Revealing the Splendor of Gilded Lacquer

cleaning and treatment of several objects from the Doris Duke Collection of Southeast Asian Art

The Walters recently received a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to perform the cleaning and treatment of several objects from the Doris Duke Collection of Southeast Asian Art. This collection, comprised of a variety of beautiful and unique pieces, has been in storage for some time, and many pieces require treatment. Conservator Stephanie Hulman, who is working on the pieces in the museum recently, shared some insight into the scope of the project and the work she is doing. Visitors can see her on the 1st floor of the museum, in the Special Exhibition Gallery, Wednesday to Friday, 1:30-4 p.m.

A large portion of Stephanie’s work involves a process called consolidation, which is a technique conservators use to re-adhere flaking media. Many of the pieces in the Duke collection have gilded lacquer surfaces, which can lift and flake in an improper environment. Conservators can carefully consolidate the lacquer layers, stabilizing them to ensure that the piece will remain in excellent condition for many years to come. In addition to consolidation, Stephanie and other conservators are cleaning some of the dust that has accumulated while the pieces were in storage, using carefully selected solvents and chemicals that will remove the dirt without harming the art underneath. One of the pieces, a Miniature Shrine, has been cleaned and can be seen in the gallery now in its full splendor, its gilded surface gleaming brightly.

Stephanie works to “consolidate” the gilded lacquer surface on one of the pieces.

In the coming months, other pieces will also undergo treatment and study. An object of interest to Stephanie is a large standing Buddha from Myanmar (Burma) that is made of wood and covered in lacquer and gold leaf. The lacquer is flaking and requires consolidation. There’s also a modern surface coating that is discolored and sticky that requires removal.

This project presents an exciting opportunity not only for the conservators, but also for visitors to the museum. Stephanie enjoys working on such a diverse group of objects, and visitors can learn more about the objects and the way that conservators treat, clean, and protect the many different objects in the Walters’ collection. Along with the Conservation Window, visitors can now interact with conservators at work almost every day that the museum is open.

The Duke Treatment project is located in the 1st floor Special Exhibition Gallery until  September 2016. Visitors are welcome to stop by to see Stephanie working and to speak with her about her work any time that the door to the gallery is open, Wednesday to Friday, 1:30-4 p.m. Interested in conservation? See all related events here.