Time to Turn Back Time
Jang Yeonhee Associate Curator of the Conservation Science Division, National Museum of Korea
by The Editorial Team
“The moment I weave time that has been scattered throughout the years, bit by bit, is always stirring and overwhelming.”

The work of the National Museum of Korea’s Conservation Science Division covers three fields:
restoration, which means breathing new life into damaged cultural heritages by restoring them to their original state using traditional methods and modern science and technology; analysis, which means studying the techniques used to make cultural heritages using the latest scientific equipment;
and environmental management, which means preventing damage to and extending the life of items by maintaining them in the best possible environment. Curator Jang Yeonhee, who works in this division, does more than just restore the appearance of an object; she acts as a messenger, communicating with the cultural heritages to restore memories and analyze the era and move forward to the future generation. “I am in charge of conservation treatment for calligraphy works and items made of paper. This means works mounted in diverse forms, such as scrolls, frames, folding screens, albums, and books. Since these calligraphy and paper items are damaged in very different ways depending on their form of mounting and storage conditions, they must be studied closely to remove the cause of damage and restore them to their original form,” Jang said.

Jang recalls that one of her most memorable projects was the restoration of The King’s Procession (Wangui haengcha), a folding screen owned by the Allen Memorial Art Museum at Oberlin College in the United States, which came to the National Museum of Korea as part of the museum’s support for Korean galleries in overseas museums. The folding screen was first owned by Dalzell A. Bunker and his wife, Annie Allen Bunker, who were active in missionary, medical, and educational work in Korea from 1886 to 1926. When the folding screen was sent back, returned to its original form after conservation work from 2019 to 2021, Jang felt a sense of achievement, pride, and a deep dedication to her work. “We are now immersed in restoring the Embroidered Eight-panel Folding Screen of Birds and Animals [Jasu yeongmo palgok byeongpung]. The middle part has been separated and there are signs of contamination, discoloring and deterioration, so conservation work is proceeding after dismantling the entire folding screen. We are going to film the process and plan to show it online,” Jang said.
When asked to what extent an item could restored, Jang answered, “The moment I get greedy is the moment I have to stop.” That is, the artifact being restored must come first, not the person doing the work. Her final comment that, “It’s not about completely erasing everything, but being able to leave something behind,” leaves a long and lasting impression.

Conservation Treatment Process For Scrolls

1 Dry cleaning (using a soft brush to remove dust and any other foreign substances)
2 Dismantling and wet cleaning (removing top and bottom rods, dismantling books, and cleaning with filtered distilled water)
3 Reinforcing the adhesive strength of pigments (adding 1% rabbit skin glue two times)
4 Removing first mounting paper (Using the dry mounting paper removal method)
5 Reinforcing missing parts (reinforcing missing parts with naturally dyed silk)
6 Mounting (pasting on Korean traditional paper, hanji, one to four times with wheat starch paste)
7 Making the storage box (making wooden roller cramps, paulownia wood boxes for storage of the items