Museum curator V. Jeyaraj, who has restored several sculptures and paintings of heritage value

“I can’t sleep without interacting with them. I talk to them at least twice a day,” says conservation expert V. Jeyaraj. He is referring to the cultural edifices in the museum. Such is his dedication that even after retiring as curator of Government Museum, he is unable to keep off work and has started an institute in Chennai for heritage conservation.

Given his sheer interest in conservation, he learnt the techniques on his own. The then Director of Archaeology Department encouraged him to write and Jeyaraj with his aptitude for research ended up with a portfolio of articles on conservation techniques.

As curator of the Erode Government Museum he organised several seminars and exhibitions. Overwhelming public response to the exhibition on ‘Temples in Periyar district’ propelled him to work more and he started collecting palm manuscripts. Jeyaraj classified them with the help of a Thanjavur Tamil University professor and properly documented them in a book. He did not stop with that, he distributed copies of the book to all the Government libraries.

His London visit to learn advance techniques enlightened him on several aspects of heritage conversation. Jeyaraj is one of those who vehemently oppose sand blasting technique to clean sculptures and paintings. “Sand blasting damages the structure, chemical cleaning just removes the oil dirt. I use diluted ammonia, alkaline base soap solution to remove the dirt,” he points out.

Once this method proved successful, he advocated chemical cleaning to the executive officers of temple, public works department engineers and curators of museum.

“In western countries people use very fine marble powder or badam seed powder or even lime stone powder to clean the dirt. The impact is much lesser compared to sand blasting. They also use water treatment. Only distilled water is used. Using paper pulp is another method through which they remove the oil dirt,” says Jeyaraj.

He also involves the public in all his cleaning work and calls this initiative as ‘Neo conservation technique’. “Public involvement is a must as it makes them more responsible,” he asserts.

An expert in restoration, he concentrated more on preventive conservation than curative. Preventive method, he says, “is always better as it ensures and enhances the life of the object whereas curative conservation is more of a restoration job.”

“You may not be able to bring back the original shape. In such cases I fumigate the manuscripts to remove the fungal growth and clean the dust accumulation. If the manuscripts are hard and brittle I dip them in a mixture of Citronella oil and alcohol or kerosene to soften the manuscripts,” he adds.

Jeyaraj made it compulsory for his staff to attend classes on conservation and restoration every six month. He also introduced them to fire safety measures and conducted disaster management programmes.

He introduced a lot of preventive measures to protect the monuments. He insisted on proper ventilation in museum. “The sculptures also sweat,” he says.

A firm believer in transfer of knowledge, he has so far written 30 books including Heritage Management and Museology, Care of Stone Objects, Authenticity in Art, Directory of Monuments in Tamil Nadu, Care of Paintings, Care of Museum Objects and Handbook on Conservation in Museum.

Besides conservation consultancy work, he does a lot of social work and has now started a home for the destitute in memory of his wife Hepzibah. At present he is busy writing a book on Statues of the British Period in Tamil Nadu.