Actor Julian Sands on the Lucknow Exhibition

December 16, 2010

Actor Julian Sands is a long-time friend to LACMA and—currently–a lender to the Lucknow exhibition. We asked him about collecting, and about the Lucknow tureen, one of his treasures.

Julian Sands, with another piece that came to LACMA from his collection: a Paul Storr centerpiece


What and why do you collect?


I don’t think of myself as a collector. I spend a lot of time on mountains doing marathons in remote places where you are carrying with you the minimum you need to exist: a tent, a bed, some fuel, some food. That’s your world. I acquire things with the ferocity of a pirate, but like a pirate I just like to dig a hole in the sand and drop it in and head off for more. It’s an insatiable greed, foiled by this Trappist like renunciation.


Tell us your impressions of the exhibition India’s Fabled City: The Art of Courtly Lucknow?


The show reveals Lucknow as this jewel of a place. In local terms, what would it be? San Francisco with downtown New York and New Orleans all rolled up into one! And fabled, with its poets and painters and craftsmen and glamorous courtesans. It was a tremendous meeting point of east and west.


Stephen Markel has been putting this exhibition together for twelve or fifteen years. He has cast his net wide to bring together these great treasures. His passion for his subject is fabulous.




The Lucknow Tureen


Tell us about the Lucknow Tureen, now on view at LACMA in the Lucknow exhibition?


It has sculptural presence, immense beauty and grace. The shape is classically Mughal. But there are these lions which look exactly like an English lion.


Claude Martin, the great nabob of Lucknow, who was drummed out eventually and fled back to England, built a magnificent  building—which is, today, called La Martiniere—in Lucknow. There are motifs on the bowl that you’ll find in the architecture of the building. In particular, the lions are very much like the lions you’ll flanking the Martiniere. So there is every reason to suppose the piece was commissioned as part of a service for the Martiniere.


I like to think somewhere there is a great ladle. But a lot of these things got melted down. The Indian tradition wasn’t to pass things on to keep so much as to pass things on to melt down and people remade things in their own style.




The Lucknow Tureen, detail



How did you come across the piece?


I found the piece through a friend of mine, who is a great scholar of colonial silver: Wynyard Wilkinson. I’ve known him since I was at school. For a long time, I coveted it.


Really great objects have tremendous power and energy. There is something of the nervous system of their creator, the man or woman who chiseled or cast or painted or drew or fabricated the object.


I don’t set out to collect anything for sake of a collection. I get interested in a form, a medium, a type of work. So you go looking for things. And then when you find something you may have been seeking, there’s a release, almost like an Arthurian knight. You are released from the challenge.


What do you like to see when you visit the museum?


All my life I have taken such pleasure from museums.


LACMA, in particular, has amazing space and such great light – you feel that it’s an organic, ongoing, 21st century, vibrating beacon of forward-looking culture bringing the past into the present. There’s a great fusion of possibilities here.


When I’m here at LACMA I usually visit the paintings and sculpture in the Modern galleries – the quality and balance is superb. The presentation of sculpture is wonderful. I love the great Tony Smith, and going in the new Resnick Pavillion, a place of beauty and an architectural wonder.


India’s Fabled City: The Art of Courtly Lucknow is on view through February 27th, 2011. View a slideshow of 19th century photographs of courtly Lucknow at



Amy Heibel

Challenges of Conservation: The Mysore Album Cover Project

November 11, 2010

This late-nineteenth-century album cover, intricately carved in India, was crafted from fragrant sandalwood. When acquired, the outer section of the front edge was missing. This visual distraction kept most viewers’ eyes from being fully engaged in the artistry worked into the wooden cover.
My challenge was to make the album cover look more unified with a carved replacement for the missing section. On a “restoration difficulty” scale of 1 to 10, this was a 10!

Before conservation treatment. The entire outer section of the front edge, on right, was missing.

Challenge #1: Finding the Right Material
I hoped to use a plank of sandalwood for the replacement, but after an intense search, came up empty. Sandalwood was a very desirable wood in past centuries but is now very, very scarce. Instead I experimented with several hardwoods, finally selecting Koa wood from Hawai’i for its similar color, grain pattern, and ease of carving.

Challenge #2: Making the Template
Work began by carefully making cardstock templates. Using calipers to measure for each row and design series, I drew reference points and pattern lines to ultimately replicate the original designs of the existing album cover on the template. The designs were stretched or shrunk to fit the template and, finally, on the Koa wood itself.

During treatment. Calipers were used to compare the sandalwood original with the Koa wood replacement for accuracy.

Challenge #3: Tiny Tools for a Tiny Job
Next, I tried to purchase tools small enough to reproduce the tiny carvings, but was unsuccessful. I resorted to altering a few tools, including a mini scalpel blade, 1.5mm u-gouge, paring chisel, and 3mm gouge with skew chisel edge. I used a 7X magnification loupe as I worked row by row.

During treatment. The Koa wood replacement was carved with modified miniature tools.

Challenge #4: Finishing the Project
When the carving was complete, the Koa wood was cut to length with precision angles, and mortises to lock into the album cover. The next step was to apply a thin layer of shellac to seal the Koa wood surface. After drying, I applied a chestnut-toned water-base natural dye and watercolors onto the shellacked surface, toning to blend with the original album cover

After treatment. The carved Koa wood replacement was fit in place with mortises and toned to match.

Jean Neeman, Senior Conservation Technician

%d bloggers like this: