the restoration studio for oriental art on paper and silk

The construction of a traditional Japanese hanging scroll

The Japanese hanging scroll remains one of the most subtle but least understood of all the art forms which combine paper and textile. Its construction presents many difficulties; it must combine strength with flexibility – strength to protect and support the artwork and flexibility to allow repeated rolling and unrolling of the scroll. The scroll mount must also successfully assemble up to six different types and weights of textile, and balance each different component so that the scroll will function uniformly

The construction of a scroll mount involves using a variety of different types of paper. These are usually made of mulberry fibres, other fibre types such as mitsumata and gampi are also found in some of the more specialist papers. Mulberry is favoured because of its fibre length and suppleness. The best Japanese papers are those which are made by hand and are produced during the winter months when snow is available for whitening the fibres naturally and the cold water keeps the fibres tight and compact during the sheet formation.

The range of different types of textile which have been used for scroll mounting is enormous. Traditionally silks woven specifically for mounting are used, donsu (satin), pa (plain woven silk), kinran (gold brocade), nanako (plain basket weave), takyamachi  (embroidered silk gauze) to identify just a few.

Mounting styles
The style of mount selected for a painting reflects the degree of its formality. The mounting styles fall into three broad categories. shin mounts are the most complicated to construct and are the most formal group. These are always used for mounting Buddhist paintings. The most frequently used group of styles is the gyo group. These are used for a wide variety of subjects ranging from courtesans to landscape paintings. The third category is the so group, the least formal, and mounts in this style often have very narrow sides (a sub-style called rimpo). These are often associated with scrolls relating to the Japanese tea ceremony.

The adhesive used in traditional scroll mounting is gluten-free wheat starch paste. Japanese starch is processed differently to that in Europe and produces a smoother less granular paste. It should be soaked prior to cooking and be stirred vigorously over a direct heat for between 30/60 minutes. This same paste is used to prepare the aged starch adhesive furunori. This is stored for between 8/10 years during which time through retro-gradation it becomes softer and more flexible. This is used for all but the first linings of the scroll mount components and is crucial in keeping the finished scroll soft and supple. An adhesive made from seaweed is used for facing weaker paintings in order to support the painting during the removal of paper linings. Any synthetic adhesives are avoided as they are not reversible. Freshly prepared soy milk is used as a size prior to any in-painting of repaired areas, whilst a refined gelatine- a deer glue size, is the most commonly used consolidant for loose, friable pigment.

The construction of a Japanese scroll mount

First linings
The following is a description of scroll mounted paintings on silk.

The most difficult bond to accomplish in scroll mounting is that between fabric and paper. Consequently freshly prepared starch paste is used for the first linings. It is prepared for use by sieving and then diluted further as necessary. The papers used for the first linings would be selected for weight according to the fabric to be lined and are generally of the mino type. The lining paper would be liberally covered with adhesive, then using considerable pressure excess paste would be removed leaving a thin even film. The pasted sheet would then be laid on a drying felt to allow some of the surface moisture to evaporate. The mounting silks would have previously wetted to shrink and to remove any dressings or residues and any pattern carefully aligned whilst wet. Once the silk has been allowed to dry considerably the lining paper would then be firmly brushed into place.

Second linings
The second linings for the painting and mount components consist invariably of a Japanese paper called misu. This is a soft mulberry paper available I a variety of thicknesses and contains gofun  a powdered oyster shell to lend both opacity and alkalinity. Various weights of paper are chosen for each part of the scroll, the most flexible being given a heavier misu whilst the least flexible a correspondingly lighter lining. This serves to make each part of the scroll compatible. The misu paper linings are attached using a dilute aged starch adhesive and are pounded using a heavy hemp palm brush. This meshes the fibres and allows a thinner adhesive to be used. After drying the various silks and the painting (which is treated in exactly the same manner) are re-wetted and then attached to a Japanese drying board to stretch and flatten.

Once thoroughly dry the silks are cut and trimmed prior to assembly. Cut edges are sealed with new starch paste to prevent fraying. The scroll is assembled and great care must be taken to align patterns sympathetically, the joints are overlapped by 3mm and are tapped with a small metal hammer to ensure a solid bond. The edges of the scroll are creased and folded at this time.

Third linings
This layer also utilises misu  paper and aged adhesive. It covers the whole of the assembled scroll and acts to unify the mount. This lining is applied from the bottom to the top of the scroll to enable the last backing which would be applied in the opposite direction to be removed easily if necessary at a later time.

Fourth linings
The paper used for the last layer of the scroll is called uda. It has a clay loading and is generally more opaque than misu . The clay content assists in providing a better polished surface for the finished scroll when it is burnished on completion. A dilute aged paste and the use of the pounding brush again secure the lining. A silk strip is attached to the top of the scroll to provide a protective cover for the scroll when rolled. After the last backing the scroll is tensioned and allowed to dry thoroughly before being lightly waxed and burnished. The edges are then trimmed and the roller/stave fitted along with the metal fittings and the silk hanging/tying braid.