Two Japanese experts from the Japan Institute of Fine Arts, namely Mr. Kawai Hisamitsu and Mr. Katayama Tsuyoshi, have collaborated with curators of the National Museum of Vietnamese History to examine, develop and execute plan for restoration and conservation of the Amitabh Buddha statue. This was part of the project of protecting, preserving and restoring cultural heritage outside Japan of the Sumitomo Foundation in the fiscal year 2014 to 2015.
The statue of Amitabha Buddha has been restored and preserved by using scientific methods, on the basis of adhering to ancient crafting techniques, keeping the most original nature of the artifact, ensuring the harmony between the purpose of preserving the heritage with the request of promoting its value and serving the research work.
The Buddha statue was a yellow painted wood sculpture. The sculpture body and its pedestal mounted to 116.6 centimeters in height, 53 centimeters in width and 48 centimeters in diameters. The statue was the exemplary work of the Buddhist sculptors from the Kei Buddhist Sculpture School during the Kamakura era dated in the 13th century.
The sculpture body was assembled from wood blocks painted black, using the coupling technique called yosegi-zakuri. Golden decorative patterns attached to the sculpture body included trimmed gold leaves. The sculpture portrayed the Buddha wearing a robe in a standing Amitabh position. His left hand was lowered and his palm was front-facing, while the thumb and index finger touched. His right hand was held at shoulder height, as his palm was also front-facing and the thumb and index finger touched. The two hands exhibited a praying ritual, in which Buddha sending the souls to pure land. The Buddha was seen standing firmly on the lotus stand. However, the halo surrounded the sculpture was disaapreared.
Photos of the sculpture before and after restoration
2.1. The artefact’s condition before restoration
Some slits and dirts on the surface could be seen, due to external impacts over time. In general, onthe lacquer surface of the artefact appeared cracks and evidence of missing pieces. Specifically, part of the golden decorative patterns and golden leafs were lost due to deterioration over time. The mortise and tenon joint between the ringlethairs curls andthe figure’s head was unstable and half of these curls were lost. Part of the curled coils was also lost.
In the last restoration, some components were re-adhered. Especially, the right shoulder was re-painted and the synthetic resin adhering to the left-side hips with the legs was protruded. The two wrists were also re-adhered unevenly. Part of the open sleeve was lost. Part of the robe’s hem lining near the Buddha’s feet showed signs of rat bite.
Despite recent lacquer painting on the entire surface, signs of additional paints or damaged patches could be spotted easily. The adhesive bonds between joints became weaker, which resulted in fall out or loosen components. The lotus petals were uneven and some petals were lost.
2.2. The conservation and restoration of the Amitabh Buhdda included 4 main steps:
1. Examine and dismantile the artefact
2. Clean the artefact’s surface, refinegolden decorative patterns and loosen hair curls
3. Restore the lost components
4. Renovate previously downgraded restorations
2.2.1. Examine and dismantle the artefact
The statue’s body had a mortise wedge on the Buddha’s foot that was pinnedto the tenon on the lotus base, using black adhesive. The mortise was a 30-centimerter wooden cylinder that had termite damage. The expertsfirstly dismantled the statue’s body and the lotus base, then continued tothe statue’s hands and foot, and the robe’s sleeve linings and tail linings. Finally, the lotus calyx and the lotus petals were alsodismantled.
2.2.2. Clean the artefact’s surface, refine decorative patterns and loosen hair curls
Preservation staff on-site
The team used a specialised vaccum cleaner, brush and soft bristlesto remove slits and dirts from the artefacts. Oxidised brown animal glues on the statue were removed using cotton swabs and cotton wools that were damped in warm water (at 40 – 50 degree). Black and yellow synthetic glue patches from previous restoration were removed using specilised tools. Rusty nail heads were also removed using a mini removal tool.
The peeling paint patches were reinforced with two acrylic-based adhesive including Binder type 17 (24%) and Primal 2355 (46%). First, a layer of Binder mixed with distilled water in a ratio of 1: 2 or 1: 1 was applied to the affected area. After about 10-15 minutes, Primal solution mixed with distilled water in the ratio of 1: 1 or 1: 2 was injected into the gap between the paint patches and the wooden surface. The glue was then activated by using a small iron at 70oC for 5-10 minutes. The residual adhesive was removed by using acetone solution.
Expert Kawai Hisamitsu performing his work
The Binder liquid was a mastic adhesive that acted as bonding and stabilizing agent for wood molecules. Water in the Binder mixture had helped soften paint patches so that later on, the lacquer patches could be easily re-attached, even if Primal adhesive was used instead.
To refine the loosen hair curls from the Buddha’s head, Binder and Primal adhesives were slowly injected in the same process and concentration prescribed for sealing peeling paint patches.
