Planes, trains and a 300 year old work of art

Last year we brought you exciting news about a rare Japanese eighteenth century handscroll painting which had been discovered in our collections.

Library Development Officer Karen O’Brien takes up the next part of the story…

‘How would you like to go to Leiden?’

‘Love to’ says I, already thinking ‘what’s the catch?’

‘Nothing really, just ensure a unique, fragile 300-year old Japanese Handscroll worth a small fortune arrives safely.’

Really? No pressure then.  How will I pack it?  What if I lose it?

First of all look at the Scroll and check its size.  Has to travel as hand luggage.  Cannot fold it, cut it down or squash it as per the usual approach to packing.  Scratch head – help.

With the aid of our in-house expert Janette Gollan, colleagues at museums and an assistant in the Rose Street branch of Tiso’s the Scroll is packed.


Karen with her precious cargo

But only if Pythagoras theory really works will the Scroll slot in diagonally to the luggage space.

Just check that with Easyjet as flying to-morrow.  No – it is too big. It can only travel in the hold.  Crisis.

Just pretend you have not ‘phoned and all will be well.  Always have a plan B – catch the Eurostar if Scroll grounded.

The Scroll left Central Library at 8am on Friday April 25th and got a lift to Edinburgh Airport where it sailed through check-in (no queries) and Border Control. Bit nerve-wracking as the Scroll is fragile 13 metres long and needs lots of TLC, so not really ideal to open at a busy airport security point.

The Scroll queued in line and went on board Easyjet to Amsterdam accompanied by its 2 minders.  The relief to have it safely on board was immense.  Not a nervous flier, but the thought of being turned back at any time was a huge worry.

After a smooth flight it landed at Schiphol airport again with the threat of having to be opened, but luckily it sailed through all checks to board the double-decker train.  Half-an-hour later it was in the centre of Leiden in time for its appointment with the conservators at the Restorient Studio.

The conservators Andrew and Sydney were hugely welcoming and greatly enthusiastic about the Scroll, so it really seems as though it has gone to the right people to treat it.

Karen with with Dr Rosina Buckland from National Museums of Scotland and Andrew Thompson of Restorient Studios

Karen with with Dr Rosina Buckland from National Museums of Scotland, Andrew Thompson of Restorient Studios – and the scroll!

They and Dr. Rosina Buckland of the National Museums of Scotland spent the afternoon explaining more about the Scroll and what would happen to it showing some of the processes the Scroll will go through including being beaten hard with a brush.  That caused me to raise a concerned eyebrow, but experts know what they are doing.

The afternoon in the conservation studio was a real eye-opener as there was some work in progress and some finished work on display.  The Studio was extremely professional and impressive. We had to kneel to view the work Japanese style with cushions provided for novices.  In just a few hours I learnt an amazing amount and had the chance to view some lovely artefacts.

Safely delivering the Scroll felt like a major accomplishment, but it is only the beginning.

All of the work on the Scroll is being made possible by the huge generosity of the Sumitomo Foundation.  Without their funding this unique treasure would not have started its restoration journey.

Look out for the next part of the story appearing soon on ‘Tales of One City’….


3 thoughts on “Planes, trains and a 300 year old work of art

  1. Lucky lucky Karen!! Do you need anyone else to carry special items abroad?! What a nerve wracking experience though.

    Best wishes

    Gwen Kinghorn

    Please pass this on to the Library staff who are all fab.


  2. I do have a few more grey hairs as a result, but worth it. Afraid this was a once in a lifetime experience. I have had a few ‘volunteers’ for the return journey, but when it comes back it will not be as hand luggage.
    Thanks too for supporting Library staff. We really appreciate it when someone says something nice.
    P.S. Leiden is lovely to visit.



  3. Hi Karen, what a wonderful experience. I think we worked in Moray together many moons ago and I certainly have many more grey hairs but not as a result of such an amazing tale! Jan Murdoch (was Paton)


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