Asian Museum of Art Performs Conservation Treatment on Samurai Armor

San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum is home to a world-renowned collection of over 18,000 pieces spanning more than 6,000 years of Asia’s history. Included in this collection is a Japanese Gusoku-type armor that dates back to the 19th century. In the spring of 2011, this armor underwent an extensive conservation treatment. Their finished product was recently revealed, and the armor now sits prominently in the museum’s display cases.

This armor probably never actually saw action on the battlefield and was likely used for ceremony or even display. Prior to conservation, the armor, made of a wide variety of materials including iron, silk, bronze, animal hair and leather, was in serious disrepair. The museum’s team of conservators used high-powered microscopes and x-ray technology to reveal the damaged areas.  For instance, the shin guards on the armor are made out of a fine steel chain-link material and tied off with cotton silk straps. Repairs to these straps were done using invisible hair silk and cotton patches. Other metal components of the armor, including the helmet crest were cleaned for corrosion using a proper cleaning solution and fiber-tipped applicators.

A conservator from the Asian Art Museum repairs a part of the samurai armor's shin guards. (photo courtesy of American Art Museum)

Other losses needed to be mended, including those to the leather thigh guards. Tears and holes were mended using a long-fibered Japanese paper called tengujo. Tengujo, like many other Japanese papers is flexible and strong, enabling it to move with the piece without adding bulk to it. This paper helped fill a large hole in the intricately printed bands in the armor. Conservators also utilized adhesives to secure flaking areas on the face mask. Using a syringe, an adhesive was applied to fill in the tiny cracks on the mask’s surface. Traditionally, samurai armor rests on a specific type of mount made of various-sized, tiered wooden hangers holding true to a minimalist aesthetic. The museum’s textile conservator built a custom form made from starched cotton buckram, that was later cut down to fit on the traditional wooden mount.

Conservators use tengujo, a Japanese paper to mend a loss in the samurai armor. (photo from the Asian Art Museum's flickr page)

How University Products can help you

University Products carries a diverse product line that includes many items similar to what the Asian Art Museum’s conservators used during this conservation treatment. Our fiber-tipped applicators and cleaning swabs are ideal for conservation and restoration use, especially for cleaning. For getting a closer look at individual fibers in your textile pieces, try our PortaScope Digital Microscope.  Both our plastic syringes and adhesive applicators can help you apply adhesives to small crevices. We also offer various sized chest mounts in addition to suit and dress forms, if creating your own custom mount is not preferable.

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