The National Museum of Asian Art has united for the first time the most important early Chinese lacquer buddha sculptures known to exist. We explored these sculptures in tandem with the online essays and the exhibition Secrets of the Lacquer Buddha on view from December 9, 2017, through June 10, 2018. Working from both art historical and scientific perspectives, Secrets of the Lacquer Buddha has given us an opportunity to determine how and of what these unique images were made. Together, they offer a holistic view of early Buddhist lacquer sculptures, demonstrating the complexity and sophistication of these works.
Unlike those crafted in stone, metal, or clay, Chinese Buddhist sculptures in lacquer are extremely rare. The three earliest-known examples, dating from the late sixth to the early seventh century, are all life-size and all in the United States. One is in the collection of the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore; a second is in the Freer Gallery of Art in Washington, DC; and the third is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The Walters buddha is the earliest preserved example of a sculpture made using the wood-core lacquer technique. The Freer and Metropolitan buddhas are the earliest extant sculptures produced with the hollow-core lacquer technique.
Hagop Kevorkian Fund Fellowship For The Conservation Of Islamic Ceramics
The National Museum of Asian Art holds in trust some of the world’s finest ceramics from the Islamic world. A survey carried out from 2007–2008 by the NMAA Department of Conservation and Scientific Research (CSR) showed that several of these objects needed conservation treatment before being exhibited or published. To undertake this project, the NMAA received a generous grant from the Hagop Kevorkian Fund in support of a two-year fellowship that focuses on the treatment of ceramics. A second grant was awarded for the conservation of manuscripts and paintings from the Islamic world. Visit Paper & Photographs Conservation for more information on the paper conservation fellowship.
Egyptian Glass at the Freer Gallery of Art
In 1909, Charles Lang Freer bought a collection of 1,388 ancient glass beads, vessels, and mosaic fragments in Cairo, Egypt. Until 2013, the collection was largely left unstudied and was inappropriately stored. As a result, the NMAA Department of Conservation and Scientific Research is rehousing and researching the collection. This poster, presented at the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works Annual Meeting in May 2015, focuses on the storage project, the challenges associated with rehousing a large collection of small objects, and historical and technical research.
Korean Collection Survey
A condition survey of the three-dimensional Korean objects in the collections is being conducted to improve the overall physical state of the collection, and in preparation for an upcoming reinstallation of the Freer’s Korean gallery. Materials included in the survey are mainly ceramic and metal, as well as glass, stone, and lacquer. Objects range from beads to weapons.
Islamic Ceramic Survey And Treatment
A survey of the Islamic ceramics in the Freer and Sackler collections was conducted during 2007–2008 to determine the condition of these objects, as well as related research possibilities. The survey uncovered a variety of treatment needs, ranging from basic cleaning to extensive stabilization and restoration, which are now being carried out.
Southeast Asian Art Conservation
Conservation Laboratories at the National Museum of Cambodia
The National Museum of Asian Art is honored to have played a role in establishing the Metal Conservation Laboratory at the National Museum of Cambodia as part of the longstanding ties between the museums. The Department of Conservation and Scientific Research led the project, which involved designing and equipping the facility and identifying a conservator, Sean Charette, who spent nineteen months training five National Museum staff members. Subsequently, one staff member, Samnang Huot, came to Washington for six months of further training; additional training will take place in the future. The Getty Foundation provided major support for this project, and additional funding came from the Global Heritage Fund, the Asian Cultural Council, the Friends of Khmer Culture (FOKCI), and the Fulbright Senior Specialists Program.
Building on the success in setting up the Metal Conservation Laboratory, further funding was secured to create a counterpart focused on ceramics. The Ceramics Conservation Laboratory opened at the National Museum in January 2009 and is staffed by Cambodian conservators trained by American conservator Bonnie Baskin. The metal and ceramics laboratories complement a stone conservation lab set up by EFEO (École française d’Extrême Orient) more than a dozen years ago. Together, the conservation facilities of the National Museum are among the most advanced in Southeast Asia.
Post-Excavation Campaign in Siem Reap, Cambodia
The research program LANGAU , inspired by the Old Khmer word for copper (langau), studies copper-based metallurgy in Cambodia. Donna Strahan, head of conservation and scientific research at NMAA, was invited by the École Française d’Extrême-Orient (EFEO) to a post-excavation campaign at the EFEO Center in Siem Reap, Cambodia. The campaign took place January 15–24, 2018, as part of the LANGAU archaeological mission exploring a bronze foundry discovered at the Royal Palace in Angkor Thom.
Donna was involved in two main activities: conservation of the excavated copper-based and iron artifacts, and training in metal conservation for Cambodian archaeologists from the APSARA National Authority (Siem Reap) and conservators from the National Museum of Cambodia’s Metal Conservation Laboratory (Phnom Penh).