Conservation of Chinese shadow puppets from the Anthropology Collection of the American Museum of Natural History

Lisa Kronthal


Chinese shadow puppets of the East City type are traditionally cut from donkey skin that is treated to be translucent, painted with dyes and coated with tung oil. The history of the American Museum’s collection of Chinese shadow puppets, and details concerning the materials and techniques used in their manufacture, are described in this paper. The tung oil coating in most collections has remained soft and tacky, resulting in extensive damages due to adhesion of elements to themselves and storage materials, and particulate dirt and fibers embedded in the coating. Preliminary research into the physical characteristics of this problematic coating is discussed. Other common damages in these collections include tears and warping of the skin and detached elements. A survey of the collection is described as well as research into appropriate materials and techniques for new storage and treatment. Silicone coated Mylar as a long term storage material was explored focusing on its methods of manufacture and transfer potential. For tear repairs of the translucent skin a range of intestinal lining materials including goldbeater’s skin, reconstituted collagen, and natural skin condoms in combination with adhesives including BEVA 371, Acryloid F-10 and polyvinyl acetate resins were investigated.

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1997 | San Diego | Volume 5