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Palace Museum Delegation Visits the United States

For ten days in March, representatives of the Palace Museum (Forbidden City) in Beijing, including two recent graduates of the World Monuments Fund/Palace Museum conservation training school, CRAFT, came to New York for a series of technical exchange meetings, presentations, and site visits.

From day one it became apparent that, despite exhaustion following their trans-Pacific flight, the group’s eagerness to explore the city would mean little time for rest. Our first day was spent touring the 9/11 Memorial and Wall Street before heading uptown for lunch at Café Sabarsky and a tour of the Neue Galerie. Fully engorged on schnitzel and German-Austrian Expressionism, we made our way to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where Mecka Baumeister, an objects conservator at the MET and one of CRAFT’s international instructors, took the group through the MET’s conservation labs, opened up Roentgen’s Berlin Secretary Cabinet for a peek into one of the world’s most imaginative—and expensive—pieces of furniture, and explored the conservation and installation of the Damascus Room, an eighteenth-century Syrian entrance hall fully reassembled in the MET.

Well rested on day two and braving a damp and dour New York day, we spent the day at the Museum of Modern Art, where Chris McGlinchey, MoMA’s Conservation Scientist and another CRAFT instructor, led the group through MoMA’s exhibition halls and conservation labs. In addition to catching Munch’s Scream, Chris took the group through MoMA’s paper, painting, and architectural conservation labs.

The following three days were spent at WMF’s offices in meetings focused on reviewing the conservation and restoration programs developed for Fuwangge (Belvedere of Viewing Achievements), Zhuxiangguan (Lodge of Bamboo Fragrance), and Yucuixuan (Bower of Purest Jade), three of the 27 buildings in the Qianlong Garden. Mr. Zhao and Mr. Wang, two of CRAFT’s five graduating students, having completed the two-year program, have taken over conservation management of Zhuxiangguan and Yucuixuan, respectively. Their presentations explored the unique challenges presented by each building, from a mural in Yucuixuan to the “cracked-ice” wood panels in Zhuxiangguan, while proposing solutions. All three buildings have revealed myriad issues to be addressed during the life of the projects, including drainage, temperature and relative humidity control, and visitor management. As Mr. Zhao and Mr. Wang focus on each building’s conservation over the next several years, they will continue to consult the resources available through the Palace Museum, SACH (China’s State Administration of Cultural Heritage), and CRAFT’s international faculty and advisors to ensure that best practices are properly determined and carried out.

The final days of the groups’ US visit included trips to Salem and Newport, offering further insight into conservation practices. In Salem, the group explored Yin Yu Tang, a late-Qing Dynasty (1644–1912) house from the Anhui province west of Shanghai that was disassembled piece-by-piece in China, shipped to the Peabody Essex Museum, and meticulously put back together. Newport offered tremendous opportunities to learn from a wide array of conservation approaches and challenges in the town’s historic homes. Our group met with John Tschirch and Jeff Moore of the Preservation Society of Newport County, who led us through The Elms, Kingscote, Chateau sur Mer, Marble House, The Breakers, and the Isaac Bell House, discussed heritage management, and explored the conservation lab in The Elms, where a group of conservators have finished restoring Chinese lacquer panels soon to be reinstalled in the home’s breakfast room.

Of particular interest to the group was the Isaac Bell House, a shingle-style home from late nineteenth-century that the Society has left largely unrestored to demonstrate the questions and issues that arise as these great homes are being restored.

Upon returning to New York, packing, and recapping, it was time to say goodbyes. Of course, a US trip that overlapped with St. Patrick’s Day would not have been complete without one important—and green—component.