The conservation of this remarkable suit of armour became a two-year journey of discovery involving painstaking research and specialised techniques to save its remarkable lacquer-work.
A magnificent suit of Japanese samurai armour from the eighteenth century was acquired by Te Papa’s predecessor, the Colonial Museum, in 1883.
No record survived of the armour’s history. However, the European craze for things Japanese in the mid-nineteenth century offered some clues. Victorian travellers to the East brought back many items, but as the fashion waned some pieces were offered to museums - Te Papa’s suit was most likely this kind of donation.
The suit is the first in New Zealand to be fully conserved. The work began in 2001 and coincided with the development of the Japonism in Fashion exhibition at Te Papa. Both reflected the renewal of interest in Asia in the latter decades of last century.
Objects Conservator at Te Papa, Rose Evans, spent nearly two years working on the armour, including several months at the British Museum in London on a scholarship to study the specialist techniques needed for its remarkable lacquer-work.
The armour was displayed in the Eyelights Gallery for six months in 2003, and is now in a controlled environment ‘to rest’. The conservation means it should maintain its current condition for several hundred years.