Chris Loomis is the assistant preparator at the Johnson.

The massive Mandarin character shown here translates to “hero” in English and spans three of the fifty-six panels making up the monumental scroll Immortal at the River by Taiwanese artist Tong Yang-Tze.

The women pictured here, however, are our very own heroes!

Rebecca Johnston and Brook Prestowitz are paper conservators from the Williamstown Art Conservation Center in Massachusetts, and they quite literally saved the day for the Johnson Museum team.

In February, Tong Yang-Tze’s installation crew traveled to Ithaca from Taipei to prepare the scroll for exhibition at the Johnson. This specialized work became caught in pandemic limbo when the team was unable to travel back to take down the work. So two of the Johnson’s curators (of Asian art, and of prints and drawings) teamed up, still working remotely, to identify the right regional specialists who could complete this careful task.

Ellen Avril is the Johnson’s chief curator and curator of Asian art, and cocurated the exhibition with An-yi Pan, associate professor in the Department of the History of Art and Visual Studies. “We are grateful to Tong Yang-Tze and her installers for entrusting the Williamstown conservators and our team to take on this skilled task. This collaboration indeed exemplifies the ‘we’re all in this together’ spirit.”

Over the course of four days last week, Rebecca and Brook were able to successfully and safely remove the scroll from our gallery walls. Super flexible and strong custom carbon-fiber spatulas made by bookbinder and book conservator Jeff Peachey were used along with other specialty tools to split the artwork panels and its paper backing from the supporting tissue that was pasted directly to the wall. It was very difficult and delicate work, but these pros made it look easy.

As one of the Johnson’s preparators, it was a privilege to work through this unique process, not just with our team and Museum registrar Matt Conway, but also Professor Pan in Ithaca with the remote guidance of the artist’s conservator in Taipei.