Restoring Priceless Maori Artworks


L-R: Charles Hay-Campbell and Oriwa Haddon with the collaborative work ‘The Arrival of Turi’, 2 August 1933.

Techniques of Conservation and Restoration

Conservation activities include examination, documentation, treatment, and collections care, otherwise known as preventive conservation. As a technical discipline, conservation of cultural heritage is supported by conservation science research concerning materials, design, techniques and aesthetics, and conservators/restorers require specialised training in conservation and restoration techniques.

Since methods for cleaning, reassembly and restoration are subject to periodic re-evaluation because of technical innovations and changing values, it is important that work be reversible so as not to impede the efforts of future conservators.

Not only do Museum conservators preserve the collection, they help make works of art readable to visitors so that they see the art rather than any damage to it. As a result, most restoration are designed to be invisible to the naked eye, however in some instances, this may involve a balancing act, employing suggestive measures to make the work appear complete while not obscuring the visual difference between original work and restoration.

In 2010, conservation treatment was needed for one of our prized collection pieces; an artwork by local artist Oriwa Tahupotiki Haddon, as it would hang in the Temporary Gallery for our first-ever exhibition on the opening day of Aotea Utanganui Museum of South Taranaki. The general condition of the artwork was assessed by Carolina Izzo, a renowned art conservator, which is shown below.

01bt-006-11Condition Reporting

Accurate painted scene

Painting has signature on the bottom right area

Very dark surface coating

All four edges showing original paint layer

Bottom left edge white accretions visible

Right left edge present large area of paint loss

Edges flaking and powdering

Some holes with paint losses 













The conservator used several restoration techniques to breathe new life into the painting (as shown above). In the photograph on the right, there is a marked difference where the conservator removed surface coating, compared to the lower half of the face where fading has occurred.

24at-006-11The completed restoration of Haddon’s work is shown on the left. Not only was the painting retouched and cleaned, but a new frame and backing support was added to ensure security and stability for the artwork.

Professional vs. Amateur

Conservation treatment and restoration requires an expertise learned, so when such work is undertaken by an amateur, disastrous results may happen. Below is an example of such a case.  At the church of Santuario de Misericordia in Borja, Spain, an elderly woman attempted to repair a fresco by 19th century Spanish artist Elias Garcia Martinez. Needless to say the work leaves much to be desired.  In comparison to the conservation carried out by Carolina Izzo where the utmost care was taken to not undo the original painting; unfortunately the same cannot be said about Cecilia Giménez’s efforts. Some jobs require expert knowledge and unless you have the necessary skills, please remember, “Do not try this at home, folks!”


The original Ecce Homo, 1930, by Elías García Martínez on the left, and Cecilia Giménez’s infamous restoration on the right. For more information on this story click here and here.

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