The Laboratory for Scientific Restoration of Works of Applied Art deals with conservation and restoration of monuments belonging to all historical periods. The range of materials is extremely wide: wood, bone, leather and fur, mother-of-pearl, amber, etc. Some exhibits can often be most complicated combining not only a variety of materials, but also different ways of decoration: carving, polychrome painting, gilding, inlay, engraving or embossing. A French casket of the XIV century made of carved bone or a leather apron for Masonic rituals are restored alongside with archaeological objects, including Palaeolithic tools and tattooed human skin from the Altai mounds of the 5th-3rd century BC. The geography of the exhibits is also extremely wide. These are objects of applied art from Japan, China, India, Indonesia, Mongolia, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, Spain, England and Russia.
Starting from the 1950s, more attention was paid to the development of methods of restoration of archaeological finds coming from Staraya Ladoga and Pskov expeditions, among which were objects made of wood, leather and bone, including those extracted from a wet excavation. In 1955-1957, Ye.A. Rumyantsev and A.A. Yachneva created a group for restoration of objects made of organic materials.
From 1958 through 1963, restorers of the group, G. Ya. Grushanskaya, N.A. Korzhinskaya and K.F. Nikitina, together with chemists I.L. Nogid and N.G. Gerasimova, developed new and improved already known techniques for conservation of archaeological wood. Since 1963, N.G. Gerasimova and K.F. Nikitina have been testing in practice the method of conservation of wet archaeological wood with polyethylene glycol, that later became widely used in restoration practice.
Large-scale work on the search for a method of conservation of dry archaeological leather and fur was associated with admission to the State Hermitage Museum in 1969 of the materials from Oglakhtinskiy burial ground (MSU expedition led by L.R. Kyzlasov). By 1973, restorers K.F. Nikitina, T.A. Baranova and chemist V.P. Vinogradova had developed, tested and put into the national restoration practice a method of processing archaeological fur. K.F. Nikitina, author of the technique, became a member of the Leather working group of the International Committee for Conservation (ICOM).
At various times, restoration of monuments made of organic materials involved A.B. Bryzgalova, N.G. Sidak, M. Ye. Ilyina and T.A. Sayatina. From 1975 through 1985, Ye.A. Chekhova, N.V. Krachun and M.V. Michri joined the group.
In 1985, the group of restoration of organic material was reorganised into the Laboratory for Scientific Restoration of Objects Made of Organic Materials (LSROOM) and became an independent division of the Department of Restoration of the State Hermitage Museum. It was headed by K.F. Nikitina, art restorer of the highest qualification with years of experience; since 2001, the Laboratory has been headed by Ye.G. Mankova.
The elder generation of restorers shares their professional experience with young employees. From 2001 through 2013, N.A. Vasilieva, Ye.V. Kozlova and Ye.A. Glinka joined the Laboratory.
Currently, the Laboratory staff amounts to eight people, recognized experts, most of whom are restorers of the highest category. Their laboratory work consists of several key areas:/p>
1. Restoration of archaeological objects, including field conservation during archaeological expeditions. Restoration of excavated objects made of wet archaeological wood requires special attention due to the nature of the material and equipment used for the restoration of such objects. After removing the findings from the ground, the main task of the restorers is to preserve the monument’s material. Organic materials such as leather, fur, wood and bone are poorly preserved in the soil, so they are often among the most unique finds.
2. Restoration of applied art monuments, so-called new materials. These are everyday objects, religious objects, monuments of decorative and applied art made of bone, leather, wood, tortoise, mother-of-pearl and other materials. Such objects occupy an important place in the collection of the State Hermitage Museum.
3. Restoration of armaments and horse equipment: decoration of bladed weapons (sword belts and sword scabbards, sabers, broadswords), holsters, quivers, bow cases for pistols, rifles, shields, arrows, bows, horse harness, saddles, etc.
4. Restoration of wooden polychrome sculpture: sculptures from archaeological excavations, for example, the ancient walled city of Hara-Hoto, polychrome sculpture from Japan and China, Germany, the Netherlands and Spain.
5. Restoration of the East Asian and Russian lacquer items. The range of Eastern lacquer items is extremely wide: from archaeological finds to works of the 18th-20th centuries. Vast experience in the restoration of Eastern lacquer items was acquired in the course of preparation of permanent exhibitions The Art of Japan of the XVIII-XIX Centuries and The Culture and Art of Central Asia, as well as during re-exhibiting the halls dedicated to the art of China. Objects of different size and functionality, as well as in the manufacturing technique and decoration require restoration: images of deities, altars, boxes, boxes for writing instruments, inkslabs, trays, mirror cases and combs. The Laboratory restorers work with Russian artistic lacquer items dated 18th-20th centuries as well items dated XVIII-XX centuries as well, for example, lacquer miniatures created by the masters of Fedoskino, Palekh, Mstera, factories of A. Lukutin and V. Vishnyakov.
The variety of items and materials from which they are made calls for the continuous development of new and improvements in the existing techniques; the search and implementation in practice of modern materials; determination of the optimal conditions for storage; and exhibition of monuments of applied art made of organic materials.
The Laboratory staff participates in the archaeological expeditions of the State Hermitage Museum in the northwest regions of Russia, in the North Caucasus, Altai, in the Crimea, Tuva and Central Asia, as well as abroad. Excavation of items and field conservation are important for the choice of subsequent restoration measures and largely determine the further fate of the monument.