Penang-Aussie team to restore 117-year-old banner


(From left) Dr Ang and Phillips showing images of the conservation works done by Phillips. Looking on are Choot (extreme right) and Artlab director Andrew Durham.

AN ANTIQUE cloth banner in Penang with the Chinese characters ‘Nine Emperor Gods’ in gold threads has seen better days.It is now in danger of disintegrating, but help has arrived.

An elaborate effort to restore and preserve the 117-year-old arras kept in the Hong Kong Street Tow Boh Keong Temple has begun.

George Town World Heritage Incorporated (GTWHI) is joining hands with Artlab Australia, set up by the Government of South Australia to specialise in the care and conservation of works of art, historic items and family treasures.

The banner is made of silk and cotton, with embroidered gold threads and miniscule mirrors. It is mostly in one piece, though faded, brittle and fragile.

Artlab principal textiles conservator Kristin Phillips said 5% of the fabric had worn off.

“After conservation, the banner can be kept for display long term.

“We propose to do an underlining between the layers. We stitch a layer between the front and back of the banner and put it back together,” she explained while inspecting the banner’s condition at the temple in Cheong Fatt Tze Road on Tuesday.

Phillips said they could also place a layer of net on top of the banner to hold things in place.

She said Artlab will provide the possible proposals for the temple to choose.

“It will take between 100 and 200 hours for the stitching to rebuild and conserve the banner. I will teach Penangites and they can do it for other heritage textiles.

“After the conservation, the banner can be put in a case made of acrylic sheet plastic and framed with wood. It must be placed at a certain angle to reduce the pressure on its lower portion,” she said, adding that it is also advisable for the case to be covered to minimise the banner’s exposure to light.

Temple adviser Datuk Seri Choot Ewe Seng said the banner, crafted in 1900, was embroidered with the images of the Eight Immortals, deities revered by Taoists.

“We have specialists from Australia sharing their expertise with us.

“Even better, our locals will learn their methods and can help preserve other artefacts later,” he said.

GTWHI general manager Dr Ang Ming Chee said GTWHI and Artlab have signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to provide training for textile conservation.

“In Penang, we have many such banners that are in dire need of conservation and we are looking into long-term sustainable ways,” she added.

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