extrapolating possible repercussions on art and cultural heritage.

That is why I chose, in 2006 : “Archives in a Changing World: An Exploration into Sustainable Building for Archives in Belgium in Response to Global Climate Change.” as title for my thesis to acquire my Master in Preventive Conservation at Northumbria University in Newcastle (UK).

The result was an invitation by the organisers of the “Going green” conference in the British Museum (Clore Education Centre) in 2009 to present a paper named: “New Challenges demand new solutions: The Integration of Sustainable Building and Functioning of Archives as a possible response to Climate Change.”.

The same year I produced an article for the magazine Faro (published by Faro, a leading cultural heritage organisation of the Flemish government), with the title: ”Klimaatverandering en duurzaamheid. Sleutelwoorden voor een nieuw erfgoedbeleid (”Climate Change and Sustainability: Keywords for a New Cultural Heritage Policy”).

Since then I try to get climate change more and more on the cultural agenda by giving talks about the threats posed to our cultural heritage. One of the examples is the serie of talks called “Buitenbeentjes” (Mavericks) in 2012 where I asked the question: “Can the World save its Heritage”.

Screen Shot 2016-04-28 at 01.06.04

Foto: Guy De Witte: "Can the World save its Heritage?"

The last paper was at the conference “Art meets Security 2015”, where I talked about: “Climate Change: a Global Threat to Art and Cultural Heritage”.

My students of the courses in Cultural Heritage Education, Archive Education and Master in Cultural Heritage and Temporary Document Management are every year again made aware of this growing problem.

Even so I notice that in Belgium and some other countries the awareness of the impact of climate change on our cultural heritage is still minimal and that although large international organizations are discussing how to tackle the problems, most institutions are only focused on local institutional issues. That way they miss the big picture and decisions taken on a local level for improving conservation conditions may be contraproductive in the long haul. This is a pity since the problem begins to be urgent and future policies will have to take climate change more seriously. This will be the only way to mitigate and manage the oncoming problems.

Climate change will as well have a large macroscopic as a microscopic impact on the survival of cultural heritage. Macroscopically whole sites are threatened such as the natural sites of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia and the Kilimanjaro National Park in Tanzania. But also known archaeological sites as Chan Chan and the Machu Picchu complex in Peru are very vulnerable.

However the threat does not limit itself to these sites. Hundreds of cities all over the world are threatened. Two thirds of all cities with more than 5 million people are situated less than 100 km from the coast. Nearly 650 million people leave on land that is less than 10 meter above sea level. In Europe Denmark, part of the coast of England, Belgium and especially The Netherlands are in the danger zone. It is also in all those cities, close by the sea, that we find the largest concentration of art and cultural heritage. It is a quantified certainty that cultural heritage is now threatened worldwide.

International organizations such as UNESCO, ICOMOS and ICCROM sounded the alarm-bell already years ago. UNESCO published in 2007 a publication called: “Case Studies on Climate Change and World Heritage”. In this publication cities as London, Venice, the heart of Prague and Timbuktu (Mali) are considered as threatened. In London it concerns the complete site of Westminster, the National Greenwich Museum and the Tower. Venice is completely threatened, not only because the sea level rises but also because the city is sinking into the lagoon.

Screen Shot 2016-04-28 at 01.25.42

Foto: Unesco Publication

For The Netherlands the situation will become dramatic over time. One third of the country lies below sea level and the water level of its main rivers. It is protected by dunes, dikes and the Delta Works flood barrier, an ingenious flood barrier system. Even so, nobody can guarantee that climate change cannot alter this situation. If massive flooding occurs there will not only be human casualties (cfr. the flood in 1953), but cultural heritage will suffer a considerable damage and loss.

Flanders lies above sea level, but still quite low, which makes it also vulnerable. Large pieces of the provinces of West-Flanders, East-Flanders and Antwerp are lower than 30 m above sea level. This may seem much, but a combination of low height with high tide and heavy storms can produce serious flooding, which can cause irreversible damage to heritage collections and buildings. In practice the cities of Bruges, Ghent and Antwerp are all three within the danger zone.

