Seductive Marvels of Japanese Art– Materials and Techniques of Surimono Prints  

Surimono prints were the focus of the exhibition “The Art of Friendship: Japanese Surimono Prints” on display at the Chester Beatty Library in the spring-summer 2017. This exhibition of 95 single prints and poetry books from the collection gave us a chance to study in detail the making, techniques and materials of Japanese woodblock prints, especially focusing on the more elaborate Surimono.

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“The Art of Friendship: Japanese Surimono Prints,” an exhibition at the Chester Beatty Library.

The most lavish of Japanese prints, the quality and refinement of Surimono appealed greatly to Sir Alfred Chester Beatty. He acquired the greater part of his Surimono collection- a collection that is considered one of finest in the world- between 1954 and 1963, having already moved his Library to Dublin.

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CBL J 2078, Writing Table, by Gakutei.

The word Surimono means simply ‘printed thing’. Prepared as gifts for exchange among friends and acquaintances at New Year and on other special occasions, these privately-published prints were products of the flourishing literary culture of Edo Japan. The Surimono commissioned by poetry circles in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries combine short verses composed at poetry gatherings with designs prepared by leading artists. Taking their subjects from the scholar’s desk and the literary canons of Japan and China, Surimono embody the eloquence and amity of these cultivated salons and offer a glittering glimpse into a world rich in playful allusion.

Because of its small audience and private funding, Surimono artists and printers could produce exquisitely refined prints with delicacy and great care. They were usually limited to between 50 and 150 copies.

The basic printing technique used to create Surimono prints was similar to the commercial Ukiyo-e prints although the Surimono prints appear to be much more intricate in design. They exhibit finer and much more elaborate details, more colours, more patterns, more blocks and therefore no expense was spared.

Seductive Marvels of Japanese Art

Details of Surimono prints showing the intricacy of the design.

Japanese woodblock printing is a technique which involves the use of many different blocks of wood to produce one multi-colour print. The wood commonly used for the block is a hard cherry wood which was prepared and planed to achieve a smooth surface. The age of the block and the preparation had a direct impact on the finish achieved in the prints.

The design is first drawn on paper and then pasted face down with a starch paste onto a wooden block so that the design is reversed, ready to be carved and printed the right way up.  The block carver then cuts the design into the block by preserving the raised motif which will be printed.

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The initial drawing is adhered to the wood block (left); the wood carver cutting into the wood to created the raised motif (right).

The key block (Omohan) was produced first. It was printed in black and at this point annotated by the artist to describe which colours should be used where. With this decided, the other blocks for the different colours were carved.

Kento is the registration system traditionally used by Japanese printmakers.  It includes two parts, the hikitsuke kento (line stop) and kagi kento (key). Multi-colour woodblock prints require a separate block for each colour, and the kento marks insure the blocks are aligned with precision to print the colours on the paper.

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The Kento Registration System.

To prepare for printing, the pigments were mixed with water and sometimes animal glue (nikawa) in ceramic bowls. The block was moistened first and the pigment was applied with a brush onto the surface of the woodblock. There are different type of brushes available depending on the size of the area to be coloured and the desired effects. For example, tonal gradation could be achieved at this stage by using dampened cloth or water brushes to apply the pigment to the block.

The printing paper was dampened before being positioned onto the block using the kento marks. Next the back of the sheet was rubbed over the coloured block using the baren, a circular printing pad. The process of applying the colourants onto the block and rubbing them into the paper with the baren was repeated until the desired colour saturation was obtained.

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The printer applying pigment to the block (left); and then applying pressure to paper with the baren to print the design (right).

The paper used for Surimono prints is a kozo paper with strong fibres that tends to be heavier and more absorbent than the paper used for commercial prints. It is believed to be unsized, although a small amount of sizing might have been used to avoid smudging of the colourants in the areas that are printed.

The full sheet of o-bosho paper or “presentation paper” is 39 x 53.5 cm but was not commonly used as a whole. Rather the sheet would have been cut into different sized pieces, following established patterns to obtain different formats. The most common format is Shikishi-ban, an almost square sheet about 21 x 19 cm, which became the standard for Surimono printing and was rarely used for Ukiyo-e prints.

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CBL J 2107 Shikishi-ban format.

There are two important differences to note between commercial Ukiyo-e and Surimono which are central to understanding Surimono. The first one is to emphasize Surimono prints as luxury objects with extensive use of precious materials. These include the heavy, unsized paper and the use of mica powder and metal pigments. The prints were also more labour intensive to produce, using more elaborate techniques. Surimono printers used the highest quality and the finest materials available as well as showing off their finest printing skills.

