ICON, Winter 2003
Of all the challenges facing the field of preservation, among the greatest has been the replication of ancient techniques or methods of manufacture that are no longer practiced. This issue we highlight tw o projects that have required a revitalization of lost, or vanishing, arts. At Qianlong's Retirement Lodge, an eighteenth-century imperial jewelbox in the far northeast corner of China's Forbidden City opulent interiors were appointed with silken panels executed in double-sided embroidery. The technique, mastered during the Qinj; period, allowed for intricately sewn panels to be appreciated from both sides, with nary a knot in sight. Over the centuries since the emperors reign, however, the delicate panels had deteriorated considerably, suffering from age and exposure to high humidity.
Textile specialists from Suzhou Embroidery Research Institute are confident they will be able to replicate the imperial stitching. However, they warn, fabric and thread of comparable quality may be difficult—if not impossible—to find. In West Africa, buildings once built of earth are—on e by one—being replaced with concrete structures. And, in recent years, cement has become the material of choice for replastering structures and patching collapsed sections of traditional mudbrick buildings, some of considerable antiquity. Cement, which does not allow an earthen building to breathe, has caused a host of conservation problems, particularly at sites such as the seventeenth-century Larabanga mosque in northerr, Ghana, where high humidity had caused woodrot in structural supports and invited insect infestation. We are happy to report, however, that with a renewed appreciation for ways of the past, both of these sites are being granted new life.