Profile: Conservation Intern Kathryn Harada

In this blog entry, Kathryn Harada shares a bit about her experience as a conservation intern at Shangri La. Since April 2012, Kat has helped us to care for our collection of Islamic Art, while gaining experience that will help prepare her for a graduate program in conservation. Kat graduated from Smith College in 2008 with degrees in art history and Italian. She worked in the conservation lab at Smith College Museum of Art and interned at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts’ furniture conservation lab before moving to Honolulu to apprentice in a furniture restoration studio. (To learn more about training opportunities at Shangri La visit our website.)

Kat Harada removes overpaint from a 12th–13th-century tabouret, revealing previous restorations and repairs. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai‘i.
Kat Harada removes overpaint from a 12th–13th-century tabouret, revealing previous restorations and repairs. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai‘i.

Working as a conservation intern at Shangri La has been an amazing opportunity to gain experience in the conservation of a variety of materials and objects. My projects have ranged from helping to prepare the marble jali screens for their restoration and reinstallation; to cleaning a gold ewer (57.5) dated to the early first millennium BC; to conserving a variety of glass, jade, metal, and ceramic objects.

Earlier this year, I completed a conservation treatment for a 12th–13th-century tabouret (48.297) on view in the Mihrab Room. This object had undergone extensive restoration, probably to ready it for sale in the art market of the 1940s. There were several plaster-of-Paris fills bridging the gaps between fragments of ceramic. The detailed painting that camouflaged the fill areas with the original ceramic had discolored over time. The adhesive holding all the pieces together had also begun to deteriorate. Over the course of several months, I set to work removing the old paint and as much of the old adhesive as possible. I re-shaped some areas of fill, and I finished by touching in some color to blend the fills with the ceramic.

12th–13th-century tabouret, during and after treatment. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai‘i.
12th–13th-century tabouret, during and after treatment. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai‘i.

Currently, I am working on a series of objects that are being considered for display in the Mughal Suite. Among these objects, there is a group of ceremonial daggers and swords, from which my next project will be pulled. These are complicated objects, consisting of several different materials—e.g., jade, hard stones, wood, textiles, and various metals—each with its own set of conservation challenges.

Kat cleaning the dining room chandelier (47.134). Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai‘i.
Kat cleaning the dining room chandelier (47.134). Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai‘i.

One of my other responsibilities as a conservation intern is to assist with the weekly cleaning and maintenance of the objects on display. Shangri La’s proximity to the ocean, the lovely Hawaiian breezes, and the open architectural design of the house work together to guarantee that the objects get a daily dose of salt and dirt that could be potentially harmful to their longevity. I am learning so much about preventative conservation from this weekly maintenance routine.

I am so fortunate to be a part of keeping Doris Duke’s vision alive and helping to make sure that her collection can continue to inspire and educate those who come to see it. My experience working here will provide a strong foundation as I continue to pursue a career in art conservation.