Masako Koyano, internationally recognized conservator of Japanese paintings, is one of our program’s earliest grantees. In 1964, she was the first from Japan to receive a fellowship from the JDR 3rd Fund—precursor to the Asian Cultural Council. Central to our mission is a belief in the individual to advance international dialogue, respect, and understanding. Masako Koyano is that individual.
Mrs. Koyano graduated from the Tokyo University of Arts in 1961 with a degree in painting conservation. At the time, Japan had few trained experts in preserving oil paintings. A pioneer in her field, Mrs. Koyano recognized a critical need for understanding Western conservation techniques, as well as re-examining traditional Japanese methods. In 1964, she set off to research in the United States.
She first worked at The Freer Gallery of Art with conservator Takashi Sugiura, researching a new chemical adhesive used in mounting Japanese scroll paintings. Mrs. Koyano was then accepted into NYU’s Conservation Center M.A. program. To support her studies, Mr. Sugiura and Chinese Art historian James Cahill recommended she apply for a JDR 3rd Fund fellowship, emphasizing the “important consequences it would have for her and the Japanese art world.” Mrs. Koyano took her colleagues’ advice. “I gathered all my courage and was determined to achieve my goal.”
Masako Koyano at NYU Conservation Center, 1966
Mrs. Koyano saw her fellowship’s impact as both professional and personal: “The knowledge, skills, and experience I gained have been the foundation of my professional life. It was the platform from which I was able to pursue art conservation after I returned to Japan…to have people…checking in on me to see if I needed help with anything and everything. That really made the difference.”
The experience, she said, “gave me and the other fellows an opportunity to understand our mutual countries better. My teachers and classmates in the U.S. became my lifelong teachers.”
Mrs. Koyano herself has been a mentor for conservators across the world. Her research in the United States not only impacted the preservation of oil paintings in Japan, but also that of Japanese paintings in the U.S. In 1978, The Foundation of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (FAIC) published her graduate thesis, “A Handbook of the Mounting Techniques for Japanese Scroll Painting.”
Mrs. Koyano’s images of Japanese conservation tools and materials (brushes)
This publication—along with her collection of restoration materials and over 1,000 images of conservation techniques—has served as a guide for generations of conservators from Japan, the United States, and beyond.
Mrs. Koyano speaking at ACC Japan’s ACC Talks in Yokohama, January 2017
Her fellowship fueled an enduring commitment to international collaboration. Mrs. Koyano and fellow ACC alumni from Japan established the Blanchette H. Rockefeller Fundraising Committee. They organized auctions, raising over $1,500,000 for ACC’s Japan Program. Recipients of these endowed funds are named Porter A. McCray Fellows in honor of the first JDR 3rd Fund director, a lifelong friend of Mrs. Koyano.
At age 81, Mrs. Koyano still actively maintains her conservation studio, while mentoring the next international generation of conservators. In fact, Mari Hashimoto, a conservator from her studio, received a 2017 ACC grant to research fading colors in ukiyo-e paintings in Hawaii. Mrs. Koyano continues, as well, to be an integral member of the ACC community. She has participated in ACC Japan’s lecture series, ACC Talks, and leads many of our outreach efforts.
Recently, she visited our New York office on her 50th wedding anniversary. We, too, celebrated the Asian Cultural Council’s more than 50-year friendship with Masako Koyano, whose leadership in both conservation and international exchange has made a world of difference.
Masako Koyano & ACC New York Office celebrating 50 years, May 2017