Excerpts from the Preservation Assessment of Sun Loong – December 2015
The Imperial Dragon Sun Loong has been paraded in Bendigo since 1970 after being transported from Hong Kong to replace the elderly Loong. He has been constructed in the traditional manner by Dragon Maker Lo On Kee using ties, adhesives, stitching, layering and laminating. He is the last and longest Imperial Dragon made by Lo On Kee using these traditional methods and, as far as research indicates, the only Imperial Dragon still annually paraded. Measuring just over 100 meters in length, he comprises an array of media including papier mache, bamboo, silk, cotton, mirrors, brass, horse, goat and rabbit hair.
He is now around forty five years of age and naturally has suffered damage and/or deterioration from both being paraded, handled and simply from the natural ageing of the materials of his construction. Once organic materials commence deterioration, deterioration slowly accelerates over time. This is enhanced by the by-products of the deterioration resulting in weaker areas that are increasingly more easily damaged. Thus the need for a conservation/preservation assessment to understand his needs for the future – can he be stabilised for ongoing parading at the Easter Fair, or would it be wiser that he be preserved, displayed and his story and strength secured for future generations.
An extensive examination was undertaken in December 2015 in order to ascertain Sun Loong’s conservation needs. This was done not only to identify problematic areas, but to assist with the determination of his future. Numerous issues were found. These issues can be summarised in numbers; there are approximately 600 fractures to the tips of the ‘scales’, 370 areas of delamination of the cards that make up the scales, 220 scales that require restitching to either each other and/or to the body, 100 mirror loss or loose issues, 100 sites of braid and brocade that is detaching. There is also a major problem with corrosion of some 45,000 brass mirror covers.
It is important that if he is to continue to be paraded that these issues be addressed in a timely manner.
The examination of Sun Loong has been timely. There are pressing issues that, if not addressed, would most likely result in additional damage at his next outing. These are; the precarious state of numerous loose scales, the extensive breakdown of the green silk fabric on the neck and the poor condition of the fabric behind his cheeks. The corrosion of the mirror covers on the rear half of the body is also a major issue and managing the corrosion in situ is far from realistic. A project to replace the affected mirror covers with new covers should be developed. All issues described in this document can indeed be addressed, however the organic materials in Sun Loong will continue to deteriorate and parading him will increasingly compromise weakened areas.
Given his unique history, being the longest and the last, intact, still parading Imperial Dragon made by the Master Dragon maker Lo On Kee to be found anywhere in the world – some delicate decision making may be needed to ensure his ongoing preservation, with eyes, I believe, focussed on the long term rather than the short. With all this in mind, it may be prudent to consider whether a ‘Significance Assessment‘ should be undertaken in the near future – this would be a significant step towards his long term preservation.
Jude Schahinger, Conservator of Objects