The general conservation project for the ethnographic collections was inspired by a study of the collections and a series of investigations on the state of the objects. To this end, it proved essential to construct temporary deposits within the museum, furnished with drawers, racks and shelves, according to precise conservation and safety criteria.
The compresence of different materials in the same artefact, as well as the different original contexts of the works, have necessitated an interdisciplinary approach to conservation on the part of the group of restorers, in close collaboration with the Directorate, the Ethnological Department, the Diagnostic Laboratory for Conservation and Restoration, the Conservator’s Office and other restoration laboratories in the Vatican Museums.
Through continual contact with historians, anthropologists, scientists and restorers a shared methodology was developed, essential both for routine maintenance procedures and extraordinary conservation activity; a delicate work in search of equilibrium, that involves carrying out critical procedures on objects produced using a great variety of materials of extra-European provenance: from the Qing dynasty diadem with gold and feather intarsia, to the ceremonial pirogue from the Solomon Islands, made of wood, resin and vegetable fibres, as well as important and rich collections of oriental lacquer.
Aware that the recovery of each of these items is of great value and meaning, both for the ethnic group from which they originate and for the international community as a whole, the restorers have adopted a new concept of ethnographic heritage, more attentive to the intangible values underlying the tangible reality of each work.
Along with the study of the original cultural context of these items, the Laboratory pays particular attention to an especially critical aspect with regard to their conservation: the interaction between the different materials that constitute each item. Indeed, the properties and behaviour of the materials in the complex interactions and processes of degenerative transformation that take place in a work necessitate continual monitoring of physical, organic and inorganic changes in the constitutive materials, revealing the special multi-material nature of the majority of works of ethnological interest.