Magnets in conservation, ferrous attractions, the science behind the magic



Gwen Spicer, textile conservator, Spicer Art Conservation LLC


How to fasten or secure an artifact has long been a focus of art conservators in all specialties. We have stitched, glued and adhered items for decades, attempting to keep the conservation as reversible as possible. The somewhat recent development of strong, permanent, rare earth magnets has enabled them to be used as a reversible fastener.
Neodymium rare earth magnets are far stronger than earlier permanent magnets and have great potential as a new tool for conservators. Could there really be a truly reversible tool that would not harm or create holes that we could use ?
Before these new magnets can be part of our future, a fuller understanding of how they work is needed. Moreover, a system needs to be developed to determine precisely which attributes a magnet should have for a specific project.

Discussion will include : what makes a magnet “permanent”, when were they developed, and how magnets differ from one another (i.e. the various types and their unique materials and properties).
The use of magnets in the past has caused damage, slowing their use among some. However, with a full understanding of how a magnetic system is created and can be adapted, damage can be prevented.
This ‘hands-on” experience can inspire conservators to adapt a magnetic system to mount any specific artifact. The material will be presented in a hands-on instructional format. Handouts will be provided.
Time will also be included for discussion and problem solving with full group. Also sharing of past experiences.


To demonstrate a magnetic system and its parts, participants will use a “jig” with various combinations of magnets and metal components. They will also explore the different methods of implementing a magnetic system and the strength of commonly available magnets. Time will be allowed for participants to test a range of magnetic systems and materials with small discussions after before the next one.

Target audience



Day 1 : 9h-17h30 / Day 2 : 8h30-17h

Learning outcomes :

  • What are permanent magnets and the four types of magnetic systems
  • Learn the parts of a magnetic system and how they inter-react
  • How to adapt the parts of a system to best suit your artifact
  • How to record the parts of the system
  • Where to place the magnets and the ferromagnetic part
  • How to properly store your magnets

Program :
Introduction – Overview of the workshop, objectives and schedule

  • Quick review of permanent magnets
  • Parts of a magnetic system will be described :
    • Strength of the magnet
    • Ferromagnetic material
    • Gap distance
  • Jig and how it works – time to sort out the various parts and tests
  • Description of the tests, ensuring the each group has the appropriate test parts
  • Tests :
    • Point fasteners :
    Magnet-to-Ferromagnetic material and variations and reverse
    Magnet-to-Iron powder and reverse
    Magnet-to-Ferromagnetic material-to-Ferromagnetic material and other variations
    • Large area fasteners :
    Alternative to Velcro
    Flexible magnet
    Magnet embedded into mat board
  • Testing with various gap materials, using the same magnetic system. Discussion of the Triboelectic series and other surface phenomenon will be included in this section.
  • Discussions of findings and conclusions


CHF 700.- / Registration deadline : 1st July 2023

Meals and travel expenses are not included


Romain Jeanneret
Coordinateur formation continue
+41 (0)32 930 19 19
Shirley Frick
Secrétariat formation continue
+41 (0)32 930 19 19

Réseaux sociaux