The second major difference is that the poem which accompanied each image was carved into a separate block than the key block, by a wood carver specialising in cutting script. This block would usually display the finest lines and imitate calligraphy perfectly.

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Detail of CBL J 2107 showing a variety of effects used to reproduce different fabrics.

The use of metal pigment is common on Surimono prints. However, real gold and silver are rarely found. Instead brass, copper and tin are quite frequently used, sometimes as a background, but quite often to highlight small areas of the design. The metal powder was mixed with large amounts of animal glue (nikawa) and printed on the paper last to avoid transfers of the large metal particles onto the paper during the printing process.

 

 

 

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CBL J 2078, Fluidity of the line of text.

Mica (kira) is composed of phyllosilicate minerals. The white luminescent appearance was used to highlight prints. A mixture of glue, usually a gum, and the mica powder was applied to the block and then printed gently with the baren. It was sometimes applied above a coloured ground or mixed with the pigment before printing. Another method is to cut a stencil, place it over the print, and brush the glue directly onto the paper and lightly apply the mica powder onto it and brush any excess off once dry.

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CBL J 2313, Use of mica powder to highlight the body of the watch.

Maybe the most striking difference between ukiyo-e prints and Surimono is the extensive use of embossing-a technique which is not commonly used in ukiyo-e. There are a number of ways in which this was achieved.

Blind printing (Karazuri) is a form of printing without the use of any pigment. The technique involves carving a pattern into a woodblock and then printing it in the usual way, but without any pigment. The pressure of the baren on the back of the paper causes part of the paper to be squeezed between the wood and the baren, and flattened. This type of embossing is the most common and the one often used for highlights.

In areas of Surimono where the embossing appears to be coloured, it means that the pigment has been applied before the embossing, multiplying the amount of work necessary.

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CBL J 2284, Blind embossing and coloured embossing.

Convex embossing (Kimedashi) was produced by removing a concave area in the block and pressing the piece of paper over it. The paper is pushed down into the carved spaces of the block and moulded into a new shape. This type of embossing was often used for larger areas where the mark of the embossing is visible at the verso and the paper does not remain flat.

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CBL J 2102, Convex embossing on the wine flask (left and centre), is especially visible with raking light on the verso of the print (right).

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CBL J 2179, Mount Fuji, by Hokusai

The exhibition and the catalogue were a real dive into a marvelous world of beauty and luxury. Because privately commissioned, cost was no object and this shows in the wealth of techniques and materials that the artist, wood carvers and printers used to produce the Surimono prints. Leading artists such as Hokusai and other prestigious Ukiyo-e artists dedicated large portions of their work producing these refined Surimono prints.

Julia Poirier, Book and Paper Conservator

 

 

 

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La Dolce Vita

Continued professional development (CPD) is very important when you are working as a book conservator, because there is always something to learn! Whether it’s a type of binding, a technique that you haven’t come across at an earlier date, or the chance to meet fellow conservators. If you are an accredited conservator working in Ireland, CPD is a significant activity used to maintain your accredited status. This summer both Julia Poirier and Dorothea Müller had the opportunity to undertake training at the Montefiascone Conservation Project in Italy, as part of their CPD. The Project was originally conceived in order to raise money to save the virtually derelict late medieval library of Cardinal Barbarigo and, thanks to the tireless work of Project Director Cheryl Porter, it has now been running for over 25 years.

31st July- 4th August, Dorothea’s experience:

In the first week of August I attended the course titled An Italian fifteenth century binding. The course tutors were Jim Bloxam and Shaun Thompson from the Conservation and Collection Care Department at Cambridge University Library and Dr. Alison Ohta, director of the Royal Asiatic Society in London.

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The upper board (left), and lower board (right) of the finished model.

During the course we recreated the binding of Manuscript CUL Add. 8445, a copy of Cicero’s Topica (circa 1480) from the collection of Cambridge University Library. It has a contemporary binding with interesting structural features, including a covering of leather over beech boards. The binding has the addition of intricate blind and gold tooling, showing the influence of Near and Middle Eastern bindings.

Working in the beautiful Montefiascone Seminary we sewed our textblock on split alum-tawed calfskin supports with a packed straight sewing. Next we created our endbands with a core also made of tawed calfskin. The wooden boards were shaped into a cushion form and recesses were made for the sewing supports and the strap attachment. We attached the boards by gluing the sewing and endband supports down and fastening them with brass nails.

