Yasha: A Traditional Japanese Paper Dyeing Technique

The Chester Beatty Library Conservation Department and the Restorient studio in Leiden have been working together closely for years. Andrew Thompson and Sydney Thomson at Restorient have conserved some of the collection’s most important Japanese scrolls and have been extremely generous in sharing some of their expertise with us. Thanks to them we discovered and have adopted the use of yasha, a traditional Japanese dye.

Yasha is the natural yellow-brown dye extracted from cones of the alder tree (Alnus japonica) and it has been used in Japan since the 8th century. In Japanese mounting studios, yasha is still used to dye the lining papers of hanging scrolls and hand scrolls. The light brown colour obtained from the dye helps to soften the white tone of the paper and silk used for linings and repairs.

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Preparation of  the yasha dye from Alnus japonica cones

Through centuries of practical application, the traditional use of yasha has proven its stability and durability which makes it highly suitable for conservation. Scientific studies confirm that papers dyed with yasha remain pH neutral or slightly alkaline, and retain their brightness and colour on ageing. Most plant dyes are light sensitive but yasha is lightfast, a quality which ensures its continued use.

Like many features of the traditional Japanese conservation studio, yasha is now readily available to Western conservators. With a growing interest in adapting conservation techniques imported from East Asia and Japan, the use of alder cones has become a known technique for dyeing paper when working on Japanese or Chinese Art objects.

The preparation of the dye and its application is straightforward.

Preparation

  1. Cover the bottom of a pot with alder cones and submerge them in water.
  2. Simmer for about 2 hours until the colour intensifies in tone.
  3. Once boiled, leave the dye to cool.
  4. Strain through a silkscreen or muslin cloth to remove impurities. The dye is now ready to use.

Application

  1. Cut a number of Japanese paper sheets of the same size.
  2. Pour the prepared dye into a shallow dish and apply directly to the rougher side of the paper with a large brush on a flat, non-porous surface.
  3. The brush strokes should be light and must follow the grain direction of the paper to avoid stretching the fibres. Each sheet is dyed individually; the dye is brushed on evenly and the surface of the sheet completely covered.
  4. The next sheet is laid on top of the last, staggered by 5mm. Repeat the process to ensure the dye is evenly applied to each piece of paper.
  5. When all the sheets are dyed, lay the stack on felt for 30 minutes to allow the water to begin to evaporate.
  6. After this short drying period the sheets are stronger and can be separated and left to dry fully on felt.

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    Application of the dyestuff to handmade Japanese paper.

Fixing

  1. Rinse the dried sheets in cold water for no more than a few seconds as the dye is still fugitive and can be removed in water.
  2. Prepare a bath of water and Potassium Hydroxide (Potash). When the water reaches pH 7.1 rinse each sheet separately in the prepared bath to fix the dye onto the paper.
  3. Dry the sheets on felt before a final rinse in plain water to remove any excess lye (Potash).
  4. When dry, the sheets are ready to use.

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    Fixing the dye, and the finished yasha-toned repair paper.

The process of layering the paper in a stack while applying the dye to each sheet of paper, creates a progressive darkening of tones throughout the stack from a light cream to a yellow-brown tone. The first sheet of paper to be dyed will be darkest in colour as the dye penetrates through the stack when subsequent sheets are dyed. The last sheet to be dyed when it is placed on top of the stack will be the lightest in colour, receiving only a single application of the dye.

As the dye is applied, it penetrates into the paper colouring the fibres internally. This is a major advantage when using this paper for repair as the water cut edge is the same colour as the toned surface. Unlike watercolour or acrylic paint solutions, where the application can leave visible brush strokes and tends not to fully penetrate the paper, yasha tones each sheet evenly, regardless of the size of the piece of paper.

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A water-cut edge of yasha toned Japanese paper; and an Indian miniature (CBL In 11A.61) repaired using the prepared paper.

The gradation of colour obtained through the layering application technique is also extremely helpful to the conservator as it quickly produces a large quantity of paper dyed with various shades of a similar tone. The repair paper can then be used selectively to match the colour of a single sheet or for the repair of a full volume. The tones obtained from yasha are even and saturated, yet the paper remains soft and flexible and does not stiffen on drying. After fixing the dye no colour shift has been observed when repairs were applied.

