Our client’s Chinese carved diorama
from the nineteenth century is one
of the most delightful items I’ve had
the pleasure to treat. It is a pavilion
over water, with big rocks with large
trees of varying sorts along the base.
The upper level is adorned with
beautiful women enjoying their music
and possible various sewing arts, and
flirting with the men below. Below men
are working, and some are looking up rapturously at the adoring women.
One of the men on the lower level
appears to have a much more elaborate costume, left, and I assume that
this man may have some sort of
ownership or higher standing.
The table also has a wooden form that holds the diorama and
a glass top, both of which will also be conserved.
Phase One, Assess Figurines
When our client brought the table to us, only a few figurines appeared to be loose;
our first phase was to see if others were also loose.
Mitchell disassembled the table so that they could be examined without the glass.
If you look closely at the top image, you can see the torso of the broken figurine (right)
just above the “ns” in our name. She was the fifth female from the left on
the balcony of the pavilion. She came apart in a move, and we believe as she fell (her legs were found behind the stair railing) she took the leaves along for the ride.
We haven’t found the location of the bubbly carving — and not sure if it is supposed to
be foam from the water, or an unknown bit of foliage. I am inclined to the former.
Several more tiles, leaves,
and a second figurine,
happily not in pieces, was found to be loose.
We finally discovered the proper location of a sharp triangular piece; it is
behind a tree, part of the lower banister, next post.
Only one part could not be found, and that is a small part of the stairwell, above left.
The newel post is missing, and we know should be there because it has a small gap and cannot be glued in place without it, seen in the right image of the stairs.
It may have slipped and is lodged deep behind the railings, but we could not find it.
(The temptation, of course, is to gently shake it loose but the table is too fragile!)
If it suddenly appears before the table is reassembled we can easily glue it in place.
Phase Two, Clean
Over the years tiny bits of the figurines have sloughed off; it appears as sand! This was vacuumed carefully on the painted wooden background and over the figurines and decorative building parts with a tiny funneled textile vacuum set on low suction, above.
The sky along the top had
an odd sticky quality to it.
It attracted the “sand” and it stuck to the sky, above right. As the sky is a painted
wooden base, after testing
we knew we could gently
clean it using distilled water and cotton swabs, and the ridge at the top of the sky
was carefully cleaned of
debris and the sticky substance.
You can see the grime removed on the cotton swabs, above left.
We tested the clean-ability of the figurines on the edge of a cloud, above right. A slightly damp cotton swab touched the edge and the blue from the cloud came off on the swab.
THE FIGURINES AND THE APPLIED
DECORATIONS MAY NOT BE WET CLEANED!
A substance that looked like common black machine grease was found in several places on the white railings; we have no clue as to how it might have arrived on the railings!
It was easily cleaned, and as there was no colorful decoration on the railings, it was safe to do so, above.
Above, I leave you with details of the lower right-facing corner of the diorama, and a central portion of the balcony with four women — neither had repairs — after cleaning.
Phase three, reparation, next post!
Written by Kate Powell ©MPF Conservation.
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