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.


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.


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.

JP presenting poster

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.



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.


Traditions of Papermaking in the Islamic World

The Islamic Manuscript Association’s inaugural course and symposium on the materials and techniques of Islamic manuscript production was held at the British Library from 23rd- 27th March this year. Julia and I were lucky enough to attend.

This fascinating class was taught by Cathleen Baker, conservation librarian at the University of Michigan Library; Tim Barrett, director of the University of Iowa Center for the Book; Evyn Kropf, librarian for Near Eastern and religious studies and curator of the Islamic manuscript collection at the University of Michigan Library; and Katharina Siedler, papermaker and historian. The thirteen participants had travelled from around the globe to attend and included the authors of several pre-eminent scholarly publications on Islamic paper.

2015-03-24 10.37.35 2015-03-24 12.02.12

The intensive four-day course focused on the practical techniques of Islamic papermaking based on the methods used by hand papermakers in parts of India today. Our daily papermaking sessions considered mould construction, fibre preparation, sheet formation, pressing and drying, as well as sheet finishing techniques of sizing and burnishing. You can read Ann Tomalak’s lovely account of the processes here.

Whilst this was a wonderful opportunity to gain first hand-experience in an alternative (to European) technique of papermaking, for me it was the discussion that surrounded the class that proved invaluable. The varied experience of the participants meant that an active and lively discussion was soon underway, and the problems of discussing ‘Islamic papermaking’ were soon at the forefront of our minds.

One of the first discussion points was about terminology. The word Islamic is the commonly accepted term used to describe the cultures of the vast and diverse regions which have been ruled or inhabited by predominantly Islamic populations. This makes it a rather open-ended term, and we soon realised that rather than a generic Islamic form of papermaking, we were looking at a far more regionally specific variation of the craft. In particular, the living practitioners our tutors had studied and learnt from were working in regions of India. Our terminology reflected this, and we used the Indian word chapri to describe the characteristic flexible mould screen.

© The Trustees of the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin. CBL Per 196 f.135b

© The Trustees of the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin. CBL Per 196 f.135b

One of the key texts we reviewed in relation to the observations of papermaking in the field, was ibn Badis. This text was written in 11th Century northeast Algeria, and describes papermaking with flax from a raw plant fibre stock. This account contrasted with the observations made in India today (as in Europe) where only rag fibres are used to form the pulp. So ensued much discussion: Is ibn Badis documenting a particularly unusual papermaking process? Is he just an interested individual- a prince no less- with limited practical experience or understanding? Or could it be that ibn Badis’ source was protective of the true details of his livelihood?

We also discussed the only other known historic treatise on papermaking, an anonymous work attributed to al-Ghassânî (d. 694-1294) in the Yemen. Al-Ghassânî notes the use of raw plant fibres from the fig tree and fails to mention any use of recycled rags, but perhaps he is influenced by Southeast Asian trade with the Yemen, and documenting a Southeast Asian papermaking process. Our discussion served to emphasise the diversity of papermaking traditions over centuries and across a vast geographic range, as well as the potential hazards of relying upon historic treatises alone.

In the practical sessions, discussion focused on the materials our moulds were made from, and our sheet formation technique. We experimented with bamboo and grass chapri’s woven with thread or horsehair and tried a double-dip technique at the vat, similar to that seen in some Japanese and Korean papermaking traditions; but contrary to popular belief, neither double-dipping nor immediately couching wet sheets on top of one another produced a sheet which was easy to delaminate, a common misconception regarding Islamic papers. Having said that, only three of our number were professional papermakers. The rest of us were at best inexpert at this skillful craft. Our dry sheets were surface sized with starch and burnished with agates and bone folders to produce a crisp hard writing surface, a process which also masked a multitude of sheet formation flaws!

2015-03-25 15.34.06

We finished the fourth day with observations of historic manuscripts. Our session was spent looking at a variety of attributed historic manuscript fragments on a lightbox, which was hugely informative; the differences in paper production techniques across the vast Islamic world were obvious when they were seen side by side. On the last day of the week a symposium was held and I have no doubt that all of the participants’ minds were whirring. It was clear that the speakers had taken the discourse and experiences of the week into consideration in their presentations which added to the thought provoking atmosphere.

In conclusion, this fascinating week was extremely inspiring. There is still much to learn about the intriguing subject of Islamic manuscript production, and this course highlighted the range of unknowns. However, I left feeling enthused by the conversation between deeply passionate participants and tutors.

Another variation of Indian papermaking using a floating mould and textile separators

Kristine Rose Beers, Senior Conservator

Adapt & Evolve: East Asian Materials and Techniques in Western Conservation

Icon’s Book and Paper Group Committee organised the Adapt & Evolve 2015 conference, which was held from 8th-11th April at The School of Oriental and African Studies, London. The four-day event included lectures, panel discussions, a day of studio tours, trade stands, in-conference and post-conference workshops focused on East Asian materials and techniques.

East Asian materials, particularly handmade Japanese paper, have a long history of production and use. Their durability and known ageing characteristics have led to their widespread and successful adoption by Conservators of Western and non-Western materials.

Thurs-WSP by BM conservators demoWheat starch paste made in various way

Above: wheat starch paste made in various ways.  Attendees were given a chance to feel the differences between each method of preparation including hand stirred, microwave, and le saucier.

