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Museum Monday: Tibetan thangkas

November 3, 2017
By Christa Story

This thangka dated back in 18th Century, depicts the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara in embroidered silk.

In the world of conservation, there are few who specialize in the art of conserving thangkas. A thangka is a religious painting depicting a Buddhist icon and is made of soft cloth allowing it to be rolled up. The Wright Museum of Art is privileged to host Marion Boyer, Paris conservator specializing in Tibetan thangkas. In 1912, a large Tibetan thangka came to the Wright as part of a bequest by Mary Ripley Goodwin. This thangka, thought to date to the 18th century, depicts the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara in embroidered silk. The thangka is very large, 60 by 47 inches, and the silk fabric has become friable (easily crumbled), making it the Wright Museum's most problematic conservation pieces. Boyer will spend two days on campus, Nov. 6 and 7, to assess the thangkas and determine a treatment plan.

For decades the Wright's thangka lay undiscovered and rolled up in storage. There were no associated files and no photographs. It wasn't until a full inventory was conducted of the Wright's collection in 2009 that the piece came to light.This summer, Joy Beckman, director of the Wright Museum, visited Boyer at her studio in Paris to discuss the thangka's condition and possible restoration. Given the size of the piece, moving it would have been a costly and difficult task, so Boyer agreed to assess the piece at its home, before considering the possibility of shipping the piece overseas for conservation.

After having worked as a Western paintings conservator for more than 20 years, Boyer turned her interest towards specializing in Tibetan thangka restoration, and has published La Peinture Bouddhiste Tib├ętaine (2010). Her Atelier de Restauration, Paris, serves as a training ground for conservation students and takes on conservation projects for museums and private collectors. Beyond her analysis of the Wright's thangka, Boyer will meet with museum studies students and guest lecture on the arts of Asia.