Screen Shot 2016-04-28 at 01.28.16

Foto: Alex Tingle's Flood Map (2007) 

Many countries have set up flood maps and flood warning apps that you can find on-line easily. Alex Tingle, an ICT programmer, developed already in 2007 a flood map based on information from Nasa. The map is not correct because not all parameters were taken into account, and science has progressed a lot since then. Anyway it gives a rough idea how sea level rise affects countries. The map is interactive and the sea level can be adjusted. Is this a realistic picture? We do not know for sure but it is an exercise in learning what can happen. The absorption of CO2 by the oceans causes a rise of the water temperature. The consequence of this heating up is an expansion of the water volume, even if not a single drop of water is added by melting ice from glaciers or ice-caps. This means that the ocean level rises, and even if it takes a few hundreds of years before reaching the maximum expansion, computations predict that this phenomenon will be responsible for a sea level rise of 8m worldwide. According to Nasa sea level has risen 22,6cm from 1880 to 2013. And if Nasa’s projections become reality, sea level could rise another 90cm, maybe more by the year 2100, thus becoming one of the most important problems we have to face.


Foto: Nasa - Sea Level Rise

An important aspect of climate change is the expectation that the weather patterns will become more capricious. The effects will be different in different parts of the world. For Western-Europe extreme higher summer and winter temperatures can be expected, although cold winters will still occur. Weather phenomenons can become freakish, with periods of very intense rainfall alternating with long periods of drought. Storms can produce so much rain in a short time that rivers cannot swallow the water and swell to flood the country. Periods of intense drought can provoke subsidence leading to cracks in walls, letting water easily penetrate into buildings. For underground cultural heritage storage rooms this would be a nightmare.

Other aspects of climate change as a rise in temperature, raises the reaction velocity of chemical deterioration processes in cultural heritage objects and can stimulate mould development and the introduction of new harmful insect species.

How quick climate change will affect our lifestyle quite thoroughly we do not know yet. Will the change occur gradually or in jolts? How big will the impact be on Humanity and its cultural heritage? If the projected scenario’s of the International Panel on Climate Change and Nasa are correct we will be faced with the question in how far we will still be able to protect our cultural heritage. How will we tackle this problem, locally and internationally? Will we have to give up part of our heritage to save the most important sites and collections? Which ones will we choose to keep? Who will decide what to keep? Will we have to spread our heritage all over the world to avoid total loss?

It is five to twelve for our cultural heritage. Politicians, policy makers, curators, scientists and conservator-restorers have to think urgently about what we can possibly do. Just as in medecine prevention is of utmost importance here. We still have some time but we will have to use it usefully. Burying one’s head in the sand is no option. Sooner or later there will be a verdict. It is our responsibility to decide if we want a word in the matter or not.

Guy De Witte

All pictures are copyrighted unless stated otherwise.

We thank our sponsors who make this blog/site possible

cami_nv_logo  truvue-weblogo


Complementary to “preventive conservation” is the definition of “remedial conservation”.

ICOM-CC defines “remedial conservation” as follows:

“all actions directly applied to an item or a group of items aimed at arresting current damaging processes or reinforcing their structure. These actions are only carried out when the items are in such fragile condition or deteriorating at such a rate, that they could be lost in a relatively short time. These actions sometimes modify the appearance of the items.”

According to ICOM-CC following examples are typical for remedial conservation.

“Examples of remedial conservation are disinfestation of textiles, desalination of ceramics, de-acidification of paper, dehydration of archaeological materials, stabilization of corroded metals, consolidation of mural paintings, removing weeds from mosaics.”

This list is far from complete since techiques and treatments are often used in different fields where they are adapted to the specific material concerned.

Who can be involved in remedial conservation?

The diversity of materials and the complexity of problems posed by cultural heritage objects demand a thorough knowledge of materials and processes of deterioration. It also demands specialist theoretical knowledge and practical skills on a high level for accurate treatment of this heritage. Although there are common elements, each material demands a specific plan of action. In practice there is no doubt that remedial conservation is the playing field of conservator-restorers with a material-specific education.

In some cases remedial conservation includes a number of technical interventions in which not-conservators can be of assistance. This is only possible and acceptable when these persons have received beforehand a thorough theoretical and practical basic training and formation. Moreover these persons will always only be allowed to work under the immediate supervision and guidance of a professionally schooled conservator-restorer. Decisions about what intervention is necessary or desirable for an object will always be the prerogative of a conservator-restorer specialised in this kind of object. The conservator-restorer will always remain responsible for outlining the course of action of the treatments, the necessary conditions, the appropriate techniques and the materials used.

What are the costs of remedial conservation?

The cost of remedial conservation will be dependent on multiple factors including: the number of affected objects, the nature and the gravity of the damage, the necessary infrastructure, the fact that the treatment is performed in-house or out-house, the treatments and materials used.

In how far is it possible to perform remedial conservation in-house?

