Cooper Hewitt’s permanent collection includes more than 215,000 objects, which span thirty centuries and a wide variety of materials. The Conservation Department cares for and studies these pieces to ensure their preservation for today and into the future. Conservators provide expertise in the conservation of works on paper, textiles, and three-dimensional objects made of media ranging from brittle glass to pliable plastic. Sarah Barack, Head of Conservation and Senior Objects Conservator, offers a further introduction to the department.

Explore below the department’s work related to the museum’s collection and exhibitions and follow Cooper Hewitt’s Conservation Department on Instagram @cooperhewittconservation.

Photograph of a tabletop in a lab. It pictures a box of small viles containing pigrments. Various cups, jars, and brushes are placed around the workspace.
Protecting the Iridescent
Have you ever noticed shimmering rainbows floating along puddles in the road? This bright iridescence is created by oil floating on the water, and is caused by the way light interacts with itself as it travels through the oil film to the water below. We often refer to this phenomenon as interference colors (good explanation...
Life in the Lab: Conservation at Cooper Hewitt
Cooper Hewitt’s permanent collection includes more than 210,000 objects, which together span thirty centuries and reflect cultures from around the world. The Conservation Department’s main responsibility is the care and technical study of these pieces, to ensure their preservation for today and into the future.
Button, April Showers, 1943
April Showers
April showers bring May flowers, but these buttons tell a more interesting story. In the 1940s plastics were quickly being incorporated into all aspects of everyday life. Lightweight, inexpensive, and available in a wide range of colors, plastic was popular with designers and manufacturers of countless goods—including women’s accessories. Nylon was invented in 1938 allowing...
Roughly cylindrical form of thin paper layers fanned out to form chair; the front and top cut and shaped to form contoured seat, low arms, and back, the seat further compressed and contoured by designer sitting in chair.
A Precious Posterior, Preserved for Posterity
The Honey Pop Chair is made entirely of paper. 120 layers of honeycombed, glassine paper. Designed by Tokujin Yoshioka, who is known to use materials in unexpected ways, the chair starts out as a completely flat honeycomb and then unfolds into a semi-chair shape. The first person who sits in it has an important role to...
Body Odor and Sticky Feet
What do sticky feet, body odor, and cracked, sweaty and saggy skins have to do with our museum collection? A survey of plastic materials in Cooper-Hewitt collections, supported by the Smithsonian’s Collections Care and Preservation Fund, was recently conducted by a team of conservators. We saw and smelled many of these plastic deterioration issues—up close...
Textile fragment depicting fantastic birds flying up and down into large blossoms.
The Scent of Vinegar
While the primary goal of a conservator continues to be the documentation and preservation or retardation of deterioration, conservation practices and materials have evolved over the years. For example, cellulose acetate was used to store museum collections in the 1940s and 1950s. At the time, it was a great solution and protected fragile objects in...
Planetary: collecting and preserving code as a living object
  “This is a field in which one does one’s work and it will be obsolete within 10 years.” – Steve Jobs, 1994 Cooper-Hewitt has just acquired its first piece of code. Although the collection has objects that are the end result of algorithmic processes, notably Patrick Jouin’s 3D printed chair, Solid C2, this is...
Oblique view of a pair of HTM Flyknit running shoes on white background
Preserving the Perfect Fit
Anyone who has scuffed their brand new sneakers can attest to the difficulty of keeping shoes in good condition. One of the best ways that Cooper Hewitt’s conservation department can ensure the preservation of the collection is through proper storage. Take for instance the recently acquired pair of Nike FlyKnit Racer shoes.  While the sneakers are new,...
Brisé fan with ivory sticks carved à jour, decorated on obverse and reverse with birds, animals and foliage (phoenixes, dragons, and the emblems of the Chinese empress and emperor against peonies) in red, green, blue and gilt enamel. With a tortoiseshell thumbguard and a glass stone at the rivet, threaded with leather ribbon.
Deconstructing a Dutch Treat
This rare, early 18th-century Chinese fan for the Dutch market is a wonderful example of the many interconnections through time that can be extracted from an object around its design, technical details, and state of preservation. The fan itself is emblematic of the history of fan design, which originated in the Orient and arrived in...