The selection of different varieties of alder cones (both Japanese and European) and the preparation method described will achieve further useful colour variations and help the conservator to produce a large array of toned repair papers that can be kept on hand for use as necessary.

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The wide variety of tones that can be achieved using yasha.

The adoption of the Japanese dye yasha to tone repair papers at the Chester Beatty Library has been a success and we cannot recommend it warmly enough to colleagues. It is a wonderful method for dyeing paper and this readily available material certainly deserves to find its way into every conservation studio.

Julia Poirier, Book and Paper conservator

The Library is very grateful to Andrew and Sydney at Restorient for first introducing us to this versatile dyestuff when Julia undertook a short placement with them in 2013.

This work was first presented as a poster, ‘Yasha – Adapting a Traditional Japanese Paper Dyeing Technique to the Conservation of Parchment and Islamic Paper’ at the IADA conference ‘From Generation to Generation – Sharing Knowledge, Connecting People’ in Oslo, Norway 3-5 May 2017.

Focus on papyrus

Ranging in date from 1800 BC to AD 800, the Chester Beatty Library’s collection of papyrus includes rolls, codices and individual documents from Ancient, Roman, and Coptic Egypt. It includes many works of outstanding importance, with unique documents and, in some cases, the earliest known copies of particular texts. At the end of last week Dr Jill Unkel (Curator of Western Collections) and I attended the third Papyrus Curatorial and Conservation meeting which was hosted by Cambridge University Library (29-30 June). It provides a unique forum for conservators, curators and researchers to meet and discuss the challenges they face around access and preservation of their papyrus collections. I won’t go into detail about each lecture, but the full programme is available here.

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Looking at papyrus in the Conservation & Preservation Department at Cambridge University Library.

The first day started with a fascinating series of talks from colleagues Catherine Ansorge, Anna Johnson, Yasmin Faghihi and Amélie Deblauwe introducing the participants to the papyrus collection at Cambridge University Library. Catherine outlined the formation of the collection, Anna discussed building a papyrus conservation programme from scratch; Yasmin reported on the cataloguing of the Michaelides collection of Arabic papyri and Amélie the way in which digitisation is carried out at the Library.

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Dr Ben Outhwaite introducing the exhibition Discarded History.

We then had a chance to see selected highlights from the collection in a special display after coffee. This was followed by a visit to the Library’s conservation studio where Anna demonstrated the challenges she’s faces conserving the papyrus collections as well as the successes. Dr Ben Outhwaite (Head of the Genizah Research Unit) then gave us a guided tour of the Discarded History exhibition. Ben presented the Chester Beatty annual lecture on the Genizah collection in 2015 and it was fascinating to have an opportunity to see some of the wonderful artefacts he has uncovered on display. Full details on the exhibition are available here, it is well worth a visit.

The afternoon focused on lessons learnt digitising and housing papyrus collections with papers from the British Library, London and Ägyptisches Museum und Papyrussammlung, Berlin. These were particularly useful, as the CBL is about to start in-house digitisation and the papyrus will be a key priority. The Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, London presented a case study with some imaginative initiatives and very successful outcomes on promoting understanding, access and care of its papyrus collection.

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A rare opportunity to look at the Fitzwilliam Museum’s Book of the Dead of Ramose.

The day finished with a walk to the Fitzwilliam Museum where Head of Conservation, Julie Dawson, presented a two-year research project on the conservation and mounting of The Book of the Dead of Ramose. This fine example of painted and gilded papyrus from the Dynasty 19 (1290-1275BC) was excavated in a thousand pieces in 1922. The group was lucky enough to have a private viewing of the conserved sheets, which due to the sensitive nature of the pigment hasn’t been on display for ten years. It really was the perfect way to end the first day.

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CBL Pma 5, an unconserved section of the Manichean papyri.

The group was initiated by Ilona Regulski, Curator of Egyptian Written Culture at the British Museum in 2015 and one of the agreed aims of the meetings has been to draw up a ‘papyrus handbook’, focusing on cataloguing papyri. The second day started with a very useful group discussion chaired by Ilona on shared terminology, best practice and as it transpired the variances used in different collections, which was fascinating.

