Luckily, our work at Baiya was going well enough that we could spare the time,
people, and materials to send a small team out to Palpung to attend to this
emergency. Led by American conservator Karen Yager, ably assisted by chief
apprentice Deshi Yangjin and four other students, in four and a half days they managed to
detach Situ Rinpoches murals. Even as the final painting was being carried
downstairs, Xiong Xiongs carpenters were already building a protective covering for
the gigantic Maitreya statue below, in preparation for demolition of the damaged
roof. Our rescue came not a moment too soon. Now the paintings will wait in storage
until building repairs are complete and a team can come back out to return the paintings
to their proper places.
Finished at Palpung, we sped back to Baiya Monastery to re-join the main
contingent of the conservation team. Donatella Zari, now a Tibet veteran finishing
up her third tour of duty, was getting ready for the final step. Those familiar with
the project will know that the murals at Baiya were detached two years ago, the walls and
roof of the monastery repaired in the intervening time, and the purpose of this mission
was to complete the last, climactic steps of the conservation process. During the
last three weeks, Donatella Zari and three other conservators had mounted the detached
murals on a cloth and fiberglass backing, and painstakingly removed the cloth facings
which had been protecting the colors throughout the procedure. I arrived just as
they were preparing to carry the re-assembled and rolled-up painting into the temple.
|Student Tsering Penlo cleans a mural fragment.
Everyone had gathered: conservators, students, interpreters, monks, support
staff, and half a dozen painters and carpenters who had been working elsewhere in the
monastery. Now, as the huge roll was being hoisted and navigated through the narrow,
crooked corridor, they were all shouting instructions to each other in various
languages. A little higher...mind the corner!...more tape over here,
please...Tsering, you hold it...get out of the way! The gaggle of chattering
people followed the roll as it wended its way down the hall, around the corner, through a
skylight, and into the temple. They carried it to the far corner and stood it on one
end, following an arrow Dona had drawn on the back to show which end goes up.
Then, amid shouts and arguments and laughter and many hands helping, they
unrolled it, aligning the mural to the baseboard of the new wall. I was busy taking
pictures when Dona berated me, I dont need photographs, I need more
people! So I ran across to the courtyard and summoned what few souls were
left. We all took places in a 20-foot long line against the wall, pressing the mural
against the wood as it was slowly unrolled, looking more than anything like a line of
suspects awating a frisking by the police. And what a motley line it was: monks,
students, foreign experts, carpenters, painters, and even a cook or two stood shoulder to
shoulder, working together to hold the mural in place.
Team members hold the
mural against the wall in preparation for stapling.
Pamela Logan injects glue beneath the
surface of the paint, to forestall delamination.
Now the students are securing the edges while Dona and the other conservators
inspect the mural for areas of delamination, which they will forestall by injecting glue
beneath the pigment. I sit admiring the thing in all its glory, remembering how it
looked three years ago when the clay underneath was buckling, and I brought Donatella here
for the first time...
Weve come a long way since then. The work at Baiya is finished, but I
look forward to bringing my now-seasoned team to other monasteries, to save what we can of
western Sichuans ancient Tibetan art.