The altar was originally built into the walls of a Tibetan home. In order to transport the altar, it was disassembled and removed without its original support. At the Museum, the doors, panels, drawers, and cabinets were reassembled. A replacement framework was engineered, guided by the patterns of soiling and remaining wooden joinery. The new framework was attached with tenons slotted into the mortises of the altar—no glue or screws were used, in keeping with the original construction method. Part of this new framework can be seen in the photograph below, at left.
Treatment of Painted Surfaces
First, flaking paint was re-adhered to the wood surface with a custom glue. After the flaking paint was stabilized, the painted surfaces were cleaned to reveal brilliant colors that had been obscured by soot and grime. In Tibetan-Buddhist practice, the soot is considered a by-product of burning offertory butter lamps and thus there are no cultural objections to its removal. The rich variety of hues and designs that were uncovered allow us to more fully appreciate the Tibetan-Buddhist aesthetic, the patron’s intent, and the artisans’ skill.