The strength of this meeting is having an opportunity to share current projects and challenges with experts; with this in mind, Jill and I presented a paper entitled The Trouble with Mani. The Library’s remarkable Manichean papyrus codices have a complicated history. Written in Coptic and dated to the fourth century, they include unique sacred texts of a lost religion. They survived the almost total destruction of Manicheanism as well as World War II and the chaos of its aftermath. The poorly preserved papyrus was discovered in 1930 and painstakingly conserved by Dr Hugo Ibscher and his son Rolf. However it remains a complex puzzle for both researchers and conservators due to the challenges of folios in sellotape-sealed Perspex frames and the significant sections that remain unconserved. It will be the topic of a dedicated post in the future.

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Dr Jill Unkel presenting The Trouble with Mani.

Helen Sharp (British Museum) then presented a paper on the recently acquired de Vaucelles papyrus; following removal from old linings and housing she was able to piece the scroll back together in the correct order which was extraordinary. Excellent presentations followed from conservators and curators at the Palau Ribes Collection, Barcelona; Stanford University Libraries, California and John Rylands Library, Manchester. Marieka Kaye (University of Michigan Library) has been exploring new glass technology developed for phone and touch screens and presented her research on how this strong flexible material might be adapted for glazing papyri. Myriam Krutzsch (Ägyptisches Museum und Papyrussammlung, Berlin) concluded the meeting by presenting a list of common damage caused by well-intentioned but poorly judged repairs to papyrus and their effects on the preservation of the texts.

I would like to thank the Cambridge University Library for organising such a fascinating two-day papyrus meeting, chaired by Yasmin Faghihi. It was a great opportunity to meet curators and conservators to discuss the common problems we all face in caring for this incredible material and I’m already looking forward to attending next year’s meeting.

Jessica Baldwin, Head of Collections and Conservation

 

Conservation Internship 2017 – Call for applications

The Heritage Council and the Chester Beatty Library are pleased to announce a twelve-month internship in book and/or paper conservation. The scheme is co-funded by the Heritage Council and the generous support of the Library’s Patrons. The internship offers the opportunity to gain professional workplace experience within a prestigious institution.

Posting this announcement gives us pause to reflect on the achievements of all of the fantastic interns we have had the pleasure to work with over the years. We were delighted to hear that our intern from 2013-14, Josefin Bergmark-Jiménez,  was in the news last week thanks to her exciting discovery of a beautiful watercolour amongst artefacts from two huts on Cape Adare. Josefin found the delicate ornithological study of a treecreeper during her work as a conservator for The Antarctic Heritage Trust.

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Chester Beatty Conservation interns, Dorothea Müller (2016-17), Rachel Sawicki (2009-11), and Josefin Bergmark-Jiménez (2013-14)

We are always happy to see past CBL conservation interns go on to achieve success in their careers, and we look forward to welcoming a new conservation intern for 2017-18 in the autumn.

If you are a recent graduate (2015-17) of a recognised book and/or paper conservation training programme and interested in joining the CBL conservation team then further information and details on how to apply are available to download via the website:

http://www.cbl.ie/About-Us/Vacancies.aspx

The deadline for applications is Friday 21 July and interviews will be held on Wednesday 6 September 2017.

Two for the price of one!

500 years ago, on 31 October 1517, Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-five theses to the doors of churches in Wittenberg, Germany. This act initiated the Protestant Reformation, the schism with the Catholic Church which profoundly changed Europe.

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Martin Luther by Lucas Cranach, from Wikimedia Commons.

To mark the anniversary of Reformation Day, the curator of the Western Collections and the Reference Librarian selected a number of printed books and prints on the subject of the Reformation for display in our Sacred Gallery.

One of the prints chosen from the collection (Wep 2182) is an etching entitled Tyranny against the ‘Reformed’ (Tirannien tegen de Gereformeerden in Vrankryk), a broadsheet printed on a single piece of paper. It depicts the oppression of the Huguenots in France between 1685 and 1699, with a central scene of King William and Queen Mary welcoming the refugees into the Netherlands in 1686.

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CBL Wep 2182, Tyranny against the ‘Reformed’ (Tirannien tegen de Gereformeerden in Vrankryk).

The print is attributed to the Leiden base printmaker, Romeyn de Hooghe (1645-1708), and was produced in the last decade of the 17th Century.

The Chester Beatty copy of this print is missing the accompanying text which should run under the image. The text can be seen in this copy of the print held by the Getty Research Institute.