The conference lectures spanned two days and the topics discussed included papermaking in East Asia, the use of Japanese paper in western conservation, adhesives, repair and drying techniques, to name but a few. I was particularly interested in the panel discussion titled, Coming Unstuck: Hirayama Studio Conservators Discuss Paste and Paste-making with Dr Vincent Daniels, Jin Xian Qui and Carol Weiss. During this discussion, the method of preparing wheat starch paste was discussed alongside the qualities of the paste. Paste needs to have real inherent strength, although this will vary depending on the purpose the paste is used for. The conservators highlighted the main factors in making a good paste, which include ensuring enough heat reaches the mixture, long duration of mixing, and vigorous stirring to break up the swollen granules. The British Museum keeps their paste in a glazed, earthenware jar with a lid for one week. After this discussion we had the opportunity to handle a selection of pastes made using various methods by the conservators; the British Museum paste proved to feel the tackiest.

I was fortunate to attend a series of in-conference workshops alongside the lectures. The East Asian Paper Identification workshop given by Megumi Mizumura (conservator at the British Museum) and Nancy Jacobi (President of the Japanese Paper Place in Canada) was very informative. In this workshop we learnt about the papermaking processes in East Asia. We had the opportunity to examine and compare various Chinese, Korean, and Japanese papers in order to identify differences in quality. Paper quality is largely dependent upon how long the fibres are cooked for.

Kozo is the main fibre used for papermaking and this comes from the bark of the mulberry trees grown in Japan, Thailand, China and Paraguay. There is a difference in the kozo fibres chosen for papermaking in each of these countries, and a real difference in the price. For example, an unspecified quantity of Thai kozo would cost $1, whilst the same amount of Chinese kozo would cost $5 and Japanese kozo would cost $15. Japanese Kozo is considered to be by far the best quality kozo. It has been produced for 1400 years and it is known to have been made in the same way for at least the last 100 years. The raw materials for Japanese kozo are harvested carefully and very well processed, resulting in a strong and long-lasting paper.

In contrast to this, Thai kozo has only been produced since the 1950’s but it is often readily available in large quantities.  As the mulberry tree grows faster in hot countries there can often be a fault in the paper made with Thai kozo fibres. This fast growing can result in deformation of the raw material that appears as oil spots, which can take as long as two or three years to become visible  in the paper.

I found this workshop incredibly useful in understanding the importance of choosing the correct papers for conservation treatment. As the different kozo papers showed, there can be unfortunate consequences in selecting poorer quality papers.

The conference concluded with a day of post-conference workshops at the Victoria & Albert Museum, which was a lovely way to end the event. The first workshop, the Use of Natural Dyes in the Work of Kwang-Young Chun was given by Susan Catcher (Senior Paper Conservator at the V&A). Here we had the opportunity to hear about Susan’s research into natural dyes; her aim is to see what natural resources are available in the UK to use as dyes for toning repair papers.

Composite images

Above left: having a go at dying Chinese Xuan Zhi paper © Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Above right: the raw materials used for creating dyes including alder cones and sappan wood.

Susan discussed her experiments using mordants to modify colours and create fast colours. We were able to see the raw materials used to create the dyes, which included sappan wood (pink), mugwort (pale green) and alder cones (brown). A practical session followed where we had the chance to apply the dyes Susan prepared to three eastern papers, including Chinese Xuan Zhi, Korean Hanji and Japanese Sekishu-Shi. We learnt two ways of dying paper using Japanese and Chinese brushes. The first is to apply dye directly on top of the sheet, and the second method involves brushing the dye on a flat surface such as polythene and then letting the sheet soak up the dye from underneath.  Using this method, additional sheets can be placed on top of the first to create different intensities of colour. Once we finished brushing the dye onto the paper, the sheets were placed on felt and left to dry.

The second workshop, Hanji Paper, allowed us to observe Korean papermaking in action, demonstrated by Chun-Ho Kim, a paper craftsman specialising in Korean paper. He has been making Hanji paper for 15 years and is part of a family of papermakers. There are a great deal of different steps involved in making a sheet of Hanji paper so the process was reduced to give us the essence of this process.

No chemicals are used in Hanji papermaking. All of the natural materials used are found in Korea and are gathered over a period of six months. The paper is made from kozo fibres from the bark of the mulberry tree and mucilage from the root of the hibiscus is mixed with the fibres as a formation aid.


Above left: Chun-Ho Kim demonstrating Hanji papermaking in a vat. Above right: Feeling the gooey mucilage inside the hibiscus root © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Hanji paper is made on a mould, which is anchored to the vat. The method of making the sheets consists of dipping the mould in vertically, front to back, followed by dipping the mould right to left about five or six times. This creates a layer of cross-hatched fibres which makes a very resilient sheet of paper. The sheets of Hanji can be made with one or two layers couched together.  The sheets are then dried in sunlight on a wooden frame or heated panel. For a fantastic video showing this method of making Hanji paper click here.

Alongside the demonstration and discussion, we had the chance to see the raw materials used to make the pulp and even take some mulberry bark and hibiscus root home with us. To top off the wonderful day each participant was also given a large sheet of Hanji paper to take away with them.

The conference was a real delight to attend; I found it extremely informative and enjoyable. Having the chance to learn about the qualities of Japanese paper and the methods of dying paper with natural materials will be especially useful for the objects I am currently treating at the Chester Beatty Library. I would like to take this opportunity to express my sincere gratitude to the ICRI for awarding me the generous bursary to attend this event and to the Chester Beatty Library for granting me study leave to attend.

Puneeta Sharma, Paper Conservation Intern