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Subject: Japanese armor

Japanese armor

From: Susan White <smwhitewhite<-a>
Date: Wednesday, July 9, 2008
I have received what appears to be a partial suit of late 16th
century Japanese armor for treatment.  The do (clamshell hinged
torso piece) is made of leather (probably water buffalo hide) and
was originally lacquered with what appears to be traditional
Japanese lacquer (urushi).  Most of the lacquer has popped off the
do leaving the raw hide with a partial layer of clay substrate
behind. There are approximately 300 fragments of lacquer which have
come off.

In addition, the sode (or shoulder pieces) are constructed of
lacquered iron plates (kozane) which have been laced together with
traditional silk and cotton straps.  Much of the lacquer on these
pieces as well as the lacquer on the attached "skirt" of the do has
dislodged.  The lacquer on these pieces is of a different type,
probably also urushi but applied differently, with no clay
substrate, applied directly to the iron plates.

Finally, the kote (or arm pieces) which are constructed of the
traditional blue cotton of the period to which lacquered iron
"shinos" or splints have been sewn are falling apart.

The suit also consists of two suneate (shin pieces) which appear to
also be from the Sengoku period and these too are constructed from a
combination of silk brocade and blue cotton to which, again the
lacquered iron shinos have been sewn.

Finally, there is what appears to be a chainmail loincloth? of more
recent date and a newer haidate (thigh covering) which do not appear
to belong to the earlier pieces.

This said, my questions for the Distlist include:  Is there anyone
out there who has expertise in the treatment of lacquered leather,
and in particular that of Japanese armor.  I am trying to decide
whether to attempt the reattachment of the lacquer pieces to the
leather and to the iron shinos and would greatly appreciate
information and advice from anyone who has attempted a similar

I know quite a bit about Asian lacquer and know that it is insoluble
in most everything and generally non-responsive to heat treatment.
Some of the lacquer pieces do not lay flat on the leather substrate,
as one would imagine, and I'd be interested in hearing treatment
options.  Has anyone tried B72 bulked with microballoons or silica?
I need an adhesive which can be relatively thinly applied, but which
also is a good gap-filler for the areas which will not lay flat. Has
anyone tried a wax-resin mixture?  I think a flexible adhesive is in
order here to allow the leather to move if necessary--it's actually
quite desiccated at this point.  I know wax-resin mixtures have been
controversial in the relining of paintings, but has anyone tried
them for adhering urushi to a hygroscopic substrate?

Susan White
White Conservation Services

                  Conservation DistList Instance 22:6
                  Distributed: Saturday, July 19, 2008
                        Message Id: cdl-22-6-020
Received on Wednesday, 9 July, 2008

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