Regeneration Talk: Ensuring the Future of Historic Textiles: The Case of a Japanese Empress’s Court Gown

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Monica Bethe

April 21, 2022 @ 4:00 pm - 5:00 pm


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Monica Bethe: Ensuring the Future of Historic Textiles: The Case of a Japanese Empress's Court Gown.

Objects talk to us over time and space, transmitting in their colors, shapes, textures, and materials insight into other lives and ways of living. Some we wish to preserve for their sheer beauty, others for the people, times, or places they represent. Of the items that are central to our daily lives, textiles are among the most perishable: if not used until they are rags, they still degrade naturally over time, prey to insects, mold, moisture and light.

Despite the humid climate, beautiful textiles in Japan from the eighth century have been lovingly preserved, some retaining brilliant colors. Where vestments have been treated as treasures passed down through centuries of generations, it came as a surprise that something as “new” as a hundred-and-thirty-year-old garment that was probably only worn once or twice would need extensive conservation work. This, however, turned out to be the case for a Western-style court gown made for Japan’s Meiji empress, Haruko (1850-1914). Using the empress’s gown as an illustration, Bethe will discuss conservation as a process that involves learning and preserving lost techniques, combined with cutting-edge scientific solutions. She will introduce basic principles of conservation, such as ensuring that every process is reversible, preserving the original but adding nothing new, and avoiding incurring future deterioration by matching materials and techniques.

Monica Bethe is Director of the Medieval Japanese Studies Institute in Kyoto, dedicated in part to the conservation of treasures in Japanese Imperial Convents. Experience in weaving and natural dyeing led her to conduct research on historical textiles and their conservation. Her publications include chapters in Miracles and Mischief: Nō and Kyōgen Theater in Japan (2002), Amamonzeki, A Hidden Heritage: Treasures of the Japanese Imperial Convents (2009), Transmitting Robes, Linking Minds: The World of Buddhist Kasaya (2010), Color in Ancient and Medieval East Asia (2015), and Cultural Imprints: War and Memory in the Samurai Age (2022); translations of books, such as Restoration of Japanese Art in European and American Collections (1995) and Textiles in the Shōsō-in (2000, 2001); and articles, most recently, “Guise and Disguise: Nō Costumes in the Context of Cultural Norms” in Mime Journal (2021).

Sponsored by the IHC’s Regeneration series and the East Asia Center

Free to attend; registration required to receive Zoom webinar attendance link


April 21, 2022
4:00 pm - 5:00 pm
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