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Tyranny against the ‘Reformed’ (Tirannien tegen de Gereformeerden in Vrankryk), by Romeyn de Hooghe. Courtesy Getty Trust Open Content Program.

However, if one zooms into the left hand corner of the Getty’s print, just above the decorated letter D, one can see the overlap of two pieces of paper and the difference in size of the two sheets. It seems that the text and image were printed as two separate parts, on separate pieces of paper, which were then joined together. The absence of any evidence of a join on the CBL impression may suggest that it was never actually attached to its text counterpart.

What our print was attached to is an altogether different story! When looking at the engraving closely, it was clear that the print had been lined with a slightly larger piece of handmade paper of a similar colour. A number of black lines could be seen from the verso, which did not match the print on the recto. With transmitted light, the secret of the print was revealed. It showed very clearly that the print was lined with a map of Brazil. Using a lightbox we could see the typical nautical frame around the map, as well as a lovely compass rose indicating north. The outline of the borders of Brazil were clearly defined but it was difficult to make out any of the information relating to the printer.

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The Chester Beatty print(s) seen in transmitted light.

Unsurprisingly, the curator was keen to separate the two prints, and so were we. As there were no writing inks or fugitive pigments on either of the prints, separating them using water seemed possible. The adhesive used to attach the prints which we believe to be starch-based was first tested and reacted very well to moisture. Both prints were printed on lovely high-quality 17thcentury European paper, which was determined to be strong enough to tolerate washing with water.

The print was lightly humidified using a fine spray before it was float washed in a bath of luke warm water. The adhesive started to swell rapidly and it was quickly possible to separate the two layers of paper using a spatula. The excess adhesive remaining on the paper surface of both prints was brushed off in the water with a soft flat brush.

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The two prints during treatment, and once separated in the water bath.

So we find ourselves with two prints; one a Dutch etching about the Reformation and the second a beautiful map of Brazil, printed in Amsterdam by the prolific Dutch cartographer and publisher Johannes Janssonius (1588-1664). The faint residue of a paper guard at the centre of the verso of the map of Brazil tells us that this print was once folded and inserted in a bound volume, possibly an atlas of maps. Janssonius’ maps are similar in style and date to those of the famous Dutch cartographer Willem Blaeu (1571-1638).

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The Chester Beatty map of Brazil, and Janssonius.

The skills and craftsmanship used to produce this print are truly of high quality and the reason it was considered waste and used to line another print will remain unanswered for now!

Installation

Julia Poirier, Book and Paper Conservator

Come and see the display of printed books and mounted prints commemorating the anniversary of Reformation Day in our Sacred Traditions gallery from the 1st of June.

Conservation through generations

 

Oslo Harbour

Oslo Harbour.

Between the 3rd and 5th of May the International Association of Book and Paper Conservators (IADA) hosted their 2017 symposium, ‘From Generation to Generation – Sharing Knowledge, Connecting People,’ at the Oslo Konserthus in Norway, a wonderful modern building in the heart of this capital city.

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Elizabeth Randell speaking about her experience as an intern at the Chester Beatty and The Oslo Konserthus.

The conference was aimed at exploring the way knowledge and skills are passed on and shared with younger generations of conservators, looking at various teaching programmes worldwide, social media and academic writing amongst other subjects. The conference also focused on practical work, challenges linked to treatments, and our ability as conservators to reflect as we adapt past techniques and create new practices.

I was delighted to be given the opportunity to present a research poster on the use and adaptation of yasha at the Chester Beatty Library. Yasha is a natural dye obtained from the cones of the alder tree, which was first introduced to me by the two wonderful conservators, Andrew Thompson and Sydney Thomson, at the Restorient Studio, in Leiden in The Netherlands.

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Repairs for CBL Heb 751 toned with Yasha (left); harvested yasha cones (right).

In Japanese mounting studios yasha is used to dye the lining papers of both hanging and hand scrolls. The light brown colour obtained from yasha helps to soften the bright white tone of the lining paper and silk so that it is more sympathetic to the delicate tones of historic objects.

