Image of CBL J 2499 Adam Macklin stippling paste onto a Japanese paper repair

From Dublin to Edo: An intern’s journey through the Chester Beatty collection

6 December, 2019

My Heritage Council internship has been a challenging and rewarding experience; one that has already shaped me as a conservator. My projects have been carefully selected and supervised by Kristine Rose-Beers and Julia Poirier. Whilst constantly providing a varied and exciting workload, the placement has also provided an excellent platform for me to focus on the development of my hand skills and organisation.

A Turkish album folio (CBL T 439.7) before treatment.

A Turkish album folio (CBL T 439.7) during treatment.

My first project was to rehouse a group of twelve 17th century Turkish album folios (CBL T 439.1-12). Like many of Chester Beatty’s finest painted manuscript pages, they had been stored between glass in the first half of the 20th century. This housing system is no longer suitable for them, as it makes them heavy, vulnerable to damage if the glass were to break, and difficult to view due to reflections on the glass. I removed them from their glazed housing and assessed them for any damage. Thankfully, the folios were in good condition, with just a few areas of localised delamination and copper corrosion. After conservation treatment, I attached tabs to the upper and lower edges of the verso of each print, which allows them to ‘float’ in their bespoke 100% cotton window mount boards. The folios were then stored in bespoke boxes, and can now be safely displayed or accessed by readers.

Another group of objects which required rehousing was a number of Albrecht Dürer prints from the 16th century. These prints – like the Turkish folios, and my later project on Japanese woodblock prints – required rehousing. They had been overmounted in their window mounts which risked abrading the prints and obscured the edges of the paper. The prints were eased out of their previous window mounts and the existing tabs were kept. Further tabs made from Japanese paper (Usimino 32gsm) were attached to the lower edge. This kept the print anchored within the float mount. Window mounts were cut and assembled and the prints were then attached to the backing board using the uppermost tabs and wheat starch paste. A T-hinge was added to provide further security.

Image of Alice Derham installing objects in the Arts of the Book Gallery.
Alice Derham installing objects in the Arts of the Book Gallery.

When I started my internship at the Chester Beatty in October 2018, rotations of the public galleries were underway. The conservation team facilitates these rotations by assessing and conserving the objects as necessary and installing them for display. Although most of the preparation for these rotations had already been done by Kristine, Julia, and Alice Derham (Heritage Council intern 2017/18), I was able to provide support by helping with the handling of objects and preparation of mounts and cradles for the objects. This was an insightful process and I learnt to follow closely the lead of the other conservators.

Image of the conservation team mounting a Thai folding book for the temporary exhibition, Thai Buddhist Tales.
The conservation team mounting a Thai folding book for the temporary exhibition, Thai Buddhist Tales.

Preparing the two temporary exhibitions for 2019 was also a great learning experience. Thai Buddhist Tales: Stories along the Path to Enlightenment and The Mystery of Mani involved the implementation of a varied set of skills. I was happy to be involved in the treatment of some of the Thai Buddhist manuscripts and the cleaning of the glass housing for most of the Manichean folios.

The Thai manuscripts required delicate and precise consolidation of pigments that were flaking and powdering away from their substrates. Using fine brushes, a microscope, and a consolidant (Bermocoll EHEC, ethyl hydroxyethyl cellulose), I was able to secure the flaking pigment on CBL Thi 1303.

The Manichean folios had been housed between glass or Perspex sheets during different conservation campaigns in the first half of the 20th century. However, unlike the beautiful Turkish manuscript folios I worked on, glazing is still considered appropriate for the storage of brittle and delicate papyrus folios. In order to prepare for the exhibition, I cleaned the glass using alcohol and cotton wool. As part of the preparation for this exhibition I was also able to help with the installation of loan items. This provided another fascinating insight into the process of exhibition preparation.

Image of glazed papyrus folios on display in the temporary exhibition, The Mystery of Mani.
Glazed papyrus folios on display in the temporary exhibition, The Mystery of Mani.

My main project for the internship was to assess, treat, and rehouse Chester Beatty’s collection of Japanese woodblock prints. In 2020 a temporary exhibition will open exploring these woodblock prints. With over 450 prints in the collection, this was a large-scale project requiring planning, efficient interdepartmental communication, and above all excellent organisation. The prints required rehousing for the exhibition. The new housing would offer a float mount enabling people to see the entire print when it is exhibited.

Treatment of the prints mainly addressed the issues of skinning, tears, folds, creases and lacunae. These damages were treated using a very thin Japanese paper (Tengujo 11gsm) and wheat starch paste. The Tengujo was shaped for the area of damage using a water pen to provide a fibrous edge and was then placed over the tear, lacunae or skinned area. A thin wheat starch paste was applied through the paper using a stippling action. The repair was then smoothed over using a Teflon bone-folder, and weights were placed on top with a Bondina and felt pad to aid the drying of the repair.

Once the treatments were complete, the prints were rehoused in suitably sized window mounts. These were carefully selected for each print as there were many different shapes, sizes and—in the case of diptychs and triptychs—combinations. The prints retained their previous hinge tabs along the upper edge and were afforded new ones where necessary. As the prints would be float mounted, further tabs were attached along the lower edge, and in some cases along the left or right edges too. Once placed correctly and securely the upper hinge tabs were attached to the mount backing board using wheat starch paste and enforced with a T-hinge tab. The prints were then stored in bespoke boxes ready for the exhibition, Edo in Colour: Prints from Japan’s Metropolis, opening in June 2020.

CBL J 2749 during conservation with Japanese paper tabs attached ready for float mounting.

CBL J 2749 during conservation detail of a Japanese paper tabs.

Within the Chester Beatty there are many different parts that go towards making this such an amazing museum. Working within this small institution I have been involved with the daily machinery, working with the digitisation department; helping the registrar with annual checks; and aiding weekly foliation checks. I have met great people and learnt from all of them. I am grateful to my colleagues, the Friends of the Chester Beatty, and The Heritage Council for facilitating my internship. To be involved behind the scenes in such an amazing cultural institution has been a dream come true.

Adam Macklin, Conservation Intern 2018/19

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