Making sure that artworks live on for generations to come is among our top priorities here at The Center. In many cases, achieving that means various departments have to play a part in ensuring that treatments go smoothly, and pieces are properly cared for throughout the conservation process. This is certainly true of a Japanese temple figure that recently came to the lab for treatment.
When the temple arrived at The Center, it had many broken and missing components, and was affected by neglect, age, dust, and grime. The lacquer finish was lifting throughout the piece and there were areas of loss to the lacquer. The brass decoration was also tarnished.
After our registrarial team photographed the temple for documentation purposes, the piece was treated by our conservator, Andrew Rigsby. He worked diligently to surface clean the piece and repair the broken components using conservation materials and techniques, with particular attention to the roof of the temple. The roof is comprised of Urushi, a sap exuded from the Urushi lacquer tree. Urushi was first used as an adhesive for rudimentary tools, and was later developed as a finish for decorative objects because of it’s smooth but resistant coating. The resin can be used in a variety of ways, including as a primer. After the initial cleaning, he used Beva to stabilize the extremely thin Urushi layer. Beva is typically used in paintings conservation and was chosen because it wasn’t reactive with the gesso layer under the Urushi lacquer.
The lacquer on the roof of the temple had completely separated from the wood substrate, which itself was separated from the struts of the roof. Andrew was then challenged to marry these there components, either by pushing them together or filling in areas of loss. He added new struts to push the substrate to meet the lacquer, and filled areas with paper pulp, using B72, another resin, to seal his work in certain spots. The roof was finished with a wax coating.
The rest of the lacquer was cleaned using water very delicately on the base and columns, which were then consolidated with B72, while the gilding was consolidated using jade PVA, which is essentially an acid - free glue. The remaining losses on the piece were colored and filled to match, using conservation grade watercolors.
Even when conservation treatments are complete, The Center’s process for safeguarding pieces is still not finished. Safe handling and transportation are also important components in making sure that works of art live on for generations. Our team of art handlers takes great pride in making sure that pieces that come to The Center for treatment are carefully handled and stored through every step of the process. So, when it is time for works to be returned to their owners, the team makes sure each item is strategically packed to ensure their long-term safety.
Given the shape and size of the temple, and its previous condition, our team knew that a lot of time and consideration would need to go into creating custom packaging to house the piece during storage and transit. Check out the time lapse below to watch our Lead Preparator, David, pack the temple!
We are also excited to continue working with our client on the project, as our Custom Framing & Fabrication Department creates a vitrine in which to display piece!