Through centuries of practical application, the traditional use of yasha has proven stability and durability which makes it suitable for conservation. Papers dyed with yasha remain pH neutral or slightly alkaline and retain their brightness and colour on ageing.Most plant dyes are light sensitive but yasha is lightfast.2 It continues to be used today for these qualities.
Like many features of the traditional Japanese conservation studio, yasha is now readily available to Western conservators. With a growing interest in adapting conservation techniques imported from East Asia and Japan, the use of alder cones has become a known technique for dyeing paper when working on Japanese or Chinese Art objects. However, its use has rarely been developed outside of this small circle.

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Julia introducing her poster to attendees.

At the conference, the poster session took place on Thursday for over an hour after lunch, when attendees had the opportunity to ask questions about the research presented. I was delighted with the interest the research sparked and feedback I got from different conservators. Some had used the dye previously but were excited to hear about different application techniques, others were keen to be introduced to it and the ways to adapt its use to best suit our practice.

The conference finished with Friday visits organised at various institutions throughout the city, looking at the wonderful conservation work going on in Oslo!

Overall the two day conference was immensely varied and interesting to conservators of all generations who hopefully have learned from each other. The beautiful tributes to the important role of mentoring, teaching and sharing that Christopher Clarkson and Fred Bearman have played in the short history of conservation felt very appropriate with the overall topic of the conference. They will be sadly missed as pioneers and mentors to many.

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Aurlandsfjorden.

After the conference I took the opportunity to travel to Bergen. Norway is a stunning country and I was delighted to see some of the beautiful scenery, including these most amazing fjords along the way!

 

 

Julia Poirier,  Book and Paper Conservator

 

1 – Yeh, Brigitte. Munn, Jesse (2003) ‘An Evaluation of Xuan Paper Permanence and Discussion of Historical Chinese Paper Materials’ from ‘Scientific Research on the Pictorial Arts of Asia’. Edited by Paul Jett et al. Proceedings of the Second Forbes Symposium at the Freer Gallery, Washington DC, USA.

2 – Grantham, Sandra; Webber, Pauline, (2002) ‘Mellow yellow: toning papers with traditional Far Eastern colourants’, The Paper Conservator, Vol.26, pp. 49-57.

Reflections on links between Conservation in Dublin and Tokyo

While preparing for the current exhibition on display in our temporary gallery, The Art of Friendship: Japanese Surimono Prints (3 March– 27 August 2017), and the supporting gallery rotation in our permanent galleries, I was drawn back to my experience as a participant at the ICCROM Japanese Paper Conservation programme in 2015.

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CBL J 1154 on display in the Arts of the Book gallery

One of the painted handscrolls, Poetry Contest of the Zodiac Animals (Junirui uta awase emaki) CBL J 1154, was selected for display and installed in the permanent galleries to support the current print exhibition which focuses on Japan’s poetry circles. Between 1994 and 1995, the mid-17th century scroll was conserved at the Handa Kyūseidō Studio, Tokyo National Museum, courtesy of the Hirayama Art Research Foundation. Although having been conserved nearly 20 years ago, the scroll is still in perfect condition.

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CBL J 1154 before (left) and after conservation (centre & right) by the Handa Kyūseidō Studio.

As I was installing this beautiful scroll, I remembered with great delight my extra curricula visit to the Handa Kyūseidō conservation studio in September 2015. Set in a peaceful neighbourhood of Tokyo, I was given a comprehensive tour of the traditional conservation studio by Ikuko Handa, the head of conservation at the studio, and Makoto Kawabata, senior calligraphy and archive conservator at the studio and my course tutor.

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Makoto Kawabata, senior calligraphy and archive conservator and IICROM course tutor, demonstrating use of the karibari.

The visit was organised thanks to Keiko Furumoto. Keiko was the first Heritage Council conservation intern at the National Library of Ireland in 2007 and she has been working at the Handa Kyūseidō studio since returning to Japan. Since completing her internship, she has regularly returned to Ireland and made one of these visits in early April 2015 – around the same time I found out I had been accepted for the JPC course- so we kept in touch regarding a possible visit to her workplace in Tokyo.

The Handa Kyūseidō studio is set-up across 3 separate floors. The ground floor is a reception and digitisation area, the first floor is dedicated to the conservation of painted hanging scrolls, hand-scrolls and folding screens and the second floor to archive (historical documents), calligraphy and book conservation. Although it is located in a modern building, the studio is everything one would expect from a traditional Japanese conservation studio: low work tables, tatami mats, paste bowls and sieves, drawers full of Japanese repair papers and of course, karibari boards of all sizes lining the walls!

