Conservation of the Senju Kannon Statue
Kyle Dockery | Jun 29, 2023
We present the first of three Buddhist statues which were recently conserved at the Midwest Art Conservation Center in Minneapolis.
The serene figure seated here is Senju Kannon (Thousand-armed Kannon), one of a number of manifestations of the Bodhisattva of compassion, also known as Avalokitesvara (India) and Guanyin (China). With many arms and multiple heads, Senju Kannon, although having attained enlightenment, remains behind to help the rest of us do the same.
While displaying the attributes of Kannon, this figure is unusual in that it is not one figure, but rather one composed of pieces from three different sculptures, the figure itself being one, with the lotus flower base and metal crown from two unrelated pieces. It seems some of the additional accompanying arms are also from other sculptures.
As is frequently the case with our collections, the narrative is sparse as there are no records of when or where this piece was purchased and there are only three known photos of it dating to Wright’s lifetime. The earliest was taken around 1927, in which the Kannon is seated on the fireplace mantle of Mr. Wright’s Studio at Taliesin. The statue is encircled with string, with several more arm pieces attached to the body, and miscellaneous hands in its lap or beside the base. The crown appears to be tied in place behind the head and there is a pendant hanging from one side which has since been lost.
The other two photos offer little additional information. The figure can barely be seen at the edge of this photo of the St. Mark’s Tower model, and in a 1955 photo by Maynard Parker it is partially obscured by a large pine bough, although this shows its change of place from above the fireplace to another high ledge in the studio.
Our statue originally had 28 arms and 11 heads; after conservation 6 arms and 10 heads are intact, the decision being made to keep only those pieces which could be clearly matched to their original location and did not require building missing components from scratch. The central hands are in the gasshō gesture, symbolizing respect, gratitude and interconnectedness and the lower hands in the gesture of meditation, neither of which were in place before conservation, but both of which belong iconographically to the Senju Kannon figure.
The crown posed the question of how it got there as It does not belong to the figure nor does the Senju Kannon normally wear a crown. Being too large for this statue, it had been kept in place by the metal’s strong elasticity, which had damaged the head around the hairline. Although the crown obscures the additional heads, because photos document it was in place in the 1920s, it was retained, but a layer of felt was added to the inside of the crown, reducing the tension, and secured with monofilament wire.
Photos taken as part of the conservation process without the crown show how lovely the piece is in its original form.
The statue is now on display at Taliesin and can be seen on all tours of the estate led by Taliesin Preservation. It is displayed in front of a Japanese folding screen which was mounted under TruVue acrylic in 2018. Once work is completed on the Hillside Theater as part of our Save America’s Treasures funded project we will share the story of the other 2 statues.
Senju Kannon (Thousand Armed Kannon)
Wood, lacquer, gilding, and metal