Any institution can perform remedial conservation in-house provided the two following conditions are fulfilled: the execution has to be done by a conservator-restorer and the necessary infrastructure should be available.

If, due to circumstances, the institution does not employ a conservator-restorer but happens to possess the necessary infrastructure it is always possible to hire a conservator-restorer to do the job. If the institution employs a conservator-restorer but does not have the proper infrastructure, it might be possible to rent it for the time necessary to perform the treatment. If none of these are available in-house the instution will have to outsource the job to an outside partner.

In how far is performing remedial conservation in-house preferable?

Performing treatment in-house is only an advantage as both abovementioned conditions are fulfilled. The advantage consists of keeping control of the collection all the time. It means that the objct or the collection does not have to be transported, which limits the risk of damage by manipulation and transport. Even so the risk of theft should be minimal, although professional conservator-restorers, working independently, take also all necessary precautions to avoid theft and break-in.

What happens after remedial conservation?

Following remedial conservation it is normal procedure to implement preventive conservation. What this implies depends on certain factors: the housing of the object or collection, the way of preserving, the character of the ofjects…

For example: suppose a severe mould grow on furniture due to rising humidity from the ground up. The cause, which is due to a problem with building physics, has to be tackled and remediated before thinking of putting the object or collection in this room again. If it would seem that there is no amelioration of the situation, even after an intervention, the objects concerned should not be put back in their usual place, but should be transferred to a new location.

There is no sense in performing a treatment on an object or a collection when these are put back, after treatment, in identical conditions of those who caused the damage and where the risk of a new or similar event can be expected.

Exempels of remedial conservation


Foto: treatment of paper (Guy De Witte) 


Foto: panel painting - before treatment (Bart Verbeke)

Version 2

Foto: panel painting - after treatment (Bart Verbeke)

Naaien katern

Foto: attaching a loose quire (Guy De Witte)


Foto: treated archaelogical ship (Guy De Witte)

Copyright for all pictures on this site unless stated otherwise

Author: Guy De Witte



cami_nv_logo  truvue-weblogo




The concept of “conservation” was refined by ICOM-CC by introducing subterms as “preventive conservation”, “remedial conservation” and “restoration”. Today we are looking at “preventive conservation”.

ICOM-CC defines “preventive conservation” as follow:

“all measures and actions aimed at avoiding and minimizing future deterioration or loss. They are carried out within the context or on the surroundings of an item, but more often a group of items, whatever their age and condition. These measures and actions are indirect – they do not interfere with the materials and structures of the items. They do not modify their appearance.”

“Examples of preventive conservation are appropriate measures and actions for registration, storage, handling, packing and transportation, security, environmental management (light, humidity, pollution and pest control), emergency planning, education of staff, public awareness, legal compliance.”

Who can be involved in preventive conservation?

Preventive conservation is a shared responsibility. It does not only concern curators, staff and conservator-restorers but also researchers, users, designers, architects, engineers, technical staff and the public. Policy makers play a crucial role because they can allocate material and financial support to make preventive conservation possible and adequate.

What costs are involved in preventive conservation?

It all depends on the measures taken. Some measures are relatively cheap or cost next to nothing. Others demand a more substantial investment depending on the size of the collection(s). The most far-reaching measures connected to infrastructure and buildings require generally a large budget which is often not possible for the instution concerned. For this kind of projects a strong cooperation between different actors is necessary.

Actions that do not cost much.

Public awareness costs next to nothing. Advising some person, researcher or other, on how to manipulate objects and collection pieces can be done quite easily by a staff member in the reading room or a collection consultation chamber. Where necessary providing gloves for manipulating objects or a cushion to position and support an object can already avoid possible damage.



Foto: use of gloves for protection (Guy De Witte)


Foto: Cushion as book support (Guy De Witte)

Actions that demand a larger investment.

A good way to conserve collection pieces is to wrap them into acid-free materials. Acid-free paper and boxes used should always be made from full thickness acid-free components and for most of the collection pieces buffered as well. Boxes should always be adapted to the objects they will be used for. The complete cost of a packing project will depend, amongst others, from the amount of objects to be packed. We will cover this subject later. For framing prints or documents museum quality Optium Acrylic Glazing is recommended.


Foto: handmade four-flap to mensuren (Guy De Witte)

Measures that demand a very large investment.

We are talking here about the use of compatible displays and show-cases for temperory exhibitions or permanent display in museums. Another example of large investments are accommodating adequate storage rooms. Storage furniture has to be adapted to the needs of the collection, be efficient in use and harmless to objects (and staff).


