Here below is a letter to the Trust from the Screen’s Conservator, Rebecca Donnan, outlining the intricacies of her task in her own words:
Dear Sherborne House Trustees,
I thought I must send you an update of the screens progress, I’m not sure when you next have a meeting but you may like to mail this information out to keep everyone involved posted.
The visit from the furniture conservator was delayed but my goodness it was worth waiting for, and there is new information from his investigation. As I had suspected, and originally reported, the screen has undergone at least one previous restoration. In his investigation the other conservator found that the hinges had originally been applied in different areas and the black gutta-percha tape was a later addition; he said that this was typical and applied to prevent draughts. He also questioned the originality of the black timber edging but could find no evidence of what may have originally been used. We had a long discussion about the treatment strategy which developed into a wonderful brain storming session. After the extensive examination we decided that the best course of action would be for me to subcontract the disassembly and reconstruction of the frame and the black timber edging to him.
On examining the black applied wood edging the recommendation is that this (once removed) is taken to his studio to be repaired, and in a couple of instances for major damaged/missing areas to be remade. A further recommendation was that the black edging, as this in his opinion was not part of the original construction, be repainted back to its original dense black; this will also lift and lighten the ochre coloured varnished paper panels I am treating.
One section has been taken apart as per the original treatment report. This has made the panels so much more accessible to me and enabled me to inject wheat starch paste in to bubbled and lifting sites. I have been using large sheets of tempered glass to apply surface pressure to press these sites and the results have been very satisfactory. One of the most interesting things for me has been the remainder of the original method of attaching the canvas lined panels to the timber inner frame; the edges are perforated and have large rusty holes at ¾” intervals along all 4 edges. The original nails or tacks have been pulled out during the ‘restoration’ and the damaged sites covered by the black edging tape. The canvas shows the extent of the varnish part of the previous restoration; as explained this is irreparable damage where it has wicked into the paper. I was shocked and after examining the verso I think the prints have survived remarkably as the varnish was applied in a very liberal manner, each print has a wide halo of varnish where it has leaked through around its edges.
On removal from the inner frame the level of deterioration in the canvas support was also revealed; and I am delighted to report that the central parts are in far better condition than I had anticipated. The major rot and fragility in the canvas support is in all of the areas that were in contact with the inner pine timber. This is where the raw untreated wood has off-gassed lignic acid and created a localised acid environment. As a result of this the lining technique will be altered, it will take as long to execute but will entail creating a Japanese tissue sandwich. The inner facing edges will be lined using Japanese paper in 120mm deep strips. A section has already been applied, a medium weight paper was pasted up with a thick wheat starch paste and then applied, being tamped down with a Japanese horsehair brush (this whole method is typical of the way a Japanese scroll would be made). To the recto the black edging paper will be replaced, to the same depth as the paper applied in the last ‘restoration’ however a black dyed Japanese paper will be used. This will overlap and be firmly attached to the backing edge lining. This laminated layer, of strong oriental papers will then be wrapped around the inner frame in the same way as the original canvas, and secured using stainless steel fastenings.