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Marking World Heritage Day today we are focusing on the ancient Japanese art of picture conservation and mounting known as Hyōgu.

1923 woodblock print after the earliest known image of a hyōgushi priest and his assistant Original by the 14th century Japanese painter Fujiwara Takakane
Private collection Great Britain

Hyōgu and the hyōgushi

The art of restoring and mounting works of art on paper and silk has been practiced in the Far East for nearly two millennia. Originating first in China at the beginning of the Christian era, conservation techniques and materials then spread to Japan where they developed into the refined art that we now know as Hyōgu.

The word Hyōgu means a picture or piece of calligraphy lined with paper and mounted as a hanging scroll. The words hyōgushi, hyōguya and kyōji refer to the mounter/conservators of Japan who not only repair and mount hanging scrolls but also conserve other forms of pictorial art such as the handscroll, screens, sliding doors, murals etc.

The hyōgushi of today is required to undergo a long and strict period of training. During this time he or she learns not only the skills which will enable him to conserve scrolls, screens etc, but also the knowledge and sensitivity required to present them in their correct context. He must know the appropriate style of mount used for any subject and be aware, for example, of the meanings associated with the patterned silks used with such mounts. He or she must also know how and where an object will be used as this will often dictate the materials and techniques employed in its conservation.

Like the Western bookbinder, the hyōgushi is responsible for objects which must be both functional and aesthetically pleasing. The objects he is conserving are made to be opened and closed, rolled and unrolled and, apart from the demands of conservation and aesthetics, the hyōgushi must always bear in mind that they are to be constantly handled and not merely viewed.

 
St Andrew’s Church, Normanby, North Yorkshire, England
 
The Heritage Trust is fortunate to have our HQ in a little village in North Yorkshire, England that boasts a thriving pub and a pretty little Norman church. This morning we saw an elderly gentleman take some faltering steps towards the church. He’s a frequent visitor to the village and makes a daily pilgrimage to the church when no-one else is there. He went there this morning before the Easter Service. Why does he go alone you may ask. It’s because the church here is Church of England and he is a Roman Catholic. But he does go, daily when visiting, unlike the majority of those in the village and surrounding area. As the church bells rang out this morning, calling its ever dwindling congregation to attend, the words of Simon Jenkins came to mind; “ I don’t go to church, but I do go to churches.”
 
There are some 16,000 churches in England, many of them architectural gems and places of sanctity and peace. The majority however are poorly attended. The church here has two services a month, with a regular congregation of a dozen or so (most in their seventies and eighties). The rest of the time, other than the occasional wedding, funereal or coffee morning) the church stands open but unused. So what is to be done? Simon Jenkins, in his Guardian article here writes –
 
England’s biggest, most plentiful, most beautiful buildings are its churches. They are also its emptiest. There are some 16,000 churches in total, and every now and then their owner and janitor, the Church of England, utters a howl of pain. This month a church report points out that more than a quarter of churches have fewer than 20 worshippers on a Sunday – fewer than 10 in rural areas. Help, it cries, opening its mind (at last) to a future for local churches as everything from farmers’ markets to digital hubs, and even to naves as “champing” sites.
 
Every few years the church gets itself into a mess over how to use its churches. Like millions of people, I don’t go to church, but I do go to churches – 85% of the public visits a church every year. We regard them as the community’s ritual forum, its museum, its art gallery, its concert hall, its occasional retreat for peace, consolation and meditation. Many in the church view us as freeloaders (though I always leave money) and cannot see why they should give us such delight when their proper business is prayer, not heritage custody.
 
As long as parish churches are seen as shrines belonging to a tiny minority of the community, any hope of wider commitment is pie in the sky. Struggling local churches must be secularised, desanctified. They must be vested in an endowed local trust or parish council that literally owns them, so they become community assets, for whose upkeep local rates can be levied, as with public parks and gardens. There will be many spills along the way. But these buildings cannot be demolished or nationalised. There is simply no alternative.
 
In a nutshell then, our lovely little parish churches must embrace the wider community. They should become places of worship or meditation for people of all faiths as well as for those of none. Places where concerts are performed, exhibitions held, talks on all matters delivered. Most of all they should be places where all are made welcome and do not feel it necessary, like our elderly gentleman above, to feel excluded.
 