Foto: storage furniture (Smart Storage Solutions)


cami_nv_logo  truvue-weblogo


Although conservation has been a concern from the Early Ages on, conservation as a scientific discipline took off after the second World War, especially in English speaking countries as the UK, USA, Canada and Australia. Later other countries stepped in, conservation gathered momentum and is now applied worldwide.

Anybody working in conservation nowadays has to be able to work in international context and has to keep himself informed of new evolutions in the field. Since publications are not only published in English it is very important that people understand each other when discussing conservation topics.

During these years many terms came into use: preservation, conservation, passive conservation, active conservation and many others. Because of the different languages in the world the terms did not always mean exactly the same thing in different countries. This lead sometimes to misunderstandings and confusion.

Therefore the Committee for Conservation of the International Council of Museums (ICOM-CC) proposed some terms and definitions to be used in international context. This terminology was accepted during the 15th Triennial Conference of ICOM-CC in Delhi (India) in 2008 by the attending members. This terminology is now being used in all current contacts and literature. It was approved in English and French and translated in Spanish. By now it has found its place in many languages.

The general term “conservation” is defined by ICOM-CC as:

all measures and actions aimed at safeguarding tangible cultural heritage while ensuring its accessibility to present and future generations. Conservation embraces preventive conservation, remedial conservation and restoration. All measures and actions should respect the significance and the physical properties of the cultural heritage item.”

The general notion “conservation” was refined by 3 other definitions, each of them well specified. These are:

  • Preventive conservation
  • Remedial conservation
  • Restoration

Moreover all measures taken have to taken into account the “meaning” and the properties of cultural heritage. We will come back to this when we talk about historical and material context of cultural heritage.

In French the current terms are now:

  • Conservation préventive
  • Conservation curative
  • Restauration

In Spanish the terms are:

  • Conservación preventiva
  • Conservación curativa
  • Restauración

Similar terms are now being used in Italian , German and many other languages.

This terminology is quite similar to the one used in medicine, where a distinction is also made between preventive and remedial actions. In medicine prevention is everyone’s concern, while the act of curing or stabilizing processes is the prerogative of specialists. We find this distinction also in conservation. In a broad sense conservation can be considered as the health care for cultural heritage.

In a next post we will explain the difference between preventive conservation, remedial conservation and restoration.


cami_nv_logo  truvue-weblogo




The fact that you read this blog shows that you are involved or interested in collection care and safeguarding cultural heritage. So you are just the public we are trying to reach: from professionals to private people interested in the Art of Conservation.

“We did not only inherit our cultural heritage from our ancestors, we are also borrowing it from our children”. This free interpretation of the quote “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our childeren” and found originally in a slightly other version in a book of Wendell Berry:”The Unforeseen Wilderness: an Essay on Kentucky’s Red River Gorge”, is what it is all about. A responsibility and respect for our past, the delight of enjoying much beauty and the moral obligation to pass this on to future generations so that they can, with their own eyes, see where past, present an future merge together.

Maybe you will ask yourself “Why another blog/site about conservation?”. There are lots of good sites around from all kinds of organizations concerned with collection care of cultural heritage. So why this extra blog/site?

As co-developer and teacher of the “Cultural Heritage Staff Training”, organized by the Flemish Department of Education in Belgium I noticed that people have a constant and even growing need for knowledge about the “how” and “why” of deterioration processes, composition of art and cultural objects and assessments of materials and techniques. These are also the questions I continuously have. Therefore my aim with this blog is to provide more insight in the underlying science and scientific laws governing the survival of art and heritage.

In the 25 years I have been professionally involved in the field of conservation I have realized that safeguarding art and cultural heritage objects are a very complex matter comparable to a 3-dimensional building. Here we can consider all aspects of conservation as being in the horizontal plane, vertically linked to each other by the pillars of science as physics, chemistry, biology, climatology and a score of other disciplines working and interacting globally.

Conservation is not only a scientific and technical discipline, it is also an “Art”. For a good conservation empathy with a collection object or building is absolutely necessary. The feeling for the object, its composition, its history, its properties are a conditio sine qua non to achieve an adequate conservation. A boy of 7 years old, for whom I repaired one of his favourite books, called me his book doctor. This is one of the most beautiful compliments I ever received. Taking care of books is like taking care of people. Feeling out the patient or the object go beyond the necessary scientific discipline. Conservation is more than a profession, it is a way of life.

Want to know more about me? Just look at “About” or click on the following link


cami_nv_logo  truvue-weblogo