Hope for Hopi Kachinas Part II

This post is the second segment of our two-part spotlight on the Kachina dolls that came into our studio. This part will focus on the treatment of the Cumulus Cloud Maiden that was mentioned in our earlier post.

Before treatment photo showing a view of the front.

Before treatment photo showing a view of the front.

The Cloud Maiden came into our shop in several pieces.  Kachinas are prone to breaking because the cottonwood they are made from is very soft and fragile.  In this case, the figure had broken off from the base, and some of the feathers on the tunic and headdress had become detached.  The owner had saved several of the pieces but others were missing. After taking an inventory of what could be reattached and what had to be recreated, we set to work.

Before treatment photo showing a view of the back.

Before treatment photo showing a view of the back.

Before the breaks could be addressed, residual adhesive from a previous repair had to be removed.  The adhesive was first softened with water and then removed mechanically.  After the adhesive was reduced, the broken pieces were reattached to the Kachina. In order to stabilize and strengthen the  joins, small pins were inserted.  Carbon fiber rods were used to make the pins for the broken feathers. For small or lightweight broken elements, carbon fiber rods (made of epoxy reinforced with carbon fiber, see http://www.conservation-wiki.com/wiki/Carbon_Fiber)  are ideal because they have high tensile strength, so a thin (1.2 mm diameter) pin can provide plenty of support.  


Examples of carbon fiber rods.

By contrast, to reattach the Cloud Maiden to its base a bamboo pin was used to join the two sections together.  Wood was considered the preferred material to support this larger surface area break because it is not as hard as the carbon fiber.  A larger carbon fiber pin would be much stronger than the original material and could potentially damage the cottonwood if an impact occurred.

After treatment photo showing the front.

After treatment photo showing the front.

Once the broken pieces were adhered, our expert technician Katy took to recreating the lost feathers.  To do this she used two different techniques. For the feathers that were entirely missing she carved new ones out of balsa wood.  Although balsa is not the type of wood originally used by the artist, it has similar properties, is lightweight and easy to manipulate.  Once the she got the shape right, she set about toning the replacements using gouache.  The new feathers were then attached using carbon fiber pins and bulked fish glue.  The fish glue was bulked with cellulose powder to act as a gap filler where material had been crushed or lost at the break.

After treatment photo showing the back.

After treatment photo showing the back.

For feathers that had lost only their tips, Katy also used tiny carbon fiber pins, this time as posts onto which she could build up the feather shape.  To recreate the tips she used Modostuc and then inpainted the feathers with gouache.


Before treatment left and after treatment right, showing repaired and replica headdress feathers

The treatment was successful and the Cloud Maiden left looking fabulous.  A round of applause to Katy for her excellent work.

Post written by Allison King

1 Comment

Filed under art conservation, Hopi Kachina

One response to “Hope for Hopi Kachinas Part II

  1. Glad to see your success. Thanks for sharing the process here.

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