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Sewing of the textblock on a travel sewing frame made with two clamps and a metal rod; and the sewn textblock with attached beech boards.

The book was fully covered in leather goatskin, with a strap made out of the same leather but with a parchment centre. The leather above the headband was tucked in to form an endcap and the spine was left hollow.

To save time on this busy course, the tooling for the central decoration was done with a single brass plate rather than individual tools so that we could instead concentrate on painting it with lapis lazuli and shell gold diluted in gum Arabic and water in equal parts. We then added the border, which was cold tooled using two hand tools, a bar and an arc. The border was framed with double lines made using a small bone folder. For the spine we used a fillet with double lines in a geometric pattern. The foredge clasp was made of brass and was trimmed to shape and rolled by hand before finally being fitted to the book once the tooling was complete.

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Polishing the brass clasp; and tooling the leather using a template and two hand tools- one arc, and one bar.

The workshop further developed my skills in bookbinding, as the complex binding combined so many different techniques, including wood and metal work, hot and cold tooling, and painting on leather.  Apart from the practical work, the presentations given during the theoretical part of the course also provided participants with a lot of background information about this particular kind of binding which will certainly be of use as I return to the studio.

2017 Montefiascone Week II Italian 15th-c. Binding Ohta Bloxam Thompson class photo copy 2

Participants and teachers at the end of a successful week.

The Montefiascone Conservation Project provides an excellent place to learn more about historic bindings, while also helping to preserve a local book collection. I am grateful to ICRI for the funding which made my attendance possible. It was a brilliant experience and I would love to come back to the Summer School in the following years!

14th– 18th August, Julia’s experience:

I was extremely lucky to attend the final week of the 2017 Montefiascone Conservation Project, and took part in the workshop taught by Marco di Bella and Nikolas Sarris, on the Ethiopic binding structure and a conservation variation, which they devised.

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The finished Ethiopian conservation structure, and parchment satchel.

While working in Ethiopia on the Ethio-SPaRe project with Hamburg University, Marco and Nikolas have observed and recorded many characteristics of the Ethiopian binding structure, some of which they adapted and re-used for the conservation of a large Ethiopian manuscript from the church of ʿrom Qirqos (UM-018). They have found these adaptations to be historically accurate and yet structurally suitable for the conservation of this material.

During the week-long workshop we made two book models. One was a historical model, using known and characteristic features of Ethiopian bindings and the second one was an adapted conservation structure. We also got to make a traditional parchment satchel for one of the models.

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Covering a model of a traditional Ethiopian binding; and the class at work in the Seminary.

Needless to say, we were kept busy and many an afternoon was spent in the lovely, high ceiling room at the Seminary, overlooking the Italian hills on one side and the old crumbling village on the other. Both the teachers were very knowledgeable and keen to share and demonstrate each step of the process; the overall atmosphere in the classroom was serene and this made for a very pleasant experience.

I particularly loved preparing the leather endbands and sewing them onto the textblock. The blind tooling we added was done using real Ethiopian tools. The tutors bought them in a market in Ethiopia dedicated to all things book related. What a wonderful sight it must have been!

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Attaching endbands; and tooling the model using real Ethiopian hand tools.

Although a lovely and fun experience, this workshop was a prime example of how re-creating and understanding the functionality of a traditional book structure has a direct link to contemporary conservation practices which informs our work on historical bindings.

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Sewing the conservation structure with four needles!

I learned a great deal in those five days and could not recommend attending the Montefiascone summer school enough. The Chester Beatty Library is the custodian of a large number of Ethiopian manuscripts and, whilst the large majority of them are in stable condition, being more familiar with their structure will help us to assess their preservation needs more sensitively in the future.

Dorothea Müller & Julia Poirier

 

Summer at the Chester Beatty

Over the summer, the Conservation team were delighted to offer a student placement (18th July- 11th August 2017) to Jana Müller. Jana is currently a student in the Conservation of Works of Art on Paper, Archives and Library Materials at the State Academy of Art and Design in Stuttgart, Germany. We’re happy to share this post from her.

On the first morning as I walked through the busy streets of Dublin on my way to the Chester Beatty Library, I arrived to find the conservation laboratory as an oasis of calm and concentration, only occasionally interrupted by screaming seagulls. Throughout this placement the seagulls have reminded me that I am right beside the sea.

