UCLA/Getty Conservation Program

A graduate conservation training program focusing on the conservation of archaeological and ethnographic materials

Technical Study of Two Japanese Masks: Investigating Their Attribution as a Pair

The work described in this poster was conducted as part of a Master’s thesis project for the UCLA/Getty Conservation Program and presented at the Annual Conference of the Association of North American Graduate Programs in Conservation (ANAGPIC), Buffalo State College, April 24-25, 2009.

The Fowler Museum at UCLA houses a collection of Japanese polychrome wooden masks. A pair of these masks, identified as “honomen” (gift or dedication mask), was attributed to the same maker based on their stylistic similarities. The museum records stated that the masks were dated to the 18-19th century and made in the style found in the Kyūshū region of Japan. However, neither the pairing nor provenance of the masks was supported by any textual or technical evidence.

The poster presented here summarizes the preliminary results from a comparative technical investigation on the Fowler masks, as a part of the research to answer the questions regarding the masks’ provenance and their paired attribution. Analytical techniques such as wood characterization, polarized light microscopy (PLM), x-ray fluorescence spectroscopy (XRF), x ray diffraction (XRD), gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS), pyrolysis-gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (Py-GC-MS) and micro-chemical analysis using environmental scanning electron microscopy (ESEM-EDX) were used to determine the masks’ material composition and methods of manufacture. The analytical results, combined with studies on the masks’ context of use and iconographic origins, provided material evidence that the masks were manufactured in close association with one another, although there was no firm evidence to establish that they were indeed manufactured by the same hand. Furthermore, identifying vitreous pigments on one of the masks pushed the mask’s estimated date of manufacture to 19th-20th century. This finding also added knowledge to a class of pigment not widely used in the Japanese palette until modern times.

Built upon the analytical understanding of the Fowler masks’ material composition and present condition, the research project concluded with a conservation treatment to improve the long-term stability of the polychrome. The most urgent treatment priorities were stabilizing the fragile matte paint surface and locally reinforcing the structural defects on the masks. Due to time constraints, consolidation of the paint was performed only on the red mask. Major structural defects on both masks were reinforced by filling the cavities in the wood with a light-weight and mechanically-reversible fill made of rolled-up Japanese paper, capped with a light-weight putty made from Acryloid B-72 bulked with glass microballoons for a better seal. The fill was then inpainted with Liquitex acrylic emulsion paint to reduce the color contrast between the fill and the wood.

Students attend Ceramics Research Group pit firing at Dockeweiler State Beach

Post and pictures by Dawn Lohnas

We went to the Dockweiler State Beach last Saturday to fire our ceramic pinch pots that we made for Prof. David Scott’s “Archaeological Materials: Technology and Characterization” course. We fired them in a pit fire to get a better understanding for this ancient technology.

Here are our vessels before firing…you can see the pit warming up there in the background.

Vessels waiting to be fired

Vessels waiting to be fired

After the initial fire heated up, a layer of ceramic sherds was laid down to insulate the pots from the heat. Then our pots, along with all the other greenware (unfired pieces) were placed in the pit. Another layer of large sherds was placed on top of the greenware, and layer of bisqueware (previously fired ceramics) was placed on top of that. Then we added more wood, and fired it up again!


Vessels were placed in pit on a layer of ceramic sherds that act to insulate the pots from the heat


Then more wood was added

After firing for a good few hours, and reaching close to 900 degrees celsius, the pottery was ready to be retrieved.


Firing the pots

Most everything survived! Success!! Now we all know a little bit more about a technique that has been around for many millennia…Thanks to Don Corbett and Marilyn Beaudry-Corbett, Director of the Ceramics Research Group, at UCLA’s Cotsen Institute of Archaeology for organizing all of this!


Removing the pots after firing


Happy students with their fired pots. (L to R) Dawn Lohnas, Cindy Lee Scott, Nicole Ledoux, Tessa de Alarcon, Robin O'Hern, Elizabeth Drolet, Lily Doan (conservation students) Don and Marilyn Corbett (organizers)

Video features UCLA/Getty Program exhibition

Check out this video made during the opening of the UCLA/Getty Conservation Program’s exhibition this spring. The exhibit, which was held at UCLA’s Young Research Library, featured Native American objects from the collection of the Agua Caliente Cultural Museum. Students from the class of 2010 worked on the objects as part of the course entitled “Ethnography and Conservation” taught by Prof. Ellen Pearlstein. In the video, Prof. Pearlstein and several of the students discuss the exhibit and the work undertaken researching and treating the objects, as well as preparing the exhibit itself.

UCLA/Getty Program Exhibit
Objects courtesy of the Agua Caliente Cultural Museum

Start of term for the class of 2012

This week marks the beginning of classes at UCLA and the entry of the class of 2012 into the UCLA/Getty Conservation Program. This first few days of this week are filled with various orientations to lab spaces and the program in general. The conservation students attend a portion of these orientations with the incoming students to UCLA’s Archaeology graduate program to give them an opportunity to interact and enjoy tours and luncheons together before classes start later in the week.

We wish the incoming classes of both the Conservation and Archaeology program lots of success in their graduate studies!

The class of 2012! (front row, L to R) Robin O'Hern, Elizabeth Drolet, Tessa de Alarcon, Dawn Lohnas (back row, L to R) Cindy Lee Scott, Lily Doan, Nicole Ledoux

The class of 2012! (front row, L to R) Robin O'Hern, Elizabeth Drolet, Tessa de Alarcon, Dawn Lohnas (back row, L to R) Cindy Lee Scott, Lily Doan, Nicole Ledoux

Incoming conservation and archaeology students at the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology

Incoming conservation and archaeology students at the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology

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Conservation Program news in the latest issue of Backdirt

The latest issue of Backdirt, the annual magazine of the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, highlights some of the projects undertaken in 2009 by students and faculty of the UCLA/Getty Conservation Program.