Happy Easter to all our readers.
 
 
 
The Cove, Avebury
©
Moss
 
This year Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site is celebrating 30 years since its inscription on to the World Heritage list in 1986. A number of events are taking place throughout this year.
 
The Stonehenge and Avebury WHS Coordination Unit, with the support of their partners, is holding a 30th anniversary conference on 19 and 20 November 2016 to celebrate the many aspects of the World Heritage Site and the gains made over the past 30 years.
 
On Saturday 19 November in the Ceres Hall, the Corn Exchange, Devizes [England], a number of speakers including Dr Serge Cassen (University of Nantes), Dr Alison Sheridan (National Museums of Scotland), Dr Heather Sebire (English Heritage), Prof Tim Darvill (University of Bournemouth), Dr Josh Pollard (University of Southampton), Prof Vince Gaffney(University of Bradford) will be joining us to examine developments in conservation, changes in our knowledge through research and archaeology, the impact on culture and how Stonehenge fits into the European and British culture at that time.
 
More here.
 
Gold coins unearthed from the Haihunhou Tomb
Image credit Jiang Dong/China Daily
 
In a Chinese Government press release, the excavation of the Haihunhou Tomb in Jiangxi Province, south-east China, has now been completed. The Haihunhou Tomb was constructed for the Marquis of Haihun (Liu He, 92bce – 59bce) during the Western Han Dynasty (206bce – 24ce) and contained a plethora of artefacts including gold coins, jade, lacquer ware, bronze bells and inscriptions written on bamboo and wood.
 
According to Chi Hong, Head of the Department of Culture for Jiangxi Province, the contents of the Haihunhou Tomb will go on display after conservation work on them has been completed.

St Andrew’s Church Coke House, Normanby, North Yorkshire, England

St Andrew’s Church, in the little village of Normanby in North Yorkshire, once had two coke-fired stoves burning in order to keep its congregation reasonably warm during those cold, north country winters of yesteryear. The coke fires in the church have long since gone but the church’s coke house still remains. Though in relatively good condition, this elegant little building needs some consolidation to its roadside foundations, as well as a new wooden door on its east side and a new wooden hatch on its west.

Deteriorating roadside foundations and wooden hatch

 

The Taisho Photographer’s House by Hamish Campbell

Hidden in an old and collapsing home, an incredible discovery sheds light on the lives of a Japanese family during Japan’s Taishō Period (1912–1926). As this remarkable family home, and its contents, slowly disintegrates and disappears Australian photographer Hamish Campbell captures what still remains.

The Heritage Trust strongly urges the appropriate Japanese authorities to take steps to protect and preserve this unique and invaluable house and its contents for future generations.

Nexus – Genkan I
A superimposed image showing the condition of the Taisho Photographer’s House today, with a Taisho family bride entering the house’s genkan (hallway)
Image credit Hamish Campbell

See also Hamish Campbell’s I Found 100-Year-Old Glass Plates in an Abandoned Japanese Home here.

 

The northern façade of the Church of Yemrehanna Kristos. Seen here within the cave which houses it
Image credit Stephen Battle/World Monuments Fund

Martin Bailey, writing in The Art Newspaper, reports that a team of British conservators will help preserve Ethiopia’s oldest wall paintings. The paintings are in the twelfth century Church of Yemrehanna Kristos in Northern Ethiopia –

A project to conserve Ethiopia’s oldest wall paintings, which experts believe date to around 1100 or soon after, is due to begin this month. They are in the church of Yemrehanna Kristos, a full-sized building constructed inside a cave in the Lasta Mountains at an altitude of 2,700m. The cave is above a valley of juniper trees and, until recently, could only be reached by a day’s journey on foot or mule from the town of Lalibela, in northern Ethiopia. The church’s interior is so dark that international specialists did not note the paintings’ existence until the 1990s; the first published account was in 2001.

The London-based Ethiopian Heritage Fund, with support from the World Monuments Fund, is undertaking the project. The conservation team consists of two British specialists, Lisa Shekede and Stephen Rickerby; the latter describes the paintings as being in a “highly vulnerable and threatened condition”.

