CONSERVATION TREATMENT OF TIBETAN THANGKAS
COMPOSITE OBJECTS present a special challenge to the conservator. Their treatment provides fertile ground for both research and controversy, crossing the boundaries of standard categories of conservation training: painting, objects, textiles, and paper. A conservator accustomed to working in only one of these media may find it difficult to understand and adjust to a proposed treatment that involves many materials and awareness of their interaction.
The difficulty is compounded when the composite object is a religious artifact and its iconography and social significance must be respected. Ideally, no aspect of treatment would compromise the original purpose of the object. To acquire and apply this attitude of respect requires extensive research into the cultural significance of the object to be treated and the materials and methods of its construction. Such research should address informants from the culture, both artists and religious authorities. Unfortunately, the time and effort required for thorough research on every object are beyond the reach of most conservators, in both private and institutional situations.
The conservation treatment of a composite object with complex religious significance is therefore a formidable task. Two possibilities for error come to mind: placing foremost the needs of one of the diverse materials (e.g., painting versus textiles) or applying years of experience with objects from other cultures and drawing incorrect conclusions about the object in hand.