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Sunday, May 15 • 3:00pm - 3:30pm
(Paintings) A Disaster in the Making: Preserving Southeast Asian paintings at the Walters Art Museum

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Preserving Southeast Asian paintings on cloth presents complex challenges that call for solutions bridging different fields of conservation. Inherent vice and unwieldy formats stretch the boundaries of painting conservation, confronting the conservator with multifaceted, and often unexpected, issues. Composed of water-soluble, lightly bound, gum-based paints, these works are extremely fragile and few survive from before the eighteenth century. The Walters Art Museum is well known for its Western painting collection but it also has one of the largest collections of Southeast Asian paintings in America ranging from wooden panels to long cloth banners. Prior to entering the collection the paintings had deteriorated due to less than ideal storage: hot and humid environments, exposure to pests, and repeated rolling and unrolling. The main condition issues are flaking paint, losses, stains, creases, and tears. Additionally, some exhibit mold and a problematic green pigment that has eaten away the canvas below, creating structural losses. Compounding these problems is the matte nature of the unvarnished surface and the large scale of many works, making the appropriate choice and method of application of adhesives more complex. Due to the delicate nature of these works it would be ideal to store them flat, however, a third are 3 to 6 feet long and space constraints pose challenges to unframing and rehousing. This presentation will discuss how the Walters is confronting the preservation of these paintings. When unrolling the fragile cloth supports for initial assessment and photography many inherent problems were exposed such as actively flaking under-bound paint. Conservators began condition surveys several years ago, but with limited space and resources the majority of the collection has remained in storage without proper documentation, preventing access to scholars and the public. In 2012 a grant allowed Walters’ staff to continue to survey Southeast Asian objects donated by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation which includes an important collection of paintings. As part of a two-year fellowship, the author is completing the survey of the remaining Southeast Asian paintings on cloth, as well as researching original materials and techniques, adaptations to current storage, display and treatment approaches. The project aims to improve the accessibility of this important and understudied part of the Walters’ collection with the current resources available. Closed gallery spaces are used to store and examine oversized works. Smaller paintings are surveyed in the Walters’ popular Conservation Window in an effort to inform the public about the collection and its complex issues. The survey provides information to create priority lists for long-range planning for rehousing, storage, treatment, and exhibition of the collection. It also establishes a photography protocol working towards providing online images in the Walters’ collections database for open access. Research trips to museums with similar painting collections in Thailand, Singapore, the United Kingdom, and the United States has helped create a network of related professionals dealing with similar problems. As we move forward with the next steps in this project, this network will be an important resource for better care of Southeast Asian paintings worldwide.

Speakers
avatar for Meaghan K Monaghan

Meaghan K Monaghan

Andrew W Mellon Fellow of Paintings Conservation, The Walters Art Museum
Meaghan Monaghan is currently the Mellon Fellow in Painting Conservation at The Walters Art Museum. She received her Masters of Art Conservation in 2010 from Queen's University in Canada. After internships at the Australian Museum and Canadian Conservation Institute she held fellowship positions at Yale University Art Gallery and the National Gallery of Denmark (SMK). Through these positions as well as contracts with the Art Gallery of Ontario... Read More →

Co-Author(s)
KF

Karen French

Senior Conservator of Paintings, The Walters Art Museum
Karen French has been conserving paintings for over 30 years; the last 20 plus of which have been at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland, where she is a senior conservator of paintings. Born and educated in the U.K., she trained in painting conservation at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London. She specialized in treating paintings on wooden panel, as well as canvas paintings, and broadened her experience by working in a variety of... Read More →


Sunday May 15, 2016 3:00pm - 3:30pm
Room 710 A


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