2.2.2. Restore missing components and fill in gaps
As the Amitabh Budda statue originated from Japan, the type of wood used to restore missing components was the Hinoki wood (Japanese Cypress). In the same family with the Pines tree, Hinoki wood was highly prized and considered to renovate historical monuments due to the ease of processing, its’ light aroma and small irregularity in the aging.
a. Hair curls and crytal on the head of Amitabh Buddha statue
Each lost hair curl was carefully and meticulously hand-crafted by the Japanese experts. There were 234 hair curls produced in total that ranged from 3 to 7 milimeters in diamterer and on each curl carved 3 to 4 and a half rings.
The colour of the new hair curls was dyed with a mixture of raw lacquer paint powder with sumiko powder (charcoal wood powder). After drying, the hair curls were dusted with sumiko powder once again. For themto closely resemble the original colour, a layer of black Acrylic paint was coated on the curls and finally a layer of clay was coated on top. A strong adhesive mixture of wheat paint, which included raw paint and wheat flour, was used to attach the hair curls into the statue’s head. Depending on the size of empty follicles, suitable hari curls were selected to be adhered to the statue’s head.
Adhering the restored hair curls into empty follicles
The lost red crystal that was placed in the middle of the statue’s forehead was also restored. The experts used cowhide glue at 30% concentration that was mixed with red leather paint to adhere the new crystal.
b. The robe’s lining, flaps, right-side of underneath skirt, left-side of cape, right-side sleeve, left wrist, one lotus petal and part of the pedestal base.
With advanced sculpting skills, the experts accurately and sophistically restored the statue’s lost parts so that the original artefact appeared more structured and stablewith newly added components.
Detailed steps of creating lost parts and components for the artefact were as follows.
Firstly, during initial shape carving, the components needed to be sanded to achieve a smooth surface. Next, a mixture of raw paint and dired clay powder was applied as a base on top. The components then got sanded by wet sandpapers and the whole process was repeated 2 to 3 times.
This step was a lacquer technique’s signature, as the surface of the components weren’t smooth. The base acted as an even and shinning foundation layer. In order to perfect the components, a layer of raw paint was applied and left drying. It should be noted that raw paint dried faster in higly moist environment. Next, a different base consisted of ivory clay was applied, condensed distilled water and cowhide glue at 13% concentration; and left drying for 4 hours. A layer of orange lead paint was then applied on top and after drying, another layer of paint mixture was applied. This mixture consisted of yellow powder, distilled water and cowhide glue of 13% concentration. This processwas adopted from the traditional method that used cowhide glue to adhere yellow powder and the surface of the components. A soft bamboo tool was used to sand uneven spots on the surface and finally the replacement component was painted using Acrylic paint to match its’ surrounding colours.
Expert Katayama Tsuyoshi performing his work
ExpertKawai Hisamitsu performing his work
Connected most the newly added parts with bamboo mortise and two-component For the new lotus petal, it was nailed using copper nailheads and cowhide glue at 30% concentration.
Front sleeves, during and after restoration
Front sleeves’ linings, during and after resortation
c. Fill in the gaps
As time passed, wood shrinkage had caused gaps between the assembled parts. Specifically, it was the gap between the statue’s foot mortise and the tenon joints of the pedestal base. Therefore, in order to stablise the structure of the artefact, thin wooden panels were shaped and placed to fill this gap.
2.2.4. Renovate previously restoration that were obsolete
Noticably, added colour paints on the right shoulder from previous restoration was cracked and faded. Synthetic plastic used to adhere part of the left sleeve with the statue’s body was already protruded. Small cracks on the statue were previously filled with yellow wax that did not match with surrounding colours.
Photos of the artefact before and during the neck and shoulder’s restoration
Firstly, old paints, synthetic plastic and wax were removed with specilised tools. After removing, the gaps were filled with wheat paint glue, which consisted of raw paint and wheat flours, and a filling mixture of wheat paint and cypress tree’s dusts. The wheat paint glue enhanced the adherence between the fillings and the gaps’ surface.
After 2 to 3 days when the gaps got dried, the surface was continued to smoothen with a mini grinder. The process of painting the bases, sanding with sandpapers, painting raw piant mixture and orange paint, painting yellow powder mixture, smoothen uneven surface and painitng Acrylic colours from step 3.2 then got repeated.
Oxidised iron nails on the pedestal base of the statue hadleft red rusts, therefore a layer of Paraloid of 20% concentration was applied, in order to remove red rusts. A layer of raw paint was then applied to the top of the nails. Rusted nails that could be easier to remove got replaced by copper nails coasted with anti-rust paint.
The process of repairing the robe’s flap
After restoration and preservation, experts also recommended to preserve the artefact in a stable environment with temperature ranging between 20 to 23 degree Celcius and humidity ranging 55% to 60%. Variation of tempuratures and humidity should not exceed 5% within 24 hour.
Photos of the artefact post-restoration
Nguyễn Thị Hương Thơm
Ngô Thị Thu Hiền