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Wednesday, May 31 • 3:30pm - 4:00pm
053. (Paintings) Chinese Handscrolls: A Systematic Approach to Treatment Solutions for Common Problems

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At the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Chinese handscrolls compose a large portion of the Chinese painting collection. Exhibition rotations and scholar visits generate steady demand for regular access to this large collection. The sheer number, size and structural complexity of these objects have made conservation treatment a challenge for conservators. This paper will outline the systematic approach conservators have developed to address common problems and the treatment solutions associated with this part of the Chinese painting collection. Among the various formats for Chinese painting and calligraphy, which include hanging scrolls, folding albums, framed images and fans, handscrolls are one of the most important. Handscrolls are a complex laminate structure, composed of multiple sections of painted paper or silk supports that are joined together and lined with additional layers of paper. The quality, selection and use of materials are critical to the overall balance and long-term stability of this format. The rolled format allows a long section of painting to be easily handled, transported and stored. Although designed for convenience, repeated handling often results in wear and damage to handscrolls. The most common condition problems include, delaminating support layers, sharp creases, splits and wear. Xiangmei Gu, senior Chinese painting conservator at the Freer│Sackler, has successfully implemented a decision-making process that adapts a range of techniques and treatment options appropriate for this diversity of issues. This decision-making process involves: (1) identification of condition problems; (2) ranking of problems by severity and fragility; and (3) prioritization of solutions to stabilize and ensure the safety of the object. Considerations include selection and use of appropriate materials and the history of the object format. Within this process, the degree and severity of issues dictates whether traditional techniques of complete remounting should be used or if more conservative approaches, including partial remounting or minor treatment, are more appropriate in circumstances when minor, localized treatment may be sufficient and safer for the painting. For example, built on fundamental mounting practices, partial remounting may include reusing or replacing cover silks, repairing major tears, compensating for unevenness and imbalance in the mounting structure, flattening and replacing the final backing layer. This condition assessment and treatment system is effective for the management and conservation of these repeatedly handled objects. It successfully classifies intervention—minor treatment, partial or complete remounting— based on both the handscroll's needs and the conservator's resources. In institutions where conservators are less familiar with traditional mounting practices and face limited resources, this treatment system can have widespread application.

avatar for Xiangmei Gu

Xiangmei Gu

Head Chinese Painting Conservator, Freer and Sackler Galleries of Art
Xiangmei Gu is the Head Chinese Painting Conservator at the Freer│Sackler, Smithsonian Institution, and has been responsible for the conservation treatment of Chinese paintings since 1990. She received her training and worked at the Shanghai Museum from 1972-87. At the Freer│Sackler... Read More →
avatar for Grace Jan

Grace Jan

The Yao Wenqing Chinese Painting Conservator, Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
Grace Jan is The Yao Wenqing Chinese Painting Conservator at the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution. Since 2009, she has worked on the museums’ Chinese painting and calligraphy collection alongside Ms. Xiangmei Gu, senior Chinese painting... Read More →

Wednesday May 31, 2017 3:30pm - 4:00pm CDT
Riverside West Exhibit Hall Exhibit Level, East Tower
  9. Poster, Paintings