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Julia preparing a handscroll at the ICCROM JPC course (left), and a traditional paste bowl and brushes (right).

It was a wonderful opportunity for the Chester Beatty to reconnect with the prestigious studio, as during the 1990’s the Handa Kyūseidō Studio was also responsible for the restoration of one of the great treasures of the Library, a pair of Japanese picture scrolls entitled Illustrated Scroll of the Song of Everlasting Sorrow (Chōgonka gakan) CBL J 1158 and the beautiful hanging scroll on silk Portrait of the Bodhisattva Jizō (Jizō zō) CBL J 1214.

The funding for this conservation treatment was provided by the Joint Council for the Conservation and Restoration of Ancient Japanese Art Works in Foreign Collections, a council made up of The Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music, the Tokyo National Research Institute of Cultural Properties and the Art Research Foundation and supported by the Tokyo National Museum.

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Participants of the ICCROM JPC 2015 course in Kyoto.

I am very grateful to Head of Conservation, Ikuko Handa for her kindness and generosity in facilitating my visit, and my tutor Makoto Kawabata for showing me his work outside of the ICCROM JPC course setting. I am also grateful to Keiko Furumoto for acting as a wonderful tour guide and translator during my visit.

Julia Poirier,  Book and Paper Conservator

The Art of Friendship: Japanese Surimono Prints

The Chester Beatty Library’s collection of surimono and picture calendars extends to some 375 single sheet prints. Alongside these are the kyōka books and a further 116 surimono with illustrations in the Shijō style popular in Osaka and Kyoto, many of which are preserved in albums. The greater part of this collection was formed between 1954 and 1963.

Acquired by Sir Alfred Chester Beatty for his newly built Library in Dublin, the collection took shape under the specialist guidance of Jack Hillier and Beatty’s own developing interests in Japan’s printed arts. As works created through the collaboration of artists and poets in celebration of new beginnings, it is fitting that these prints were collected in that same spirit.

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J 2183 before (above) and after conservation (below)

2017 marks the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Japan and Ireland: an event precipitated in March 1957 by an exchange of letters between the Japanese and Irish ambassadors in London. The Chester Beatty Library is marking this anniversary with a special exhibition The Art of Friendship: Japanese Surimono Prints (March 3 – August 27 2017). Dr Mary Redfern, curator of East Asian collections, selected 95 single surimono prints for exhibition and a number of poetry anthologies and surimono albums all from the Library’s own collections and many by leading artists such as Hokusai and Gakutei. This new exhibition focuses on the surimono and the literati circles that created them.

The Library received a generous grant from the American Friends of the Arts in Ireland (AFAI) which enabled the Chester Beatty Library to conserve, mount and frame all the prints and related material currently on display.

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The overall condition of the surimono collection is very good. The prints were all carefully mounted when the Library received funding for a conservator to travel to Dublin from Tokyo to advise and oversee the project. The mount card used nearly 40 years ago was conservation quality but quite thin and lightweight, so offered little support during handling and would not have prevented the prints touching the glass when framed for exhibition. The window apertures had been cut without a bevel, and overlapped the edges of the prints, hiding precious details of the images from scholars and visitors. The decision was therefore made to remove them from their historic mounts, and transfer them to new standard size mounts made from heavier (1650 micron) acid-free, buffered Conservation Board.

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J 2171 Before (left) and after conservation (right)

The prints had been attached to the previous mounts with conservation standard handmade Japanese paper tabs, so these were gently lifted from the backboards and retained where possible. Each print was then gently surface cleaned using soft brushes.

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Removing J 2171 from its old mount, and gently surface cleaning.

The prints were then carefully measured and in order to fully reveal the detail of the surimono, the new bevelled-edge apertures were cut slightly larger than each object so that the entire print could be seen. In order to mount the prints in this way, additional Japanese paper tabs were attached to the bottom edge of each print with wheat starch paste. These additional tabs along the bottom edge allow the prints to ‘float’ in the aperture, whilst the tabs hold them safely in place under the bevelled window.

