Review: ICON Adapt and Evolve Conference, 8 – 11 April 2015

Could you not make it to the recent ICON Paper and Book group conference? Find out what you missed in this week’s blog post…

In April 2015, in London, the Icon Paper and Book group hosted one of the most significant conferences in paper conservation of the last years. The title of the conference, ‘Adapt & Evolve – East Asian Materials and Techniques in Western Conservation’, gave easily away the general idea of the conference but the most enjoyable part, was the fidelity to this theme during the four days of lectures, visits and workshops, and the interactions and discussions brought to the table by the diversity of conservation specialists and manufacturers from Eastern and Western countries. The sessions where distributed within Reflections and Developments, Adhesives and Repairs, Paper and Materials, and Moving Forward. They were supported by different studio tours such as John Jones and UCL-Institute for Sustainable Heritage, and by workshops such as Japanese brush making by Kobayashi Hake Production Company and The use and care of Karibari boards by Namiko Tagawa.

For someone like me, trained in conservation during the XXI century in England, it may seem that Japanese paper and starch based adhesives had always been a vital part of paper conservation. However, as it was mentioned at Pauline Webber presentation ‘ Working with East Asian Paper Conservation Techniques in Western Collections’ the use of these materials in Western conservation came from the Florence Flood in 1966, a disastrous event that changed the field of art restoration with an unprecedented display of international cultural solidarity. Since then, the adaptation of Eastern techniques and materials in Western treatments increased strongly bringing new treatment choices for the wide variety of papers found in Western collections. Adapt and Evolve made honour to all the collaborations that took and still taking place worldwide, while working towards the same goal, the preservation of paper heritage.

During different lectures, materials of less popularity, conservation treatments and ongoing researches were also discussed. The history and discovery of different Asian papermaking techniques and adhesives can help to understand particular features of ancestral traditions, for example, the use of Karibari as a drying surface. Karibari boards are allowed to some dimensional change in relationship with the environmental conditions and this flexibility follows the dimensional change of the objects during drying. Nowadays, modern conservation studios are equipped with controlled environments, but when that was not an option, Karibari drying methods overcome unstable conditions. Adapt and Evolve, from the hand of Dr. Masato Kato and Takayuki Kimishima explained the culture, history and use of Karibari and in addition prepared practical demonstrations of how to build and how to care of a Karibari board.

Other example was presented at ‘The use of Korean Mulberry paper, Hanji, in book and paper conservation’ by Group 130º, an independent group of conservators and scientists working in the investigation of Hanji. The lecture introduced the history, the importance in the transmission of culture and the physical properties of Korean Hanji mulberry paper. Furthermore, the presentation showed new approaches to this material through an ongoing research in the applicability of Hanji paper in different historic and contemporary materials such as baryta-coated photographic supports, vellum, arts of work on paper and books.

A relevant theme through the whole conference, which I believe was of large interest to conservators and paper manufacturers, was the need of understanding and obtaining detailed information of Eastern papers including; paper colour, thickness and opacity, weight, texture, strength, softness, crispness, raw materials, fibre preparation and fibre distribution. In this context ‘Japanese Paper: History, Development and Use in Western Paper Conservation’ by Megumi Mizumura, ARC, Takamasa Kubo and Takao Moriki brought light towards the features that we should take in consideration when choosing a paper for a conservation treatment. Characteristics judging the quality of the paper depend on different plants and different fibres used to obtain each type of paper and the traditional paper making process compiling, sourcing raw material, cooking with alkali, bleaching and drying. Furthermore, Minah Song paper ‘ Evaluation of the conservation quality of eastern papers regarding materials and papermaking processes’ discussed the correlation between papermaking processes and the physical appearance and quality of the paper, focusing in paper made of mulberry due to its lightness, flexibility and durability.

Finally, a multidisciplinary approach to determine the understanding of a document or a work of art through collaboration between French and other Western and Eastern national research institutes was presented by Dr. Calude Laroque. She brought the last developed online portal of a multilingual database of paper components available online at

Other subject that won popularity in papers and discussions during the whole conference was the value of practical training in Japanese conservation techniques for Western conservators. For the majority of paper conservators, Prof. Katshuhiko Masuda ICCROM Japanese Paper Conservation courses (JPC) are the most admired and renown programs which every year keep educating worldwide conservators in the most valuable lessons of eastern conservation, the importance of expertise achieved by practice and repetition and sensitive observation in the range of papers, adhesives and tools required for different works. Nevertheless, awareness is also been brought to other areas of the world, such as Latin America and the Caribbean where since 2011 seminars on ‘Japanese techniques and materials applied to the conservation and restoration of works on Western paper’ LATAM-ICCROM and the course ‘Paper Conservation in Latin America: Meeting the East’ CNCPC-INAH, NRICPT and ICCROM (20012 – 20014) are taking place.

In conclusion, this magnificent conference answered questions and brought awareness about Eastern materials and techniques applied in Western countries, it showed the fundamental values in Asian paper and tools-making and the positive path that worldwide paper conservation will take if we continue collaborating with each other.

I would like to thank the Icon Book and Paper Group for their pristine work and to NAFDAS for their economic support which allowed my attendance to the conference.

Marta Garcia Celma

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