Preserving the heritage: what is being restored in the workshops of the Grabar Art Conservation Center

August 6

Every year, the collections of museums in Moscow and Russia are replenished with exhibits restored in the workshops of the All-Russian Art and Research Conservation Center named after I.E.Grabar, whose anniversary is celebrated this year. The work of the specialists allows us to see objects of the past as they were 100, 200, and thousands of years ago. Many of the center's workshops are unique and have no analogues in the country. Read about the most interesting of them in the article.

Division for ceramics restoration

All types of materials that refer to ceramics are restored here — porcelain, faience, bisque, semi-porcelain, stone mass. In addition, the workshop staff specializes in glass restoration.

“Recently we’ve completed a very complex restoration of an exhibit from the Moscow Kremlin - an Iron Age vessel from the second half of the 1st millennium B.C., which was found during excavations. It was delivered in the ruined condition representing fragments of different shape. When assembling the fragments we sorted out about seven of them, which turned out to be just pebbles,” tells Ekaterina Sharkova, Head of Workshop, fine art restorer of the highest category.

The vessel’s fragments had significant corrosion buildups. They had to be removed. As a result, the real color of the clay was revealed, and it was completely heterogeneous. The next stage was devoted to gluing the fragments together: we managed to assemble the collar and the bottom and thus to find out the vessel’s diameter. After gluing the parts which fitted each other there were a lot of “hanging” fragments without fixing points. There appeared a question about reconstruction to visualize the shape.

“With such a large amount of material loss, the replenishment would exceed 50 percent of the surface of the entire vessel. And there is an ethical rule in restoration — do not replenish if more than 50 percent is missing. It was decided to create a supporting form of clay, on which all preserved authentic fragments can be applied and fixed to the surface with the help of glue. And now visitors of the museum can easily imagine how this ancient vessel exactly looked like."

As for glass, the workshop has restored such exhibits as the Pompeian-style lantern from the Museum of V.A. Tropinin and two window screens in the chinoiserie style from the Ostankino Palace. These screens were made by order of Count Nikolai Petrovich Sheremetev and were intended to decorate the palace interiors.

At the moment, the items from various museums of Russia are stored in the workshop. Among them there are the imperial palace porcelain vase, ethnographic material made of porous ceramics, archaeological glass and many other interesting exhibits, which will be soon restored and returned to the museums.

Division for restoration of leather and archaeological textile

The workshop for restoration of leather and archaeological textile is unique being the first and only one not only in Moscow, but throughout Russia. The workshop is headed by Natalya Sinitsyna, fine art restorer of the highest category.

Natalya Sinitsyna, fine art restorer of the highest category

Here, among other things, leather items from the ethnographic collections of Russian museums are restored. An important part of the workshop's activity is training of young specialists and archaeologists who interact with objects even at the excavation stage, as well as creation of the methodology that could be used to test all existing methods of leather restoration and scientifically substantiate them.

The most significant object that have come into the hands of the workshop's specialists is the embroidered panel picture of the 1st century B.C. It was raised in 2009 from the bottom of the Noin-Ula burial mound (Northern Mongolia). Now this relic is under UNESCO protection.

It was hard to imagine that textiles could be extracted from a pile of clay. To do this, it was necessary to carefully remove the excess clay from the surface, then gently wash the clay away and straighten the fragments of the textile with a small spatula. After completion of the cleaning procedure, a thin material was applied on the backing fabric for reinforcement and sewn with a needle. The unique embroidered panel picture from the Xiongnu burial mounds, which is more than two thousand years old, has acquired a new life,” says Natalya Sinitsyna.

The workshop specialists have restored many exhibits from the necropolis of the Russian queens of the Ascension Convent in the Moscow Kremlin. Among them there are the leather waste belt of Eudoxia of Moscow, booties, children's boots, shoes, braided crosses. All of them were badly deformed and contaminated.

And recently, Ivan Turgenev's arm-chair from the Spasskoye-Lutovinovo estate was being restored in the workshop.

“It has already been restored earlier, and the secondary restoration is actually ten times more difficult than the primary one, since first you need to determine the compositions and materials with which the material was impregnated or glued. Already at the stage of searching for the backing leather, we could not find an option that would fit the texture and have embossing. Then we invented a method: the thin leather was moistened, and the dense skin with a relief was superimposed on it. As a result, we managed to replenish all the lost fragments.” explains the restorer.

Division for restoration of bone-carrying handicrafts

This workshop appeared in 1962 and is associated with the name of Margarita Kozina, who created a new direction of work of the Grabar Art Conservation Center — restoration of items made of carved bone. It was namely Kozina who started to work (first in the country) with items made of bone, horning, whalebone, ostrich feathers, mother-of-pearl, hard wood, sea foam and many other materials. Since 2003, the workshop has been headed by a student of Margarita Kozina — Larisa Getman, fine art restorer of the highest category.

Larisa Getman, fine art restorer of the highest category

The geography of the museums cooperating with the workshop is extremely extensive. In total, over the years of work, specialists have restored more than two thousand monuments from museums not only of Moscow, Moscow region, but also of many regions of the country. The restoration included archaeological objects made of bone, and picturesque miniatures on bones, wavers with feathers and mother-of-pearl, carved caskets, jewel-boxes, icons, baculuses and many more. 

Among the significant works of the workshop is the restoration of the dresser that belonged to Maria Ermolova, the actress of the Maly Theater, from the collection of the A.A. Bakhrushin State Central Theatre Museum. The dresser’s basement was made in the late 19th - early 20th centuries, and the bone decoration is typical for the first half of the 19th century.

“Not only all the employees of the workshop, but also a furniture restorer were engaged in this project. The dresser was delivered with significant dust contaminations which had penetrated the structure of wood and bone. A certain artist made an overhead openwork decoration on the dresser, many of its details were missing. During the restoration process, the structure was strengthened, complex contaminations were removed, numerous losses of decorative bone ornament were replenished in accordance with all accepted restoration standards,” says Larisa Getman.

The restoration of Russian, Western European and Eastern wavers has become a separate direction of ​​the workshop's activities. For example, a brisé waver from the A.S. Pushkin Museum is assembled from ivory plates, decorated with carvings, foil and paintings. It was made in Germany in the second half of the 19th century. When the waver was delivered to the workshop, all its plates were dirty, covered with spots and cracks, the painting was worn. It was necessary to replenish the lost fragments of the lace cut ornament.

“We were eager to keep the airiness, lightness, weightlessness of the waver. Therefore, for replenishment, I chose a material close to the original — mammoth tusk bone. Cutting the openwork is the most important operation, which is performed on a specially adapted dovetail board with a jeweller's jigsaw. The hand-made plates had to be adjusted to the author's ones ensuring a perfect joint. We also had to perform duplication - make a second supporting layer for the plates. As a result, the exhibit acquired an expositional look, retaining the openwork attractiveness and folding capability” notes the specialist.

The All-Russian Art and Research Conservation Center named after I.E. Grabar traces its history from June 10, 1918. During this period of time, its employees have preserved thousands of art relics, including icons of the cathedrals of the Moscow Kremlin, icons "Vladimir Mother of God" and "Trinity" by Andrei Rublev, paintings and graphics from the collections of the Dresden Gallery and the Uffizi Gallery, exhibits from the collections of the State Tretyakov Gallery, Pushkin museum and many other museums.


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