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Applying new tabs to the tail edge of J 2171

The surimono were then carefully positioned in their new mounts, and the uppermost Japanese paper tabs were secured to the backboard, again using wheat starch paste and dried under weights.

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Mounting J 2171

New mahogany-coloured frames were ordered and each print selected for exhibition was framed by the team. Bespoke archival boxes have been ordered to house the collection while in long-term storage.

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Mounting and framing the conserved surimono prints in the lab.

The seven bound volumes to be included in the exhibition were all in good condition. They were surface cleaned and minor tear repairs carried out where necessary. Bespoke acrylic cradles were made to exactly fit the opening of each volume. These were then installed in three display cases in the Library’s Temporary exhibition Gallery.

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Four bound volumes on display.

Finally, the framed prints were hung in the gallery ready for the opening on 3rd March.HangingThanks to the generous grant provided by the American Friends of the Arts in Ireland, the Chester Beatty Library has been able to ensure the long-term preservation of this rare and beautiful collection.

The Art of Friendship: Japanese Surimono Prints runs from March 3 until August 27, 2017. We hope you’ll have the chance to visit the exhibition over the holidays.

Delving into Russia – Conservation for Digitisation

The Library is currently working with scholars from the Saint-Petersburg State University in Russia, on the production of a facsimile of our seventeenth century manuscript of The Life of Alexander Nevskij (CBL W 151).

The manuscript contains the Russian version of the mythical exploits of Alexander the Great written in Russian Church Slavonic. It is illuminated with 73 drawings in pen outline and colours. Alexander appears clean-shaven and is often seen riding a unicorn. On the pages, he battles fearsome creatures like the medusa, centaurs, hybrid dog-headed men and other fantastic beasts in far off lands. Another part of the manuscript, containing a copy of the Tale of the Rout of Mamai, is housed at the British Library in London (Yates Thompson ms 51).

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CBL W 151, f.39v-40r after conservation

The text and miniatures will be published as a volume in the series, “Written artifacts of Russian History and Culture, stored in foreign libraries and archives.”

To facilitate this work the complete manuscript has recently been digitised, but before that could happen, the manuscript required conservation.

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The manuscript’s 20th century binding; f.12-13 before conservation showing the restricted opening characteristics.

The manuscript is bound in a modern brown calf binding, most likely added at the beginning of the 20th century. The binding was very tight and prevented the book from being opened fully, causing the folios to curve steeply, and leaving areas of each page obscured at the spine-edge.

In order to increase the opening of the manuscript, whilst still retaining its most recent binding, the book was gently eased open. This simple but careful treatment required the book to be opened slowly page-by-page from front to back. This was done three times to ease the binding sufficiently to facilitate digitisation of the inner most spine-edge margin.

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Dorothea gently working through the manuscript to ease it open.

In addition some edge repair of the folios was necessary to make the digitisation process easier and safer. The paper textblock is very soft and many pages had tears along the edges. The manuscript had been extensively repaired in the past, with Western and Japanese paper. In some places these older repairs had partly detached, especially where close to the spine-edge.

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f.117-118 before (left) and after conservation (right)

A decision was made to leave these old repairs in place and they were reattached where they were at risk of being lost entirely, especially along the spine fold. Edge repair was then carried out with acrylic-toned Japanese Kozo paper and wheat starch paste.

With the binding eased, and the textblock stabilised, the manuscript could be digitised. The book was put onto a cradle with an angle of approximately 110° and the camera lens was positioned parallel to the pages of the book.

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Positioning the manuscript in the digitisation cradle. The folios are carefully leveled to align with the camera.

To further reduce handling, the book was digitised in two stages; firstly the recto pages were photographed, and then the verso. The pages of the book were held in place with polythene tape as necessary. When first assessed it was thought to be unlikely that the manuscript could be successfully digitised without extensive and interventive treatment. It was rewarding to see that the simple easing of the binding permitted the digitisation of the inner most spine-edge margin. The edge repairs prevented any further tears to the paper and safe handling by the photographic services team enabled us to digitise and eventually share this remarkable text. Slide5.JPG

Dorothea MüllerHeritage Council Intern in Conservation

Wishing everyone a very happy St Patrick’s Day from all at the Chester Beatty Library.

We don’t mind Mondays!

