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Japanese Woodblock Prints – Free Japanese Print Appraisal

Japanese Woodblock Print Restoration - Repair and Cleaning

Japanese print conservation and restoration - Cleaning, repair, care, and free conservation advice.

Japanese woodblock prints are exceedingly difficult to conserve and restore. Academically trained paper restorers need many extra years of specialized training and practice to master the art of Japanese print restoration.

We can help you with assessing the initial restoration and conservation need. Sometimes we can also help you with an approximate estimate of the restoration and conservation cost.

First some warnings on Japanese woodblock print restoration!

Warning 1
There are many DIYs, self-educated, and charlatans who claim to be restorers, they should be absolutely avoided.  They are more likely to destroy the visual appeal as well as the value of your artwork, rather than enhance your print.

Warning 2
Especially damaging are the websites who are giving "DIY-tips" and "How-To" on Japanese print restoration, repair, and cleaning.
They recommend glues which are irreversible and give permanent severe damage to the prints. Instruct in bleaching methods which in the way they recommend will permanently damage the prints, the visual value and destroy the monetary value. And also a plethora of other very damaging procedures.
If you are not a professional the best advice is "to leave it alone" or let the professionals do their work.
We have seen countless of prints which have been bought from online dealers and web auctions which have had "DIY" restoration and have hopelessly and permanently lost their monetary and aesthetically value, the damage caused is usually totally irreversible. Also the print many times have started a path to self-destruction due to harsh chemicals and faulty restoration.  Further avoid any site giving restoration instruction, especially if they recommend using ready-made Japanese glue. This glue is made for office and school use, many contain PVC and similar and will cause irreversible harm to your artwork. Never use this glue to apply hinges for mounting your prints. These above referred to sites are neither professional responsible or ethical and should be shunned. There are many well educated and professional dealers who can sell you well-preserved prints and give you very good advice on the preservation and conversation, please use their services.

Warning 3
Also a warning for various Internet advertisements by "restorers" for cleaning and repairing Japanese woodblock prints. For example, we have seen numerous instances of prints with hydrogen-peroxide burns, over bleached with permanently damaged chalk white dead paper. Prints which have lost all visual and monetary value and many times entered a path to self-destruction.

Three general pieces of advice on good Japanese print preservation

You don't want your prints to lose in value?
Follow the below advice to keep your woodblock prints in good condition.

  • Keep the prints in archival material.
  • Keep the prints in a non-humid atmosphere.
  • Keep the prints away from light.
  • Keep the prints out of reach of insects.

Typical treatments in professional Japanese print restoration

Below is a shortened list of a few of the typical steps in the professional conservation and restoration of a typical Japanese woodblock print (ukiyo-e). None of the below treatments should be undertaken by a an amateur or a non-professional restorer.

 Japanese print cleaning

  • Dusting with specially made brushes.
  • Mild molecular trapping of surface dust and dirt as well as "ingrained" dirt.
  • Vacuum table cleaning with cold steam from "soft water" for removal of stains and toning.

Japanese print repair

  • Cleaning, disinfecting and removal of mould infestations including "fox marks".
  • Cleaning and beveling of edges of holes.
  • Filling with paper fibers in fluid or matching, if possible, period paper.
  • Reconditioning of fibers.

Final treatment in the Japanese woodblock print restoration /conservation process

  • Stretching or pressing of the print.
  • Finding a suitable enclosure.
The above are some of the basic steps in Japanese print restoration, there is a further multitude of different specialized treatments, not described above, which may be applied in Japanese print restoration and conservation.

Japanese Print Conservation

Conservation is the goal of the restoration as described above – to preserve the print for future generations to enjoy.

In addition to the above treatments, Japanese print conservation also includes the right way of keeping the prints to protect them from further harm. In the future, we will try to write a special article about conservation enclosures (mats, folders and similar), environment and boxes for your prints.

Once again we have to point out that nearly all the advice you find on the Internet is seriously flawed. Some of the advice, if followed, will do significant damage to your prints and thereby also incur a loss of value. These advice are generally written by ignoramuses, amateurs, uninformed or sometimes even unethical dealers.

List of Japanese Print Conservators and Restorers

  • Takako Kawano, Akasaka, Minato-ku, Tokyo, Japan.  – An expert on ukiyoe restoration and conservation with minimal intrusion; Restoration and conservation mainly by sustainable traditional Japanese methods. Ms. Kawano has an MA in Japanese Art History and holds a Japanese Museum Curator License, she is professionally trained in paper conservation in Japan. She is a master restorer of Ukiyo-e, Shinhanga and Sosakuhanga, Drawings, Ehon and Paintings. Also western prints on various Japanese paper. You can get the contact details to Ms. Kawano via us. Please use email form Japanese prints: Contact - Restoration.
  • Shirley Oliver, New York, USA.  Trained in Japan. Ukiyo-e, Shin-hanga and Sosaku-hanga.
  • Ferry Bertholet, Amsterdam, Holland. All round restorer.
All of the above are good, very experienced, responsible and well educated Japanese print restorers with whom we have experience.

There are also a sprinkling of a few other good professional and well-educated expert restorers around the world, please contact us for details. All in all, there are less than 10 people worldwide who are really qualified Japanese print restorers. There are many "self-educated" restorers, including some Japanese, who profess knowledge, these are better avoided.
You can contact us for advice before you restore your Japanese prints.

Future planned articles:
Ukiyo-e restoration and Ukiyo-e conservation — What is the Difference.  
Conservation of Japanese Woodblock Prints: General Preservation Measures for Japanese prints.
The conservation and restoration of Shin Hanga and Sosaku Hanga.
If you want to destroy your Japanese prints and loose the value, follow the DIY restoration advice on the internet. 

by Anders Rikardson
Anders Rikardson's Google Author Profile

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