Encountering the unexpected in Southeast Asian lacquer: Treating the Doris Duke Collection at the Walters Art Museum

Stephanie Hulman, Meg Loew Craft, Glenn Gates, Herant P. Khanjian, and Michael R. Schilling


In 2002, the Walters Art Museum received a gift of 150 objects of Southeast Asian Art. Many of the objects originated from Thailand and Myanmar (formerly Burma) and were created in the 19th century. In 2014, the Department of  Conservation and Technical Research embarked on a three-year grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to treat the objects that were previously identified as conservation priorities. These objects exhibited varying degrees of deterioration due to age, flood damage, and prior intervention. Many of the lacquered and gilded surfaces were actively flaking, and a majority of the objects were covered in an unusual sticky brown coating that was eventually identified as modern. Additional information was collected about the decorative surfaces with a variety of analytical techniques. Once treatment work began, it was readily apparent that Southeast Asian lacquer behaves differently than East Asian lacquer. The largest issues involved solvent sensitivity as it relates to consolidation and cleaning. Questions regarding the visual reintegration of loss were addressed through research travel to Thailand and Myanmar and collaboration with curators. It is hoped that the information gained from this project will be a catalyst for future research and study regarding the treatment of Southeast Asian lacquered objects.

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