My first project was the remounting of Surimono prints. The Chester Beatty Library has around 400 of these special Japanese woodblock prints and I had the opportunity to work on 31 of these lovely artworks. For various reasons discussed in a previous blog post here, the whole collection of Surimono prints is currently being remounted. The first step in this process is to lift the tabs from the old board with a little moisture and a spatula so that they can be reused later. Secondly, each object gets two more tabs attached at the bottom edge using wheat starch paste in order to keep it in place in the float mount later. Each unique Surimono is measured for a window mount and, once it is cut, the object is positioned and the tabs at the top of the print are attached to the new mount.

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Two moveable window mounts simplify the measurement of the new mount (left); The 2mm overlap of the tabs attached at the bottom edge of each Surimono allows for quick removal if necessary (centre); Once the tabs are attached to the new mount, they are allowed to dry under weight (right).

The remounting worked really well and it is interesting to see how the impression of an artwork can be changed with a new mounting system. I also got to have a close look at the fine printed lines and I gained a better understanding of how these prints are produced. There is so much work in every single print, which further increased my admiration for the beautiful Surimono.

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Jana, working carefully on a fully illuminated page of an Italian manuscript (CBL W  113).

Another project was the in-situ conservation of an Italian parchment manuscript from 1472 (CBL W 113). Due to a very tight library binding some quires of the textblock were loose and had stepped forward. The threads at the centrefolds of these quires had ruptured. Three strong creases parallel to the spine edge had caused further damage. Usually one would humidify the parchment to bring it back to its original shape but in this case the different colourful inks in black, blue, red, green, yellow and purple seemed to be highly sensitive to moisture. To avoid the risk of bleeding, the creases were flattened under dry conditions using only weight and time.

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The tail edge of the manuscript textblock showing the heavily ingrained creases before treatment.

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W 113 before (left) and after treatment (right), showing the successful reduction of an ingrained crease.

The creases could be reduced within a couple of days so that the text is readable again without restriction. I had never tried this method before and I was surprised by how well the treatment worked. Another necessary treatment was the local consolidation of flaking pigment layers on two of the fully illuminated folios. With a very fine brush I applied a special natural adhesive made from sturgeon swim bladder—isinglass—beside the flaky pigment, and capillary action drew the adhesive between the pigment layer and the parchment securing it to the folio again.

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Detail of flaking in the green parakeet in W 113.

The next project I worked on was an Ethiopian manuscript (CBL W 913). The codex is written in Ge’ez, the Ethiopian language, and is dated to the late 17th or early 18th century. The illustrated parchment folios show scenes from the life of Christ and are in an excellent condition. However, the damage to the codex affects the connection between the heavy wooden front board and the textblock. The board attachment was completely broken at the two inner sewing stations and severely damaged at the outer ones. For this reason, there was a high risk that the front board would detach from the textblock, particularly as it needs to be handled for digitisation. To prevent further damage, the two inner sewing stations were supported gently by introducing new threads, led through the original channels in the wooden board and attached to the original thread at the board edge. The two outer sewing stations were supported with twisted Japanese tissue, also led through the board, and then fanned out and pasted to the spine edge of the first quire to distribute the stress away from the delicate original thread.

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Clockwise from top left: Ethiopian manuscript CBL W 913, detail of the broken threads between the wooden boards and textblock; using a curved needle to lead the twisted Japanese paper through the board; after treatment, the new threads stabilise the connection between the board and textblock.

The result is a very honest conservation treatment: the new material is clearly visible because of the brighter colour but it is unobtrusive at the same time. I am a little bit proud of my suggestion to use twisted Japanese tissue because it is very tear-resistant, flexible and versatile. I will definitely keep that technique in mind when working on projects in the future.

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Jana installing a printed book during a rotation in the Arts of the Book gallery.

Beside my conservation treatments I had the opportunity to help with a number of rotations in the permanent exhibition galleries, which needed to be done quickly before visitors walk in at 10 am! Overall, I had the opportunity to see many beautiful objects from the diverse Chester Beatty collections. You can gain an idea of these stunning and detailed objects here.

For conservators, it is very important to work as much as possible on objects to improve and practice the various treatments we learn, and to make sure every method is well-known and reflected upon. At university, it is difficult to spend enough time on objects between classes and exams, that’s why internships are so important. I had a great time at the Chester Beatty Library. My lovely colleagues made me feel very welcome and I was able to improve my skills while learning new things on objects from different times and countries. I gained more self-confidence as a conservator and I am now looking forward to starting my master thesis next year.

13Jana Müller (B.A.), Student at the State Academy of Art and Design in Stuttgart, Germany

Conservation of Works of Art on Paper, Archives and Library Materials

http://www.abk-stuttgart.de/

http://www.papierrestaurierung.abk-stuttgart.de/

Mirror of the World: Disbinding an early printed copy of Katib Çelebi’s Cihan-numa

In current conservation practice, where minimal intervention is favoured, it is unusual to decide to disbind a book entirely. However, in the case of the Chester Beatty Library’s rare complete copy of Katib Çelebi’s Cihan-numa (Mirror of the World, CBL AA 306) it was decided that this was the best option in order to carry out a comprehensive conservation treatment of the damaged text block. The Cihan-numa was printed by Ibrahim Müteferrika in Constantinople in 1732, and summarised Ottoman geographical knowledge of the time. It was one of the first texts to be published by Müteferrika, founder of the first official Ottoman printing house in Turkey.

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CBL AA 306 before conservation: the spine, upper board, and opening characteristics of the bound volume.

The book first came to the attention of the conservation department in 2016 when an image of a double folio map was requested for inclusion in the Director’s Choice publication. Due to the restrictive 19th century binding and modern European sewing structure, the opening of the text block was extremely restricted. The text block was already detached from the case binding, and digitisation of the printed map was not possible in situ. In order to facilitate digitisation, the map was removed from the damaged text block so that it could be fully repaired by previous Heritage Council Intern Cécilia Duminuco before digitisation.

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Removing f.196 in 2016, and the conserved map of present-day Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan after repair.

It was at this point that I was given the project to work on. One of the most significant factors contributing to the decision to take the text block apart into quires was to allow for complete repair. In particular, the green colour used to paint the frame lines around many of the printed maps had gradually burnt through the paper causing most of the folios to split along this line. Resewing the folios in a more sympathetic style would release the strain on the heavily burnished paper of the text block and reduce the risk of any additional breakage in the areas that were decorated with this copper-containing pigment. Using a traditional Islamic sewing style would also be less restrictive than the heavily glued-up 19th century structure, increasing the opening of the text block and allowing the folios to be viewed right into the gutter edge.

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The recto (left) and verso (right) of f.86 showing the extent of breaks caused by copper corrosion.

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Detail of f. 297 before conservation.

While taking apart the text block every detail that could provide information about the original sewing structure was recorded. In the middle of most quires remnants of a pink or red sewing thread and previous sewing stations could be recorded.

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Evidence of original sewing stations on f.126r- 125v (left); and a detail of the preserved pink sewing threads in the gutter of f.125v (right).

It was also apparent that the text block had not been completely resewn, as previously thought. Instead the back of the text block was sawn into at nine stations and cords were embedded inside these recesses over the previous sewing structure. After which a generous amount of glue was applied before gauze and paper linings were added by the 19th century binder. This treatment ensured the quires would stay together, but also restricted the movement of either the sewing threads, or the heavily burnished paper.

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Removing the paper and gauze spine linings from the paper text block (left); manually removing the heavy glue accretions (top and middle right); and the spine after glue removal (bottom right).

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Detail of the nine sawn-in stations and cords.

The gauze and paper backings and the proteinaceous glue were removed manually with a scalpel in order to avoid distorting the highly water sensitive paper with moisture from a poultice. After removing the glue, the quires were separated from each other. Although there was no glue holding the quires together anymore, they did not separate very easily- especially where the paper was sawn into. Great care was necessary to avoid further damage to the paper in those areas. While separating the quires a collation map was prepared in order to chronicle the sewing structure, but which was also used to record any common traits or unusual details found during the process of disbinding. The collation map includes notes of the folios with hand coloured maps, the location of annotations made by someone studying the text in the past, as well as specific damages such as old repairs, damage by insects and copper corrosion.

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Separating the text block into quires (gatherings of folios).

After separating the folios they were put into tissue folders and placed in temporary storage boxes to await their paper repairs. The paper repairs are now well underway and will be the focus of a future blog post towards the end of the year.

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Dorothea separating the text block into quires (gatherings of folios).

Dorothea Müller, Heritage Council Intern in Conservation

Dorothea will give a talk about this project as part of Heritage Week in August 2017. Her presentation will take place in the Lecture Room at the Chester Beatty Library, at 1.10pm on Thursday 24th August.

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!

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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

 

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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