The Chester Beatty’s mid-seventeenth century version of The Tale of Oeyama (大江山物語), has recently undergone an extensive programme of conservation, which started when I delivered the handscrolls to the Restorient Studio in April 2012. Last month, I was delighted to have the opportunity to travel to Leiden to meet with conservators Andrew Thompson and Sydney Thomson and celebrate the end of this exciting three year project.
I am very pleased to announce that the three Oeyama scrolls are now the focus of Damsels for Dinner, an exhibition currently on display in the Library’s Art of the Book Gallery until 31 January 2016.
The Restorient Studio is based in the grounds of the Rijksmuseum Volkenkunde in the centre of Leiden. The museum is fantastic and I never miss an opportunity to visit when I’m there. It was founded in 1837 making it one of the oldest ethnological museums in the world; however the use of interactive multi-media, large scale projections and cutting edge design make each world culture represented come to life. During this trip, I was lucky enough to see the spectacular Geisha exhibition, just before it closed, which gave a fascinating insight into this tradition, which is often surrounded by mysticism and misunderstanding. The highlight for me was a breathtaking display of over 20 kimonos, which slowly rotated.
Andrew Thompson and Sydney Thomson founded Restorient in 2005, they specialise in the conservation of Asian art and their workshop is modelled on traditional Japanese restoration studios with much of the work carried out at low level benches on a Japanese tatami mat floor. The studio is equipped with a wide range of materials and tools sourced throughout Asia. Especially important are the large Japanese drying boards (karibari), which my colleague Julia recently blogged about.
Andrew has over thirty years’ experience in conservation; for many years he was in charge of the prominent Hirayama conservation studio at the British Museum and was responsible for the conservation of their extensive collections of Eastern art on paper and silk. Sydney has more than twenty years of experience in Japanese painting conservation; she studied in the Usami Shokakudo, a world renowned scroll mounting studio at the Kyoto National Museum, Kyoto, Japan. She also spent ten years as a senior conservator in the Hirayama Studio at the British Museum, specialising in the conservation and restoration of Japanese hanging scrolls (kakemono) and Japanese folding screens (byobu). They are both accredited members of ICON, the Institute of Conservation in the UK.
The Tale of Oeyama (大江山物語) is one of the best-known heroic stories from medieval Japan, and is one of my favourites. It tells the tale of the fearless warrior Minamoto no Yorimitsu (948-1021) who uses his courage and cunning to defeat the demon Shuten Doji who has been kidnapping and eating maidens from Kyoto. The Library’s version of the tale was produced in a set of three scrolls and has been painstakingly conserved at the Restorient Studio, Leiden thanks to the generous support of the Sumitomo Foundation, Tokyo.
The three scrolls measure between 10 and 15 meters in length and are made up of several different layers of Japanese hand-made paper with each scroll attached to a wooden roller at one end with an outer silk cover at the other. Due to their fragile nature and repeated handling, the scrolls had become heavily creased, in order to preserve them it was necessary to remove the old paper linings, strengthen the creases and attach three new linings. Over time, the traditional Japanese pigments had weakened and begun to crack or flake. Before the old linings could be removed, the conservators carefully consolidated the pigments to ensure they were stable. The project was completed by attaching new silk covers and adding custom-made rollers which fit over the narrow nineteenth-century rollers to reduce the risk of creasing in the future. The scrolls are now stored in a new custom-made Paulownia wood box.
Throughout the project Andrew and Sydney kept a blog that tracked their progress. They have produced a fascinating short movie entitled Conserving the Ogres of Oeyama which highlights their incredible work carried out over the last three years.
This is the second project that has been completed thanks to the generous support of The Sumitomo Foundation. The Library was fortunate enough to receive a grant in 2009 to conserve two early-seventeenth century Japanese handscrolls, which are the earliest surviving illustrated version of The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter. On their return to the Library the hand scrolls were exhibited in the Library’s temporary gallery.
We are looking forward to welcoming the Restorient Studio to the Chester Beatty Library in October and Sydney Thomson will give a lunchtime lecture on the conservation of the Tale of Oeyama on Thursday 15 October at 1.10pm.
Andrew and Sydney have become part of the extended Chester Beatty family and we are very much looking forward to working with them as they undertake the meticulous conservation of The Tale of Tawara Toda scrolls (the third project to be funded by the Sumitomo Foundation) and the conservation of two paintings on silk depicting the Dutch trading post of Dejima in the port of Nagasaki (generously supported by the Members of the Library). I look forward to writing about the progress of these projects in the future.