China / Cover Story

An age of restoration

By Zhang Yuchen (China Daily) Updated: 2012-08-27 09:08

For love not money

The smell of old paper and fermented-flour glue floats in the air of the corridor leading to the painting restoration department on the seventh floor of the Capital Museum.

Five or six young people stand in a room smaller than a volleyball court. Lou Pengzhu, senior master and director of painting restoration at the Capital Museum, sits watching them working.

"Personal interest is the most important thing in this profession," she said. "Young talent with high degrees don't want to do jobs like this,"

Although some young people have great potential there are not enough funds to recruit them officially, which means they can only earn a little more than 1,000 yuan a month as "unofficial employees", according to Lou.

"All of her 14 fellow students intend to work in either private museums or specialist workshops offering restoration services. Restoration work consumes a great deal of time and energy," said Zhang Zhaoxin, an intern at the Capital Museum.

"There are many areas that need to be studied, such as chemistry and the usage of materials. But I do it because I love the work."

An age of restoration

Gold foil paste applied to monk's head. [Photo/China Daily]

Modern conservation

Liu Yuming recalled how delicate and detailed the repair work used to be and the skills of the older generation of craftsmen.

"Now some of our skills seem to have fallen behind other regions," he said.

Traditionally, the skills would have been passed on from the master to the disciple, and for the disciple to become a master craftsman in turn would have required years of experience.

Today's restoration technicians have the help of machines so they don't have to learn through the techniques and skills to the same extent.

"Machines can do better job in grinding the gold foil into even finer gold powder which can make the gold mud glow really beautiful," said Liu.

Restoration work is even becoming high-tech. The Capital Museum, for example, has started employing nanotechnology in a bid to make the restorations last longer.

"But there is still a gap between high technology development and pragmatic use," said Ma Yan, a member of the museum's painting restoration department.

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He Na, Yang Wanli and Tang Yue contributed to the story.

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