As regular visitors to the Library will know, the museum is not open to the public on Mondays during the winter months (November – February). However you may be surprised to hear that Closed Mondays are often the busiest days of the year, especially for the conservation team.

There is a small but dedicated staff at the Library and we all work onsite so are used to the general background noise and buzz of our wonderful visitors (over 370,000 people last year). So on that first Monday in November the museum always seems eerily quiet, but not for long.

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Cleaning larger collection objects around the Library.

An essential part of disaster prevention is the Library’s very busy annual maintenance programme which ranges from clearing gutters and checking roof tiles to servicing the lifts and running fire drills. Phased improvements and repairs to the fabric and decoration of the building are planned to coincide with closed Mondays, so that they have minimum impact on our visitors.

For conservation it offers an opportunity to carry out essential maintenance in the galleries. Display cases are opened and the interior glass cleaned, artsorb used to maintain a stable relative humidity levels is changed and our environmental monitoring system is annually calibrated. The collection includes some beautiful Chinese vases and furniture which are on open display, so these are carefully cleaned using soft brushes and microfiber cloths.

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Changing the scroll displays in the Arts of the Book gallery.

We have two permanent galleries-Arts of the Book and Sacred Traditions– the key themes within these exhibitions remain the same however the collections on display change annually. The curatorial staff work with the conservation team to carry out phased rotations across the collections.

From March, the Library re-opens seven days a week and today we are open to the public. However our work doesn’t stop there as we will now start planning our next maintenance programme over a very welcome cup of coffee from the Silk Road Café.

Jessica Baldwin, Head of Collections and Conservation

 

In with the new: gallery rotations

In preparation for our current temporary exhibition Hong Ling: A retrospective, curator of the East Asian collection, Dr Mary Redfern, selected a number of objects from the Chinese collection to complement the exhibition. The items are displayed in the Arts of the Book gallery, and have been installed as part of the annual rotation of the galleries in order to coincide with the new exhibition opening.

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Installing jade books in the Arts of the Book gallery.

The conservation team is involved in all aspects of preparation for gallery rotations. We condition assess each individual item before undertaking conservation work as necessary. Stabilisation of fragile objects includes pigment examination and consolidation if necessary, paper repairs, and sometimes also work on the covers or binding structure of bound volumes which might otherwise be too fragile for display.

Once each artefact has been stabilised, we can then begin to plan for its display in the galleries. The mounting system for bound codices involves carefully measuring and drawing the open profile for each manuscript, before commissioning a tailor-made Perspex cradle that supports the unique opening of each book.

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Mounting a print with temporary Melinex V hinges; Installing a scroll in a bespoke Perspex mount in the gallery.

We mount prints individually in conservation standard window mounts. If the mount will be a temporary home for the print or folio, we often use Melinex V hinges to attach the print to the mount board. This method is very useful as it does not require any adhesive to be in contact with the object. Once the mounting system is secure, the mounts are installed in the display cases using Perspex pins at top and bottom to hold them in place. Scrolls are carefully unrolled and both ends fitted into C shape Perspex holders which are secured to a sloped support. Using internal blocks and panel measurements, together with Perspex fittings, we try to ensure our mounting systems disappear and do not distract from the beautiful objects.

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Installing a mounted print in the gallery.

When we are finally ready to install the objects, we work closely with the curator to decide their placement in each case as well as lighting. We keep light levels at a maximum of 50 lux to protect the delicate and light-sensitive pigments and inks. Once the objects are installed, we monitor the environmental conditions in the galleries each day to check they remain stable and that no fluctuations in temperature or relative humidity are recorded.

The objects removed from display to allow these new items to go on view are then condition checked in the conservation lab before being returned to storage for a well-deserved rest. Blocks, frames and mounting systems are safely put away, ready to be used again in the near future.

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Installing an ink study gifted to the Library by the artist, Hong Ling.

Hong Ling: A retrospective is open now and will run until January 29th 2017. We hope you’ll have the chance to visit the exhibition over the holidays. Make sure you also take a look at the Chinese section in Arts of the Book to see the treasures on display including Hong Ling’s beautiful ink study which the artist gifted to the Library to commemorate the opening of the exhibition.

 

Thank you for following the Chester Beatty Conservation blog during 2016. We’d like to wish you all a happy and peaceful festive season, and we look forward to sharing more of our work with you in the New Year!