Conserving the Syrian Room Mirrored Doors

Cupboard door (64.9.2) in the Syrian Room. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai‘i. (Photo: David Franzen, 2009.)
Cupboard door (64.9.2) in the Syrian Room. Syria, Damascus, ca. 1840-60. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai‘i. (Photo: David Franzen, 2009.)

The following is a guest post by conservation intern Kayleen Roberts.

In the Syrian Room at Shangri La, there is a pair of gilded wood, mirrored doors (64.9.2). The doors are from the Late Ottoman period of Syria. In 2010, they underwent extensive conservation work by students from the Winterthur conservation program in Delaware. Although the overall condition of the doors is stable, they are still very fragile, especially the hollow, wooden parts. Recently this fragility came to be realized during a routine cleaning, when part of the wood element was broken off of the door.

As a new conservation intern, I couldn’t help feeling daunted after being handed a plastic bag full of tiny wooden fragments awaiting their chance for repair. Although I was worried, this challenge also left me eager: I had a project. This project was different from the others, which for the most part involved immense amounts of cleaning. It was a test of my manual dexterity, my patience, and my desire to pursue a career in conservation. I accepted this challenge and devised a plan.

  1. Research: what is this piece’s conservation history?
  2. Documentation of the current condition, both written and photographic.
  3. Treatment proposal: what is the best way to make this repair?
  4. Carry out the plan for treatment.
  5. Treatment report, both written and photographic.

After completing the research and condition documentation, the first part of the treatment consisted of matching as many fragments as possible to their adjacent pieces, like a puzzle. Once the fragments were matched up, I used an adhesive and pieces of Japanese paper to join them. When the fragments had dried, voids were filled with a mixture of microscopic glass balloons and resin to reinforce the repair. The newly joined fragments were then reattached to their corresponding places on the wooden door, again with Japanese paper and an adhesive. Voids behind the repairs were filled in the same manner as voids in the fragments: with microscopic glass balloons and resin. Fill materials were coated with a layer of gloss acrylic emulsion medium and then toned with acrylic emulsion paints.

Mirrored doors before, during, and after treatment. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai‘i, 2013.
Portion of the mirrored doors before, during, and after treatment.
Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai‘i, 2013.

Although this was a seemingly impossible task at first, I was able to complete this project with the help and guidance of Kent Severson, Shangri La’s conservator. I think of this repair now as the first “big” conservation project that I have been assigned. In the end, I’m sure it will seem to be such a small project, but for now, I am happy to say that I am proud of the work I did.

About the Guest Author: Kayleen Roberts has been living in Hawai‘i since 1995, when she and her family moved here from southern California. Her interest in the arts goes as far back as childhood, when she would spend time making jewelry. Throughout high school she took various art classes and continued to do so when she started attending Windward Community College in 2008. During her college education, she was able to travel to South America, Europe, and Southeast Asia, which exposed her to a plethora of art historical traditions. In June of 2013, she graduated from the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa with a BA in art history and shortly afterward, she gave birth to a beautiful baby boy! In August she started working as a pre-program conservation intern at Shangri La, which will give her the necessary experience to apply to a conservation graduate program.

Conservation interns Kat Harada and Kayleen Roberts. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai'i, 2013.
Conservation interns Kat Harada and Kayleen Roberts.
Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai’i, 2013.