A Conservator Abroad….Japan

This week’s article comes from Elizabeth Hepher, a paper conservator at the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS), who recently travelled to Japan to take part in a three week course on Japanese paper conservation.

International Course on Conservation of Japanese Paper – JPC 2014

From the 25th August until the 12th September 2014 I joined ten paper conservators from around the world to attend the International Course on Conservation of Japanese Paper. The course was organised by The International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM) and hosted by the National Research Institute for Cultural Properties Tokyo (NRICPT) and has been running in Japan for the last 20 years.

Aim of the course

The aim of the course was to give conservators an in-depth understanding into the materials and techniques that make up Japanese works of art on paper and their associated paper conservation. The format of the course combined lectures and practical work, with the outcome being the participants learning how to make a hand scroll. The practical work was complemented by a one week study tour. Lectures were all in Japanese and with English provided by a translator.

Description of the course

After a formal opening ceremony, the first day of the course began with a lecture from Masato Kato (Head of Resource and Systems Research Section, Japan Centre for International Cooperation in Conservation, NRICPT). This provided participants with an introduction to the designation of cultural properties and intangible heritage and how they are protected by legislation in Japan. Kato-san spoke about the history of paper conservation in Japan and described how it is rooted in traditional mounting techniques that were used to produce hand scrolls, hanging scrolls, sliding doors and folding screens.

The second day began with a lecture about the adhesives used in the conservation of Japanese paintings by Noriko Hayakawa, (senior researcher at NRICPT) and looked at a range of traditional starches such as aged wheat starch, fresh paste, seaweeds and animal glues.

The practical element of the course focussed on the materials and techniques used to make a hand scroll. This complex process was broken down into discreet stages. Each step was discussed and demonstrated by the two main instructors, Senior Conservator Makoto Kawabata and Chief Conservator Atsushi Ogasawara (Figure 1). Participants then had the opportunity to carry out the work, assisted by the course tutors and the junior members of staff. We were introduced to a myriad of new materials and techniques from specialist handmade Japanese papers (washi), to new tools such as round Japanese knives, rulers and brushes.

Participants learning from the main instructors, Makoto Kawabata and Atsushi Ogasawara.

Figure 1. Participants learning from the main instructors, Makoto Kawabata and Atsushi Ogasawara.

The practical work ranged from washing the main art work, known as the honshi, to carrying out infill repairs of insect holes and applying a margin paper to the edges. Then, step by step three subsequent linings were attached, using different papers and adhesives at each stage (Figure 2).

Figure 2.  Elizabeth using a nadebake or smoothing brush to ensure that the honshi is flat and in-plane prior to lining.

Figure 2. Elizabeth using a nadebake or smoothing brush to ensure that the honshi is flat and in-plane prior to lining.

The first lining was an Usimino, a kozo paper attached with fresh paste. The second lining comprised of two sheets of Misu paper joined together, adhered with aged wheat starch paste (Misu paper is comprised of kozo fibre with the addition of calcium carbonate and is a soft, delicate paper often used for subsidiary linings). The final lining paper was a paper comprised of gampi and kozo and applied again with the aged wheat starch paste and pounded with a uchibake to ensure good adhesion (Figure 3).

Figure 3. Using a uchibake or pounding brush to adhere the lining paper.

Figure 3. Using a uchibake or pounding brush to adhere the lining paper.

New techniques were learnt all the time such as making small strips of repair paper called orefuse to support creases that often appear in rolled objects (Figure 4).

Figure 4.  Applying small strips of paper to support creases – orefuse.

Figure 4. Applying small strips of paper to support creases – orefuse.

My favourite (and the part of the course I found most challenging) was learning how to apply the various linings with a bamboo stick called a hikkake (Figures 5 and 6). Previously, when I have applied linings in the past, I’ve supported the pasted paper with a sheet of polyester. Learning how to use the hikkake stick was tricky, and manoeuvring the wet, pasted paper into the correct position was challenging. I found this particularly difficult when joining two sheets of misu paper together, especially as I had forgotten which side had been pasted!

Figure 5.  Application of the first lining.

Figure 5. Application of the first lining.

