Enough Tupperware
by Leslie Lawrence '72



Conserving Ancient Art
Ann Shaftel '69 developed an unusual interest while in elementary school: thangkas, Northern Buddhist religious artifacts. During the past 30 years, the conservation of this art form has become her passion and life's work.

Traditionally, thangkas accompanied traveling monasteries and teachers and were rolled up for transport on yaks. Often misidentified as paintings, they are in fact complicated, three-dimensional composite objects featuring an embroidered or painted picture panel; a textile mounting; and one or more of the following: a silk cover, leather or metal corners, wooden dowels, and decorative knobs. Often they were painted using pigments from the earth and colors made from flower petals mixed with yak hide glue.

Thangkas depict the life of Buddha, great masters, or other subjects, and vary from shrine-size to large enough to cover the outside of a monastery for special occasions. It often took years to complete a thangka masterpiece.

Ann is considered a worldwide expert on thangka conservation, and her approach combines science with traditional respect and training. A practicing Buddhist, she refers to her work as "delicate and labor-intensive." The pieces arrive at her home in Nova Scotia from people and places throughout the globe, including monasteries, Buddhist teachers, world-renowned museums, private collectors, and individual Buddhist practitioners, each unique in its age, style, iconography, and condition. The process of conservation begins with technical photography and a written report documenting the thangka's initial condition, followed by a course of action designed specifically for each piece's individual needs. Studying the silk mounting may reveal the identity of the artist, the monastery it was created in, and the thangka's original location in the shrine hall. Often, however, mountings were replaced, and may originate from different time periods or areas of the Himalayas than the painting.

Ann holds an MA in Asian art, an MS in conservation, and a Conservation Certificate from UNESCO in Rome.
by Melissa Ray '01

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