Conservation of a Japanese living doll (2011)

The work involved in the conservation of a Japanese iki ningyo (living doll) in 2011.

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The Helmet

The helmet was treated by Andy Thackeray, an intern in Furniture Conservation. He describes his treatment below. – Cracked and lifting lacquer on the iron substrate rim of the helmet bowl, and where lifting from the iron supporting bars of the neck plates (ita jikoro), were consolidated with an application of xylene followed by a 10% solution of Paraloid B48N in xylene. If moving they were clamped either by lightweight clamps or using a shimbari system. Cracked and lifting lacquer on the leather substrate of the ita jikoro plates was consolidated with 10% and where appropriate, 20% Mowilith 50 in …

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The head and arms

The head and arms of the Iki-ningyo were treated by Sofia Marques in sculpture conservation and Richard Mulholland in paper conservation. It appears that there is a very fine top layer applied to the flesh colour. This is possibly known as ‘nikawa’ and is made of animal glue and fine pigments. It is water soluble. The layer on the face of this living doll seems to have been disturbed, possibly during attempts to clean the surface in the past. Any intervention will disturb this layer, so it was decided not to touch it after all. Although it would have been …

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The sleeve on the armour was in the worst condition (in terms of the textiles) of all the pieces that made up the armour, and required the most intricate treatment. The silk damask was very brittle and had begun to split. In some areas the fibres had been lost altogether and the metal thread was also very brittle. The conservation challenge was to stabilise these areas but with limited access to the inside of the sleeve, all of the support fabric would have to be inserted through the split. This is where having a steady hand comes in very useful! …

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The thighguards are made from lacquer, lacing and silk damask. The damask was splitting in some areas and needed to be supported. First they were cleaned using a low suction museum vacuum in order to remove surface dust and particulate soiling. Then a chemical sponge was used to gently brush the surface of the leather in order to remove some of the black greasy soiling. Part of the thighguards cleaned. The right half of this strip has been cleaned with the sponges. The chemical sponges after use, note the amount of soiling removed! Chemical sponges are vulcunised polyisoprene (latex) with …

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Textiles: Dyeing support fabric

Currently the furniture and textile conservators are working on the armour, with the textile work estimated at over 250 hours work. The textile conservation treatment requires a great deal of preparation of support fabrics, including dyeing fine nylon net, silk crepeline and silk, as well as casting adhesives on to various support substrates.I decided to do all of the dyeing together, firstly, to save time and secondly as the stock solutions we use have a short shelf life. The dye cycle in progess in the studio lab I used Lanaset dyes to dye all of the support fabric for the …

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As with all of the objects that make their way through the conservation department, the first job is to do a full assessment of the object. Each of the conservation departments involved (Metals, Sculpture, Textiles and Furniture and the Mount team) have examined the doll and given an estimate for the length of time needed to carry out the work on their particular material. The lacquer and the textile elements need the most work in order to support and stabilise these elements for display. The metal chain mail and other metal elements need the least amount of work and will …

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