Reduced, reused and recycled: The treatment and redisplay of a repurposed seventeenth-century Coromandel lacquer screen in the Acton Collection, Villa La Pietra, Florence

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Publication Type:

Journal Article


Pamela Hatchfield; Briana Feston; Diana Johnson Galante; Erin Kitagawa; Jessica Pace; Amy Tjiong; Kristen Watson Adsit; Raina Chao; Rita Berg; Megan Randall; Manuela Toro;


Studies in Conservation, Volume 61, Number sup3, p.117-123 (2016)


This paper discusses the treatment of a seventeenth-century Coromandel lacquer screen displayed in the Acton Collection of New York University (NYU) Villa La Pietra (Florence, Italy). Altered before purchase from its original form as a multi-panel folding screen, several reduced sections of a screen were joined together and reworked to form a decorative panel. After more than 60 years of display, the panel was found to be in extremely poor condition; structurally unstable with severe flaking of the lacquer, it could no longer be displayed as intended by the Acton family. Examination revealed inherent problems resulting from the original fabrication techniques and materials in addition to damage caused by the highly invasive methods used to repurpose the original folding screen into a rigid decorative panel. These issues were exacerbated by exposure to unstable environmental conditions. The eclectic esthetic principles of the Acton Collection dictated the design of the treatment plan and decisions about its redisplay. This article discusses the panel's original construction and materials, including analysis of the lacquer layers and additives, and later modifications to its structure and format, all of which contributed to its poor condition. The treatment techniques employed are also discussed, including the adaptation of the classical Japanese shimbari frame for stabilization of the lacquer with Paraloid® B-72, and the minimalist approach taken to compensation using tinted Japanese tissue fills. Finally, the panel was rehung on a new tubular steel framework fitted with flexible springs to accommodate planar distortions and fitted with a backing system comprising modular units for humidity buffering as a preventive measure.