The initial investigation will include in-situ microscopy, along with ultra-violet and infra-red examinations. Paint samples will be tested, partly to determine the original pigments and media used and to identify added materials. There will be small-scale cleaning trials, to test which materials should be used. Monitoring sensors will be installed to record temperature and humidity changes. A separate team from the University of Cape Town will undertake a laser scan survey to create a three- dimensional data model of the church and cave, to map structural movement.

More here and here.

  

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Detail of The Martyrdom of Edmund on the north wall of the Church of St Peter and St Paul, Pickering, North Yorkshire, England
 
A project to highlight one of North Yorkshire’s hidden pictorial gems is being launched in Pickering this evening. The Pickering Parish Church of St Peter and St Paul is aiming to conserve its medieval wall paintings and improve visitor facilities through a Heritage Lottery Fund project entitled Let there be Light.
 
Pickering Church contains the most complete set of medieval wall paintings so far discovered in Britain (see our earlier feature here). The paintings, executed over 500 years ago, remained hidden under a thick coat of plaster until they were accidentally rediscovered in 1852. The Church is now working closely with the University of York on the best way to conserve and display these unique works of art.
 
This evening’s launch event will begin at 7:30 and will include a talk  by Dr. Kate Giles, leading expert on the paintings. There is no charge for the evening and those attending will have the opportunity to offer views and suggestions on the project.
 
 
 
The Star Chart on the ceiling of the Takamatsuzuka burial mound in western Japan
Image credit Yuta Takahashi for the The Asahi Shimbun
 
The famous Takamatsuzuka Kofun (高松塚古墳) burial mound exhibition closes today (8 November 2015) in Asuka village, Japan. Built during the Asuka Period, between the end of the 7th century and the beginning of the 8th century, it lay unopened until 1972. Excavations of the mound then revealed an interior on whose walls stunning murals of Asuka Period ladies, astrological representations and a golden star chart were found. The gold disks, making up the chart, measure some 0.8 centimetres in diameter and are connected by red lines
 
Designated as a National Treasure this was the first time the general public were able to view the chart.
 
More here.
   
By Roy Goutté
 
 
On the 17th September 2015 I finally got to see the ‘Jersey Hoard’, a fantastic hoard of mixed silver and copper coins discovered in Jersey back in 2012 and said to weigh three-quarters of a ton! It was my first re-visit to my homeland for 5 years.
 

The hoard has recently been moved and now housed in the museum at La Hougue Bie. Since its discovery, by two metal detectorists, conservators have been removing on average about 500 coins per week out of the estimated total of possibly 50,000! But it’s not only coins making up this most amazing mass, for once coins started being removed, gold torcs and jewellery began to reveal themselves and to date seven torcs have now been exposed! An estimated value of the whole package has been put at over £10m which is a phenomenal amount! Even though they were just recording on the day I was there, you are able to observe the conservators at work as they painstakingly take the hoard apart, cleaning and conserving the contents as they go.

A notice informs you that the coins are made from a mix of silver and copper and why they are now dark green

Also hidden in Jersey’s eastern countryside at La Hougue Bie and within its grounds, lies one of Europe’s finest prehistoric monuments. At the heart of this tranquil site stands a medieval church atop a prehistoric mound under which lies a 6,000-year-old Neolithic Cruciform Armorican Passage Grave. Without a doubt this is the Channel Islands jewel in the crown and an absolute ‘must see’.

Now that the hoard is safely housed in the purposely built lab it is more reason to pay the site a visit. You certainly won’t be disappointed that’s for sure, but do take a torch along with you to view the inside of the passage grave as the lighting is minimal! Alternatively, check out this excellent website that displays the chambered tomb superbly.

Jersey Heritage itself has a very informative website here and here. Within the museum is a fascinating geology and Ice-Age area aside from other coin hoards, axes, swords and spears belonging to Jersey’s Neolithic community.


Just a part of the Ice-Age exhibition

As a reminder of more recent times, especially to the islanders (not that they need reminding that is) is a command bunker built during the German Occupation of Jersey and turned into a memorial dedicated to the slave-workers brought to the Channel Islands by invading Nazi forces during the Second World War and treated abominably. Personally, I chose not to enter this ‘museum in its own right’ as I find it too depressing and in a way not in keeping with the wonder of the other exhibits. Family memories and all that!

