The Story of the Ranma Panels, Part II: 2005-today

Post By: Janice Katz
Nov 16, 2013

When I first came to The Art Institute of Chicago, I had the chance to view the two ranma panels that we owned. They were in our outside storage facility, and it took the coordination of a group of several staff members made up of conservators, registrars, and art handlers just to go out there and remove them at least partially from their crates to see what state they were in. It was clear they were beautifully carved, but in many cases the pieces of wood they were made from had split to such a degree that you couldn’t get a sense of the composition. In addition, a good deal of the color was lost, and they were badly in need of a cleaning. Due to their size and the lighting conditions in storage, we couldn’t even get a good photo of them on the first few visits.

I first examined the University of Illinois at Chicago’s (UIC) panels in 2005, when they were on public display at the university’s Henry Hall. Then in 2008, I learned that UIC was looking for a permanent home for their ranma, having been concerned about their condition for some time. The timing was perfect-at the Art Institute since we were just beginning preparations for the newly renovated and expanded Weston Wing and Japanese Art Galleries that were set to open in September 2010. The panels were incorporated into the plan for the galleries from day one. Their conservation took some time to complete, and involved a complex process of structural stabilization, cleaning, pigment consolidation, toning, and re-carving of many elements such as missing birds’ heads. But finally in August 2011, the ranma were installed permanently in Gallery 108 where they are now together again after decades of separation and looking sharp.

This extraordinary series of events underscores why I love objects-they can go from near destruction in one era, to being revered in the next. Long after you and I are gone, they demand to tell a story that simply refuses to be erased.

To learn more about the year-long conservation of the ranma, read Part III.

  • A Phoenix depicted on a Ranma from the Phoenix Pavilion, 2011 (See “1893 expo’s historic Japanese panels reunited, restored,” August 14, 2011, The Sun Times Media, Photo Gallery)


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