Asian Art






Studio MIYABI specializes in the care and conservation of Asian scroll paintings. As you are most likely aware, scroll paintings require a particular type of expertise and specialized skills. Traning for this type of conservation is normally not available in the United states. Many museums with large Asian collections staff their conservation departments with Chinese or Japanese trained conservators.

With few conservators trained to handle scroll paintings, museums and private collectors with special projects or small Asian collections often have difficulty locating a conservator to help them on a limited or short-term basis. Having recognized and hoping to meet this need within the Asian art community, I have established a conservation studio that will offer conservation expertise on a contractual basis.


By: Ryo Nishiumi

Over the years there have been numerous Japanese screens collected by individuals and museums in the West, especially in the United States and Europe. As the screens age and need restoration, it is becoming more and more obvious that there is a shortage of conservators in the West who are trained in the traditional Japanese techniques of complete screen restoration. In fact, today there may be less than ten such conservators outside of Japan. In addition, materials traditionally used for screen restoration are often not available outside the Orient. Of course it is hoped that in the future there will be more Westerners who are trained in traditional Japanese restoration and that materials which are now difficult to obtain will be more accessible. It can also be expected that indigenous American and European materials and methods will be substituted, by those of us working in the West, for traditional Japanese methods and materials whenever the western methods and materials prove to be more suitable. At my studio, for example, we are exploring the use of Honeybomb (a man-made hexongally-celled paper core) as a substitute for the traditional wooden undercore of screens.

During the past 25 years of conservation treatment in America, I have encountered many problems. Some of the problems are easily solved such as improper handling techniques and incorrect temperature and humidity settings. The more serious problems for me are related to restoration techniques and materials. For example, it is now easy but expensive to purchase quality “washi” (paper); however in America and Europe, to purchase the wood for the screen’s undercore that supports the six paper layers (which in turn support the artwork) is still very difficult. In Japan white cedar called “shiromi”, Japanese cypress and “kiri” (paulownia) are used for the undercores with cedar being the most popular. Outside Japan it is very difficult to obtain the “shiromi” type of cedar. Therefore, in the past, pine has substituted for Japanese “shiromi” cedar both at the Freer Gallery and at my studio. As shown in the photograph there have been examples in which acid from the replacement pine undercore has damaged the painting. If at all possible a screen’s old undercore is reused because old cores give off virtually no acid. Unfortunately sometimes because of severe damage to the undercore, it must be replaced. This is a problem for us because American woods are more acidic than Japanese cedar, cypress or palownia and are often milled differently. In addition, in many parts of America and Europe finding a carpenter who can build a traditional Japanese style undercore is not always possible. For these reasons I have begun experimenting with adapting western conservation materials in the restoration of traditional Japanese screens. More specifically I have been looking for an alternative to the screen’s wooden undercore. Currently, we are using traditional methods but substituting American poplar for Japanese woods. The alternative we are looking at now is a man-made material called Honeycomb. Honeycomb has all the physical properties necessary for a substitute for the traditional undercore: it has the ability to expand and contract with the changing temperature and humidity; it is durable and resists warping and it has an acceptable pH level. The advantages of honeycomb are that it is easily accessible, can be purchased locally and it is usable as is. Only the addition of the paper for the hinges is required without the necessity of applying six layers of paper as a Japanese undercore would require. Finally, it meets the same requirements as a traditional Japanese undercore: namely, it supports the artwork on a flat plane while at the same time it absorbs excess moisture when the humidity is high and on dryer days it gradually releases moisture. Thus there are no rapid changes in a screen’s moisture content can often lead to either horizontal or vertical tears. Two other important characteristics that lead me to say that Honeycomb appears to be an even better material than the traditional Japanese undercore made with an American wood, are that Honeycomb is acid free and therefore presents no risk to the artwork of causing acid burn and that it is less attractive to insects.

Of course Honeycomb has not passed the final test ­ the test of time as have traditional Japanese methods and materials. It is therefore best to adhere to them as much as possible. However when the necessity arises as it does upon occasion for us in the west, we must be willing to be inventive. Rather than be discouraged by the lack of traditional materials used in Japan, I think we can view the problems that arise from doing Asian conservation in the West as exciting challenges to be successfully overcome. We will continue as much as possible to follow traditional ways while being constantly on the lookout for innovative solutions to the problems that arise. Just as many traditional Asian conservation techniques and materials have been successfully adapted for use in Western conservation so too is it reasonable to expect that some Western methods and materials will be successfully adapted for Asian conservation.



  • Eleven years as Head of the East Asian Painting Conservation Department at the Smithsonian Institution, Freer Gallery of Art.
  • Completed ten years of apprentice system at the Kyoto National Museum Conservation Studio acknowledged by Education of Ministry, Science and Culture of Japan.
  • Restored Japan's first class National treasures and Imperial collections.
Principal and Director of Studio MIYABI, Fairfax, Virginia
1991 - present
Conservation work for the private museums including: Allen Memorial Art Museum, Appleton Museum of Art, Cincinnati Art Museum, Indianapolis Museum of Art, Lowe Art Museum, Miami University Art Museum.
Important restoration projects were a pair of Tale of Gengi screen (18th century), Rakuchu-rakugaizu byobu screen (Views in and around the capital of Kyoto, 18th century), and Korean painting scrolls (early 17th century) etc.
Head of East Asian Painting Conservation Department, Freer Gallery of Art
1979- 1991
Directed projects including the important works of: Matsushima Screen (17th century) by Sotatsu Tawaraya, Chu Manuscript / the oldest existing silk manuscript found in China, Restoration of 19 scrolls and hand scrolls from the permanent collections of The St, Louis Art Museum.
Chief of Staff, Usami Conservation Studio / Kyoto National Museum, Japan
Directed work on Cultural Properties including: Katsura Imperial Villa (Japan's most Important 17th century cultural treasure) comprehensive restoration project including screen Paintings and wall paintings, 13th century Imperial collection hand scrolls, series of temple wall paintings by Sosen Mori (Sosen's oldest works), Hamamatsu screen (18th century) complete restoration.
Project Leader / Staff Conservator, Usami Conservation Studio / Kyoto National Museum
1968 - 1978
Led the complete restoration of Japanese screen doors (Fusumae) made by Kano School (early 17th century) in Nishi Honganji Temple, a designated first class national treasure.

Studio MIYABI: Conservation for East Asian Paintings
Phone : 703-280-1918

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