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Main sail before treatment and junk after conservation

Main sail before treatment and junk after conservation

The conservation of the Chinese junk from Swatow is now complete. Being such an interesting project, I will briefly share the treatment processes which have transformed a dirty, unstable model, back to its original beauty.

Firstly the hull and wooden components required cleaning. The model was vacuumed to remove any loose dirt on the deck and inside the bulkheads. After testing to find the safest, and most effective cleaning materials, the hull was cleaning using detergent in deionised water, which made a huge difference to the models appearance, as the shine of the wood oil can now be appreciated. The painted surfaces on the model were carefully cleaned using saliva, which is a surprisingly effective cleaning material.

The sails were the most complicated area of the model to treat. The materials being so fragile, and already greatly damaged meant that careful consideration needed to be taken to make sure they were strong enough to be put back onto the masts. So after much thinking, testing, and asking for advice, the treatment was as follows:

The sails were vacuumed, using a Museum vac (small specialist vacuum for museum objects), and a small paint brush to carefully dislodge the dirt away from the surface. I decided to only use dry cleaning methods, as water could cause the plant materials to swell. Erasers are a good way to remove dirt from paper like materials, but it would have been dangerous to the caning to rub the surface. Therefore I used a scalpel to slice up the end of an eraser to make a flexible brush, which was much gentler on the sails surface and removed the dirt well.

Then for the repairs. Japanese paper, roughly the same thickness of the plant material, was painted using acrylic paint to match the colour of the sails. This was then adhered to the edges of the breaks using wheat starch paste. To replicate the missing caning, strips of the Japanese paper were cut and painted to match. These were then attached to the original and woven in the same way on both sides, an extremely tricky job! These repairs not only improved the sails visually, but strengthened them enough to be put back onto the model. Once the rigging was repaired, the treatment was completed and the junk can once again be appreciated as a fascinating ship model.