(2007) Funded Conservation: Japanese materials

We were very grateful to receive a grant of £2,000 from the Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation in 2007, to fund the preparation for our exhibition Japanastic: Japan-Inspired patterns for the British home 1880-1930.  The funding was received as part of Japan-UK 150, a festival of Japan-related events celebrating 50 years of diplomatic relations between Japan and the United Kingdom.

At around the same time we also received an MLA Collections Care Grant of £2,348 which enabled us to employ paper conservation graduate to clean, stabilise and re-house around 400 original Japanese katagami stencils, 250 stencil off-prints and 6 ‘leather’ paper samples. These objects are an important part of the Designated Silver Studio Collection. They presented a particular challenge of conservation and preservation because of the traditional Japanese methods used in their production.

a conservation challenge

Until this point, items had been stored in acidic boxes, and were physically inaccessible and undocumented.  In the course of the project, all items were meticulously cleaned with a soft brush and chemical sponge, repaired with Japanese tissue and wheat starch paste, and rehoused in melinex sleeves with light archival board supports where appropriate, inside conservation quality boxes.

The stencils were categorised into groups in consultation with a Japanese stencil researcher, and matched up to off-prints where possible. The six leather paper sheets were individually documented, cleaned and repaired.

Long-term legacy

This sorting, categorising and conservation documentation procedure enabled museum staff to gain further knowledge about the collection and to develop an understanding of Japanese and western materials. Jan Crittenden, the paper conservation graduate, gained valuable experience in conservation methods and museum practice.

The project culminated in some of the items being displayed at our exhibition Japantastic: Japanese-inspired patterns for the British home 1880 – 1930  The exhibition was an opportunity for visitors, researchers and students to see and learn about some of the many beautiful Japanese and Japanese-inspired objects from our Silver Studio Collection.

The Silver Studio and the Art of Japan

The Silver Studio and the Art of Japan

Our increased knowledge was shared with audiences via our improved online catalogue records and the publication of a book to accompany the exhibition.  We subsequently republished this as The Silver Studio and the Art of Japan.

We also lent several items to the V&A for their major exhibition entitled ‘The Cult of Beauty,’ which was shown in London and Paris in 2011-12.  This project also enabled us to develop useful professional contacts and share knowledge with academics from other universities in both the UK and Japan.

Update: this conservation work laid the foundation for subsequent research on the collection including our Katagami in Practice project (2016-18), funded by Arts Council England


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