Career Profile of Fine Art Restorer

What does it take to become a fine art restorer?

Holburne Museum, Photo by Matt Cardy (c) Getty Images
In Bath England, Holburne Museum staff unpack a Gainsborough painting which has been restored by a conservator. Photo by Matt Cardy (c) Getty Images. Photo by Matt Cardy (c) Getty Images

A fine art restorer is responsible for repairing damages done to artwork such as paintings, murals, sculptures, ceramics, textiles, paper works, books, and other cultural objects or historical artifacts. The job often requires some research to determine the best course of action to take, particularly with antiques and other valuable works where the original should not be changed in any way. Sometimes the job involves, more simply, cleaning the artwork and preserving it for the future.

Educational Requirements 

Education requirements can vary. Do you simply want to carry on your family's traditional business, or do you want to become a certified restorer to broaden your horizons? University courses can be helpful in either case, and the knowledge you'll get is often necessary for certification.

If you decide you want study fine art restoration, focus on courses like chemistry, anthropology, studio art, and art history. You can pursue a degree ranging from an associate degree all the way up to a PhD.

It's common for a student to apprentice under a master conservator after graduation, before jumping in to a major restoration project. 

Skills Required

A passion for the art to be restored is absolutely necessary. Any halfhearted or indifferent attempt at restoration shows. Being meticulous, detail-oriented, and patient are also good skills to have.

Necessary skills vary according to the restoration project, too.

Restoring a 19th-century painting requires a chemistry background and an in-depth knowledge of oil paints and canvas, while restoring a medieval woven tapestry requires specific knowledge in textiles and historical methods and materials.

Career Opportunities

A qualified and certified restorer can easily make a career in fine art restoration.

Numerous sites and institutions often require the services of such a professional. Museums, libraries, galleries, antique stores, historical societies, and other businesses that deal with fine and decorative art and historical artifacts all invariably require these services. You might secure a job directly with one of these institutions, or you might decide to freelance, hiring out to whoever needs your services.

If you decide the latter is more your cup of tea, achieving excellence in your work through education and experience should ensure that your services are in demand. You might even find work restoring art owned by private collectors, or working on site-specific projects such as restoring a historical mural.

Salary Ranges

Of course, you can charge whatever seems fair and reasonable to you if you freelance, and if you're good enough, your clients should be more than willing to pay your going rate. If you'd rather lock in with an employer, you might want to consider relocating to the District of Columbia if you don't live in that area already. Fine art restorers are paid more than $61,700 there as of 2017. Elsewhere in the country, you can expect to earn in the neighborhood of $40,000.

Metropolitan areas such as New York or Philadelphia pay a bit more. 

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