Conservation, Medieval Portland Senior Capstone

Medieval Portland Capstone: Looking at the Persian Poetry Book with Marjan

Marjan having a look

On Tuesday 11/1, I met once again with Marjan Anvari so that we can look at the poetry book together. This was particularly exciting for me because rather than just looking at the book face value like I have been, I was able to see the book through the eyes of an expert.


I got that and so much more.

I didn’t really know anything about Middle Eastern art, and Marjan really opened my eyes.

Tazhib art (the symmetrical, geometric patterns that you see in this book and other Persian artworks), is commonly referred to as, “Islamic,” but it actually predates Islam and it would be much more correct to refer to it as “Persian.” In fact, when Mohammad came from Arabia to Persia, all art was banned, so Tazhib had to be reintroduced into the culture years later.

She told me about the three times the Middle East reached its peak culturally; Achaemenid (or the Persian Empire, the longest dynasty before Islam), the Turkish Empire, and, finally, the Safavi dynasty. Despite the artwork being from the Qajar dynasty, we ended talking about the Safavi dynasty a lot.

Lotfolla Mosque, Iran

The image above is an example of Safavi art. Safavi is Tazhib style, but most importantly, it is a very delicate, precise art style. The colors also have a very pleasant harmony to them. If you look at the dome of the mosque here, it has blues, whites, and gold. The colors don’t draw your eye to one particular area, though smaller shapes bring your attention to the center with the colors working together.

Qajar art, which is the art that the poetry book is from, is a different story (Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any good pictures that were not copyrighted, but I urge you to do a google search for “Qajar Tazhib” and you’ll see what I mean). The colors are bolder with equal parts saturation of red and blue.

Also, now, I know this is an old joke, but later Qajar dynasty art were doing “Put a Bird on It” before it was cool. Seriously, Google search, you’ll see what I mean.

Now to talk about the actual book itself. Marjan said that if I was to do a complete preliminary report on the book, I would have taken notes and pictures of every page.

I forgot to take a picture, but we were able to find the name of the calligrapher who wrote this book. His name was Mirza Mohammad Kazema Valeh.

There were a couple interesting things about the book that I asked her about. If you look here:

The cold rectangle here with the red script

She said that this part translated to “Question and Answer” for the emperor.

On a scientific note, we looked at this page:


Which is the back of this:


The brown stuff on the back page is oxidation from the blue ink, (Lapiz Lazuli). There is no way to clean this up without harming the art piece, but stuff could be done to it to slow down the oxidation.

And finally, let’s talk about the lifting:

Another thing! Marjan was able to identify a past repair on this part! 

When the book was first brought to my attention, this was the thing that people in Special Collections were concerned about. Unfortunately, I have some bad news. According to Marjan, the only way to properly fix this would be to take the entire book apart, fix the page individually, then put it back together. The problem? It is a much higher risk to do that than just keep and handle the book safely. Basically, the book itself is in good condition and has some minor tears and holes here and there. In fact, I could hypothetically take a non water-based solution and clean up some of the dirt inside, but other than that, this is not worth messing with.

Oh well. This is one of these ethical issues that does come up in the conservation field.

On a much happier note, Marjan spent the last ten minutes of our session showing me her portfolio! That was really amazing to see.

I was so happy that she took the time to meet with me! All in all, this was a very enriching experience!




Conservation, MPF Conservation Internship

Imperial Monterey Session 2: Gunk Scraping!

In my past conservation projects, I learned that a crucial part about conservation may involve fixing past repairs, usually made by owners and sometimes fix-it shops. Weeks 2 and 3 of my internship at MPF Conservation were such a reminder of this fact.

During the second week, Katie and I went shopping for strapping leather at Oregon Leather for the Imperial Monterey Chair and a Stickley footstool. This was, I’m ashamed to say, my first time inside the shop. Oregon Leather had a delightfully odd set up with half of the first floor consisting of shelves filled with boxes of leather working tools, decorations, accents, and countless other things. The second half ha more leather jackets in one place than I’ve ever seen. There were also random piles of animal horns, shells, bones, and tails.

As I stood looking at the ox horns, I thought how cool it would be to do a leather working project like Visigoth or other such Viking armor.

I really love being in stores like this. It really had my head buzzing with ideas for costumes and leather crafts.

But we weren’t there to make armor that my Viking ancestors may or may not have worn, we were there for furniture parts!  We specifically needed Vegetable dyed grade A leather that was about 3 mm in depth. As much as we could, Katie and I tried to use as few hides as possible.

When purchasing leather, I learned that texture is a vital part of the selection process. When dying the leather, any textural imperfection such as stretch marks, bite marks, barb wire marks, and other such imperfections can exacerbate in the dying process. It’s no big deal for Monterey furniture; the blemishes give the leather more of a Wild West appearance. However, such blemishes for a Stickley footstool are undesireable and this split of leather would be used for both.

Of course, there were only a few available hides, and none of them were exactly perfect. Still, we had to make do because the leather we were getting was not something that most other leather crafters here in Portland used terribly often. The next shipment would not have been for a very long while.

During both these sessions, my assignment involved taking the chair apart and turning it into rubble. (Okay, not real rubble, but all parts were disassembled to allow for reparation of tenons and regluing with hide glue.)  It was challenging because people in the past have either tried to enhance the adhesion process (poorly) or reinforce it with multiple unnecessary screws.

Like this one! What is up with this? I can’t… I can’t even…

I took apart the seat portion of the chair. It was a relatively simple task. I had to remove several screws and nails and take photographs as I took the chair apart.

… a CARPENTER NAIL? Are you serious now? This was fun to remove, actually. 🙂

I took apart the back on the third week. This was the much trickier task. A past repair was done to it which involved using what Mitchell inferred as an acrylic base craft glue.

Vinegar and Syringe

This was most fortunate because had it been an epoxy adhesive, I probably would have needed to use more toxic solvents. As it was, I only needed to use warm vinegar and inject it into the glue and screw holes using a 20mm needle syringe.





This is the chair’s back. I labeled each piece.


For those of you unfamiliar with furniture terms, tenons and mortises are a type of joint that join furniture pieces together.  You can see an example, below.

Left: Mortis/Right: Tenon

When the back was taken apart, Mitchell and I took a look at the mortises. Mitchell believed the mortises were formed using Forstner bits. This was unusual for an Imperial Monterey-style item because Forstner bits were used by hand rather than manufactured by machine in Los Angeles, California.

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The rest of my day consisted of scraping out the gunk from the tenons and mortises.

After scraping out the gunk, the next steps involve cleaning glues and the finish on the various parts.  Ideally, my next step is woodworking which would involve finding compatible wood and rebuilding the badly damaged or rotted tenons; this is going to be delayed until Mitchell can fully supervise me.  Next week I will finish up cleaning, and begin to work the leather:  Stay tuned!

© Ashley West.  My blog posts may be reposted; please link back to AshleyWestArtBlog.  Photos are property of MPF Conservation.