That aside, there is a large picnic area where you can enjoy a day out amongst the beautiful surroundings of this mainly peaceful and spiritual site.

A closer look at the hoard through the glass screen of the purposely built lab

A fantastic aerial view of the church atop the mound. The entrance to the passage grave can be observed to the left of the mound

The wonderfully constructed entrance to the passage grave

Both the grave and the church are orientated east/west, the tomb entrance facing east in common fashion. And just when the excitement of discovering the Celtic hoard at Grouville couldn’t have been more, this was then discovered at Trinity …again by a metal detectorist!

Say what you like about metal detectorists but without a doubt they have been responsible for re-writing much of our history by the finds they have made. In many cases it has been in areas not even considered by archaeologists so unlikely to have ever been discovered without their help. Such a shame that they are not given the credit due to them because of a small minority not playing by the rules and getting more attention than they deserve in certain quarters.

 

 
 
A Saxon church in the village of Archita, Transylvania, before its ‘restoration’
Image credit and © DW/W. Blacker
 
Luke Dale-Harris reports from Sibiu, Transylvania, that churches, some at least 800 years old, are being “brutally revamped” using European Union funds. Original features have been stripped in restoration projects mired in conflicts of interest –
 
Standing to face a room full of angry conservationists, the Romanian Evangelical Church lawyer Friedrich Gunesch looks red faced and shaken. Over the last four hours he has faced accusations of corruption, ineptitude and the deliberate destruction of historical monuments, as restoration specialists and investigative journalists put forward evidence against his office. They are all trying to establish the same thing: How did an EU funded, multi-million euro restoration project end up wrecking many of Romania’s most treasured churches?
 
More here.
 
 
 
The Staffordshire Hoard
©
Birmingham Museums Trust
 
The Art Fund has announced that –
 
Although all Treasure Plus funding has now been awarded, we’re running a conference in October 2015 to support curators working with archaeological collections. The aims of this fully funded conference are to share best practice, discuss solutions for common challenges with other curators and sector experts, and to network with colleagues. Specialist and non-specialist curators and other museum professionals working with archaeology collections are all welcome.
 
Details:
 
Tuesday, 13 October 10am to 4pm (with a drinks reception and extended access to the Staffordshire Hoard Gallery until 6pm. Thinktank, Birmingham. Lunch and refreshments will be provided. Places are fully funded, and will be allocated on a first come, first served basis, with priority given to curators working in UK public collections.
 
The conference will be held at Thinktank, but Birmingham Museums Trust has kindly offered to extend the opening hours for the Staffordshire Hoard Galleries for conference attendees. In addition, a limited number of participants will be able to take part in a tour of the conservation studio, where items from the Hoard (pictured) are still being conserved. Transport from Thinktank to Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery will be arranged by the Art Fund.
 
More here.
  


Reconstructed Anglo-Saxon sword pommel from the Staffordshire Hoard
©
Birmingham Museums Trust

 

Two 15th century painted panels in Holy Trinity Church, Torbryan, Devon, England before the theft. The two figures on the right, in the left panel, went missing.
Photo credit: The Churches Conservation Trust

Nearly two years ago we reported on the theft of two priceless 15th century painted oak panels from a church in Devon, England (feature here). The panels are said to be of national importance but had been viciously hacked out of a screen in the church and stolen. The panels were feared lost forever but now, thanks to a collector who recognised them from media coverage and who reported their illegal online sale to the police, the panels have been recovered and are currently in safe storage in Bristol.

Sadly, the damage done to the panels when they were hacked from the screen will cost in the region of £7,000 to repair and conserve. The Churches Conservation Trust therefore has launched and appeal to help restore this priceless masterpiece. Details here.

   

West Midlands History explores a mystery object from the Staffordshire Anglo-Saxon Hoard

After hours of research, this is an object which still baffles the team of Anglo Saxon experts in the project team. As far as they know no comparable piece has ever been found and it has no immediately obvious use.

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