When it comes to hanging scrolls, conservators believe that preventive
care is the best medicine.
The hanging scrolls in our galleries may look pristine, but like most art they become increasingly
fragile with age. Silk fabrics become brittle and may crumble at a touch. Hanging cords can gradually fray, then break
when you least expect it. Very often, the flexible paper layers beneath the
painting become stiff or distorted. We can’t stop time, but many of these
problems can be alleviated by careful handling and good storage
To best protect the East Asian paintings collections, the museum's
Conservation Department checks the condition of each painting before it is displayed.
Paintings with signs of damage or flaking are often given special hanging
systems, extra support, and minor repairs. Following these general
guidelines can help avoid major problems. Eventually a scroll may need to be
remounted, but the risks and expense mean that step is always the last resort.
Tip #1 Protect scrolls from the elements
Scrolls are complex structures made of layers of paper, silk, and
paint. Too much heat, humidity, or light can cause the layers to separate
or warp, and the colors to fade quickly. Try to display scrolls under low
light, in a protected area such as a niche or wall case, and only for brief
periods of time. This scroll is displayed under low light, in a protected niche.
Tip #2 Handle scrolls in the traditional
Opening and closing a rolled painting adds wear and tear. Roll and unroll scrolls on a clean, flat wall or table. Roll and tie them
smoothly and not too tight. The video above shows Shiho Sasaki, Conservator of Paintings, installing a painting in our Tea Room.
Tip #3 Store your scroll safelyWhen not on display, always keep your scrolls rolled, wrapped, and
in a secure box. Some scrolls can benefit from a futomaki (a
special insert which can support a scroll when it is rolled).
This scroll is supported by a wood insert or futomaki.
Tip #4 Always check the
You can often find the first signs of damage to a scroll at the top and bottom edges, where the support rods are attached. Always check
these areas and if they appear torn or weakened, consult a professional
conservator about repairs. Small tears can quickly become big problems. The traditional silk hanging cords should also be checked, and repaired if they are loose or frayed.Scroll damage often includes frayed cords and torn corners.
Tip #5 Less is more: minor repairs
Before assuming that your scroll needs to be completely remounted, consider
minor repairs. A professional scroll conservator can sometimes add small,
non-intrusive reinforcements to the back of a scroll instead. If done in time,
such minor repairs can slow down the development of creases and extend the life
of a mount.
Minor repairs can often extend the life of an Asian painting.
Tip #6 The final resort: remounting
Properly constructed and cared for, a scroll mount may last a century or more. But if damage to the mount becomes too severe, the painting
itself may be at risk and a new mount may be recommended. To decide, always consult one or more qualified conservators who are experts in
scroll mounts. The technique and style of a new mount will impact your
painting for better or worse for decades to come, so make sure the treatment is
genuinely needed and you are familiar with the risks and costs in
advance. As with all conservation treatments, remember to properly
document the condition of your scroll with images, measurements and written records before
it is treated. To see an example of a remounted scroll, visit our page on Korean paintings.