A Look Inside

April 1, 2009

Conducting research in order to learn more about the objects at Pacific Asia Museum is one of our priorities in the Collections Department. As technologies change and improve, so do our methods of analyzing the Museum’s collection. This winter, we have been engaged in fascinating research projects including imaging of one of the treasures of the Himalayan collection using CT (computer tomography) scanning.

After consulting with colleagues in Los Angeles and New York, the Department planned a project that would enable us to look inside our wooden sculpture of the Buddhist deity Amitayus seated with his consort. Many sculptures of deities and revered teachers are carved or cast so that they have a hollow cavity in their interior which can be filled with sacred materials. These cavities are then sealed in consecration ceremonies conducted by Buddhist teachers.

The Pacific Asia Museum sculpture’s cavity has a plug sealing it along its back, not on the underside of the piece, as is common with bronzes. It underwent the CT process much like any patient would, going through the CT scanning tube in order to capture 3-D images of both the exterior and interior of the piece. The images, which are taken in sequential slices, are then reconfigured by the technicians so that an interior view is possible. By looking closely at the CT image included here, a rolled scroll and smaller assorted items appear to be encased in the cavity. Materials such as turquoise, coral, pearls and organic matter are commonly included in these consecrated statues. With the help of the CT sequences, the Pacific Asia Museum staff is able to gain more knowledge about the sculpture without disturbing the seal on the consecrated area.

The Museum would like to thank Dr. Robert Hayward, Abel Sagum, Jerrod Honaker, John Schoeni and all the staff at the Huntington Hospital for their expertise and assistance.

Bridget Bray,
Collections Manager and Assistant Curator

Amitayus with Consort; China, Ming Dynasty, Yongle Period (140-1424 AD); wood, gesso, pigment; Pacific Asia Museum Collection, Gift of the Nancy King Collection, 2001.1.47.

“Patient” entering the “blue sky” CT scanner at Huntington Hospital, Pasadena.

Huntington Hospital CT technicians analyzing the scan’s data.

Scan of Amitayus detailing a cavity containing sacred objects and the three separate pieces of wood used to create the sculpture.