Curatorial considerations guiding the conservation of a Javanese gamelan orchestra

Sam Quigley


In 1990 the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston acquired a complete Javanese gamelan dated 1840 and 1867. Most probably the oldest such ensemble in North America, it includes about 60 individual instruments comprised of bronze keys and gongs supported by elaborately carved and painted teakwood cases. Owing to its age and the damp conditions in which it had been stored for the past several decades, much of the casework had been infested with wood-boring insects and exhibited extensive structural damage.

As part of the plan to restore the ensemble’s musical functionality, a group of indigenous master woodcarvers were engaged to reproduce and attach about a dozen case components which had been completely undermined. After the instruments’ arrival in Boston and their subsequent fumigation, the remaining missing sections were filled and re-carved with glass microballoons in an Acryloid B-72 resin.

Musical usage of the ensemble was a very significant motivating factor in determining the type and extent of treatment throughout the process. The presentation will focus on these curatorial considerations and the lively interchange of ideas with the conservators executing the work.

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1994 | Nashville | Volume 2