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Subject: Gum arabic and Japanese masks

Gum arabic and Japanese masks

From: Niccolo Caldararo <caldararo>
Date: Friday, April 2, 1999
Pawel Karaszkiewicz <zekarasz [at] cyf-kr__edu__pl> writes

>One of our museums asked our lab to analyse a polychromy of Japanese
>kabuki actor's masks. IR analysis revealed that, besides
>carbohydrates which origin from starch glue probably, an arabic gum
>can be present. We have no written evidence that this medium was
>used in traditional Japanese technique. I wonder, whether such an
>additive is possible.

A decade ago I was restoring a collection of masks from the world's
cultures and noted that Chinese and Japanese masks suffered more
pigment and ground loss than most other masks with painted
polychrome on wood.  I noticed that samples were soluble in water
and came across J.H. Larson's article, "The treatment and
examination of polychrome Chinese sculpture at the Victoria and
Albert Museum" (1988) in the IIC Conservation of Far Eastern Art
which supported a thesis of a water soluble but weak adhesive.

Larson notes a "glue-size" medium in both original and restoration
layers.  But I wondered if the specific composition of the gesso was
not the problem and not the adhesive alone.  It seemed possible that
the difference in environmental conditions between Japan and China
and Western collections in the 19th and 20th Century might be a
contributing factor but Peter Kleinschmidt's catalog, Die Masken Der
Gigaku Der Altesten Theaterform Japans (1966) with collection
histories and photos seems to argue against this idea. Rather it
seems to be the nature of the ground and adhesive.  I would be
interested in any results you come up with.

Niccolo Caldararo
Director and Chief Conservator
Conservation Art Service

                  Conservation DistList Instance 12:78
                   Distributed: Friday, April 2, 1999
                       Message Id: cdl-12-78-004
Received on Friday, 2 April, 1999

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