Figure 6. Supporting the lined honshi with a hikkake stick.

Figure 6. Supporting the lined honshi with a hikkake stick.

After application of the final lining the honshi was placed on a kari bari board to dry. We then learned how to join the honshi and the tail border and cover paper, attach the hasso (the bamboo strip at the end of the scroll) and carve a wooden rod to attach the end knobs. The final steps were attaching the rod to the tail border, the wrapping cord to the cover paper and finally rolling the scroll. Completing the hand scroll from start to finish was very rewarding and I have gained a clear understanding of the specialist materials used, and how these very complex objects are put together. (Figure 7).

Figure 7.  The completed hand scroll.

Figure 7. The completed hand scroll.

In the final week, we also had the opportunity to do some Japanese bookbinding. We had further lectures, including a presentation about sutras, and one from master brush makers, father and son Shigemi and Kohei Tanaka who described in great detail the craftsmanship that goes into making traditional conservation brushes. Their work was a fine example of the importance the Japanese place on preserving intangible heritage, recognising that without skilled craftsmen the whole conservation process could be affected.

The final presentation was about the structure of hanging scrolls and folding screens – amazingly intricate in their construction. This session also focused on the safe handling of hanging scrolls and the use of the roller clamp and new modifications to aid in the preservation of these rolled items.

Study tour

During the second week of the course we were escorted by our hosts on a study tour to Mino, Nagoya and Kyoto.

We began our tour at Hasegawa Washi Kobo where we saw traditional paper making in action (Figure 8). We then had a day in Nagoya and were taken to a paper shop and visited the Atsuta Shrine, an important Shinto shrine and museum. We then visited Nagoya Castle, a remarkable example of rebuilding using traditional methods after the castle was completely destroyed during World War II. We then returned to Mino and went to the Imai family residence, part of Mino Paper Art Village, now a living museum and to the Mino Washi Museum where we had the chance to make Japanese kozo paper ourselves. From Mino we travelled to Kyoto where we visited a traditional Japanese painting shop, a knife shop and a conservation material and tool shop Mizokawa Shoten (Figure 9). On the final day we visited Oka Bokkodao Ltd a traditional restoration studio where we were able to see many of the skills we had been learning in practice. It was great to have an insight into associated trades and visit a professional studio and we were warmly welcomed everywhere we went.

Figure 8.  Traditional Japanese paper making at Hasegawa Washi Kobo.

Figure 8. Traditional Japanese paper making at Hasegawa Washi Kobo.

Summary

On reflection, I loved my time in Japan and I have learnt a huge amount. I feel very privileged to have been able to visit such an interesting place with such relevance to my career. I have learnt not only about the Japanese approach to the conservation of works of art on paper, but also about their attitude to their work and the respect they have for the items in their care. I was impressed by the highly organised and efficient classes, but also by my hosts’ attention to detail, kindness and consideration. At times there were more staff than participants helping with the practical exercises and I appreciated how they delivered formal classes while still managing to create a relaxed and friendly atmosphere.

I feel that it will take me a long time to properly digest all the information I have learnt during my three weeks in Japan. I have come back to Scotland with a huge respect for the materials and techniques I’ve used there but I also gained a fuller understanding about Japanese culture and their sensitive approach to conservation. I also learnt a great deal working alongside the other International participants and benefited from the fruitful cultural exchange.

Attending this course has helped me focus on my work in Scotland and I know it will influence my daily practice as a paper conservator looking after the collection at The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS).

May I take this opportunity to thank ICCROM, NRICPT, the June Baker Trust and RCAHMS for supporting my attendance on this fantastic course.

Figure 9.  Participants and staff:  International Course on Conservation of Japanese Paper 2014.

Figure 9. Participants and staff: International Course on Conservation of Japanese Paper 2014.

Elizabeth Hepher ACR

Paper Conservator

The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS)

Have you recently attended a course or completed an work placement abroad? Would you like to share your experiences with us? Have a look at the guidelines in the tab above and send us a post!

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One thought on “A Conservator Abroad….Japan

  1. Pingback: Julia’s journey to Japan | Chester Beatty Conservation

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