By Josephine Johnson, Technician
Most of our time at Museum Textile Services is spent in the studio, but occasionally clients ask us to work on site. In January, we had the opportunity to revisit Amherst College's thankga collection, housed at the Mead Art Museum. These are the same 18 thangkas that we conserved in advance of the Mead's 2011-12 exhibit, Picturing Enlightenment. The thangkas are scheduled to travel to Middlebury College and need custom storage and transportation boxes.
On January 7th, 2014, Caamille, Cara and I trekked out to Amherst, MA, for a three-day, intensive box-building session. We worked in the high-security storage room surrounded by shelves packed with beautiful objects, and sliding panels covered in hundreds of rare paintings. It is an exciting place that few people have the pleasure of visiting.
All of our materials were waiting for us when we arrived in Amherst. Camille had already designed a system coroplast boxes, custom-made in three sizes by University Products in nearby Holyoke, Massachusetts. We purchased Volara and Photo-tex archival tissue from Masterpak, and rayon paper from Talas. The museum supplied a pallet of Ethafoam.
Our task was simple, but lengthy: to create a custom chamber inside one of the three sizes of box to precisely fit each thangka. First, Cara and I traced each thangka onto brown craft paper so that we would not have to handle the thangkas again until the boxes were ready. Next Camille and I spent several hours cutting two-inch Ethafoam strips to the height of the boxes. After Cara had lined each box with Volara, Camille adhered the strips of Ethafoam with archival hot-melt glue into the exact shape of the thangka. This "bumper" system prevents the thangkas from shifting within the box and allows the boxes to be safely stacked.
Once the bumpers were in place, each box was lined with soft rayon tissue paper. Cara and I then worked on custom cutting sheets of Photo-tex archival tissue paper to wrap the thangkas. Each thangka has two sheets of Photo-tex, one that wraps horizontally and one that wraps vertically. Before being wrapped in Photo-tex, rayon paper was placed over the delicate painted field on the thangka.
Cara and Josephine wrapping a thangka in Photo-tex paper.
During the last day at the Mead Art Museum, Cara and I packed all sixteen thangkas in their boxes. After being carefully wrapped, the thangkas were placed in their boxes inside the Ethafoam bumpers. The boxes, as well as the sheets of Photo-tex, were labeled with the accession number of the thangka. Now the thangkas wait peacefully in their boxes for the next professor, curator, or monk that might want to see them.
Stay tuned for a future blog on building the two custom boxes for the Mead's two oversized thangkas!
By Camille Myers Breeze
On May 8th, 2012, Camille headed off to Albuquerque, NM, for the 40th Annual Meeting of the American Institute for Conservation. Located along the historic Route 66, Albuquerque was the site of reunions with old friends and gathering of new knowledge.
The first thing Camille did upon arrival was hang the poster that she and Kate Smith co-authored, entitled "Crossing the Boundaries Between Conservation Disciplines in the Treatment of Asian Thangkas." This poster was a summary of our 2.5-year thangka project for the Mead Art Museum at Amherst College and our first opportunity to present our work to our other conservators. Judging by the verbal feedback and how quickly our handouts disappeared, our poster was very well received!
If you would like to read this poster, it is available in jpeg form in the Resources section of the MTS website at http://www.museumtextiles.com/uploads/7/8/9/0/7890082/poster.jpg
Visitors to our poster were able to view a short video about the thangka conservation project by scanning the QR code on our handout. This handout is also available on the MTS website at http://www.weebly.com/uploads/7/8/9/0/7890082/thangka_recipe_handout_with_qr.pdf
Camille volunteered to live blog four sessions of the AIC Textile Specialty Group talks for the AIC Blog (www.conservators-converse.org/). Shortcuts to her posts can be found here:
“Recovery and Conservation of the Textile Collections at the National Museum of Music” (Cuba) by Alina Vazquez de Arazoza
“Repair of 20th-Century Leavers Lace” by Annie-Beth Ellington
“The Creation, Implementation and Safety of Digitally Printed Fabrics in Textile Conservation—Where Are We in 2012?” by Miriam Murphy
“A Successful Treatment Method for Reducing Dye Bleed on a 19th-Century Sampler” by Katherine Sahmel and Laura Mina
The biggest surprise of the conference came when Camille was invited to substitute for colleague Chris Stavroudis in the first ever Great Debate! Organized by Richard McCoy of the Indianapolis Museum of Art, the Great Debate pitted teams of three conservators against each other to argue a topic relating to art conservation. Camille's teammates were Vanessa Muros, Staff Research Associate at the UCLA/Getty Conservation Program (and former student of Camille's in Peru,) and Kristin Adsit, IFA-NYU fourth-year intern from Indianapolis Museum of Art.
The best part about the Great Debate was giving conservators a chance to break out of our shells by acting loud and silly in front of our peers. Oh, and Camille's team won our debate! The debates were video taped and will appear soon on YouTube.
by Sarah Berlinger, Technician
We’ve wrapped up the two-year long thangka conservation project with the Mead Art Museum in Amherst, Massachusetts, and we want to tell everyone about one of the later parts of the project: the construction of new mounts for unmounted thangkas. While most of the thangkas we conserved from the Mead came in their existing silk and cotton mounts,
four paintings arrived sans surrounds. They are a folksier style of painting, possibly made by itinerant painters. The decision to remount was made by Elizabeth Barker, Director and Chief Curator of the Mead, in order to return the paintings to their full glory.
The first step of the remounting project was to find the appropriate fabrics. After thorough online and in-store research, we found a blue cotton that we liked, but didn’t think was a rich enough hue. After dyeing the fabric with navy dye, the color was perfect. We also found a loose-weave linen that was ideal as the backing fabric. Following the procurement of the desired fabrics, the next step was to determine the proper sizes of the new mounts. To do this, we measured completed thangkas of similar types and used the same proportions to figure out the right size. I haven't done that much math in years! Next, the blue fabric pieces were attached to the thangka using the painting's previously existing stitch holes.
After attaching the new blue fabric to the front of the paintings, we installed the linen backing fabric. Following that, we attached Veltex headers and footers to the backing fabric, to enable safe hanging of the thangkas in the museum. Once the four new mounts were completed, the thangkas were returned to the Mead Art Museum. Currently, the smallest remounted thangka is on exhibit in "Picturing Enlightenment: Thangka in the Mead Art Museum at Amherst College." The first group of 9 thangkas will be exhibited until January 1, 2012. After that, the second group of 9 thangkas will go on display until June 2012 and include the remaining three remounted pieces.
Be sure to catch Camille Breeze's lecture Opening Doors: Conserving the Mead Art Museum’s Thangka Collection at the museum at 4:30 p.m. on October 19, 2011. A complete schedule of exhibition events can be found on the Mead Art Museum website at https://www.amherst.edu/museums/mead/ .