Archive: January 31, 2016

Country Sunday – guest blog editor Joanna BH




We woke to another beautiful, hot and still morning on the river at Colvale, and after breakfast in the company of a kingfisher, some monkeys and the silence, we headed into the village for Mass at 10am.



Refuge of SinnersThe little Chapel had been especially decorated for a feast day and a small statue of the Madonna had been taken from the safety of a village house, garlanded and displayed centrally in the Chapel for the occasion. The entire Service was held in Konkani, but was remarkably familiar nevertheless as it followed familiar patterns and cadences. The visiting priest, Father Simon Rico, is quite an orator and we were swept along by his sermon even though it was spattered with very few words of English. Refuge of Sinners 2Being part of this jolly and colourful community for a brief interlude was very special, and as the congregation paraded the Madonna out of the Chapel to the accompaniment of firecrackers in the sunshine, we witnessed again that uniquely Indian expression of the Christian faith.

We headed South East in search of another hidden Goan gem, this time a small and unique hotel, originally built by Loulou Van Damme, a Belgian resident of India, perched inland on a hillside near Corjuem between two tributaries of the Mandovi river. Aided by trusty Google maps we found the unsigned track leading to a lush and beautifully kept oasis of 24 acres called Avanilaya, where we were welcomed by the analiyanamanager Charmaine Desouza (who, auspiciously had read in the newspaper about our restoration project at the Archbishop’s House) and led us into the cloistered garden of Panchavatti, the main house. Five exquisite bedrooms are arranged around a courtyard, but it was the verandah at the rear overlooking the most stunning views of the countryside and rivers below which takes one’s breath away. There are two further houses where guests can stay but everyone here can enjoy the utter peace and beauty of what must be the most charming place to stay in Goa.

Driving back to Panaji dodging cows and dogs and wandering motorbikes along the route, we arrived to see the preparations advancing for carnival next weekend, which will no doubt be an experience in sharp contrast to the serenity of this weekend.

With thanks to Joanna Brogan-Higgins who kindly volunteered to guest edit today’s blog.

The animals went in two by two hurrah hurrah …


KingfisherWe climbed this morning into a somewhat precarious wooden narrow boat (our seats were two plastic garden chairs facing each other) and glided on the water through the omni present mangroves on the backwaters of the Chapora river, brightened by the blue reflection of the kingfisher, the whiteness of the big crackers, the black drying of the anahingas, and the sinister brown of  basking crocodiles.Croc


The wonder of the trip was the peace and quiet – no car horns, no dogs, and very few people. We came across some fishermen checking their nets, with an eagle swooping in and out of the trees above to see what he could pick up. We finished up by being taken to see a black and white kingfisher, and then back to the hotel for breakfast.

Off to the sea at Vagator for the traditional week-end task of finding some new and different shells, and then a leisurely drive back to Colvale in time to see the water buffalo procession as they swam along the opposite bank, snorting and snuffling, with their attendant egrets sitting on their backs.Water buffalo

Dinner was quite a trek away but so worth it when we finally found the restaurant. Matsya is run by an extraordinary young Israeli chef Gome Galily. We had spoken earlier in the day to talk about food preferences, and then he decides the menu so we had no idea what to expect. This had been billed as ‘the best restaurant in Goa;’ and certainly lived up to expectations. Polenta and steamed crab, a pizza with raw fish, a small pancake with mushrooms, wonderful mussels in a piquant sauce, fresh snapper cooked to perfection, and a wonderful pudding with strawberries and cacao. What an amazing talent, and the whole meal accompanied by delicious wine, a sitar concert from a  very talented half French half Spanish musician and great company – what an evening!


All the chores seem to take us such a long time. Just to give you an example C. went yesterday to find a bedside light for Ruthie and Jenny coming this weekend, and was told none were available. Caetano went to the same shop and came back with one which he is using to control how much he is removing from the back of the canvas he is delaminating. We came to the conclusion that we are describing items differently.

Rif Pecc 2Anyway after having pick up Joanna we headed off to Colvale which is in the North of Goa. We had great fun seeing lovely very colourful indo/portuguese houses and so many churches and chapels. We stopped and went into one chapel to discover that it is at least 300 years old, with a  typical ornate tabernacle which was not gilded, possibly because it is in a remote country location. Blue and whiteIt had a simple pastel blue and green decoration on the columns. Juanita who is in charge of looking after the chapel has the main statue at home for fear it may be stolen. She explained that it is made out of wood and very old. Sunday is the feast of the Refuge of Sinners (Refugium Peccatorum) and that chapel is named after it. The big statue will be displayed and the entire village will attend a big celebration. We shall go.

St FrancisRefugium PeccatorumDriving up river we came across a bigger church dedicated to St Francis facing the football pitch with the river at the back. We went in and in certain aspects it was so Indian  (the somewhat gothic style altar) and in other aspects it had the Italian touch, such as the ceiling which was painted blue with gilded stars similar to the church in Assisi.

We arrived at our weekend escape (from the howling dogs and musicin Panjim) to the sound of a scratched vinyl record blasting out. I thought ‘here we are at another festival’, but to our surprise we discovered we had a temple opposite on the other river bank which plays music for hours …. then all of a sudden it stopped.

Our new new resident guest appeared on the light switch box to bid us good night – a small brown frog sitting on top of one of the light switches!


Full swing on Thursday

IMG_4017If  I thought the work was diminishing, not a bit of it. Every day new pieces seem to materialize from the students, all of them fascinating but in the most precarious state such as a head of Christ eaten by termites among other things (the fascinating part is this head is hollow because there was a mechanism inside and for the passion on Good Friday as Jesus died at three o’clock the head would fall forwards).We started with notes going through the syllabus and handing out notes to cement  what we have done so far.

DSC_3157Back to work, all the students have at least two projects not to mention sample boards for the rigatino technique, and need to do drawings of frames. On top of that the scaffolding that was erected yesterday at 6.5 meters high for the cleaning of a polychrome full size wooden statue of Christ needed a student to address the cleaning. Luckily we had two volunteers who climbed up onto the rig in order to start the work.

More and more is piling up, and the students have a full load of homework to do over the next three days in order to keep going. We need to keep the pressure on if we are to get them to complete the course on time, which I am determined to do. With the quality and commitment of the students here in Goa I am confident that this is achievable.

We had a visit from the Director of the Christian Art Museum who came to invite us to her Museum. She will attend a few classes to understand the basics of conservation and products used by conservator so that she can monitor the correct future treatments (necessary intervention with the minimal reversible products).

It’s Venetia’s Birthday (our daughter in London)

The day started with mass at 07:00 where the nuns celebrated Venetia’s birthday by inviting one of us to read the lesson – Christopher got the short straw and thank goodness read slowly and clearly for all to understand!


With the exception of Joseph who is up in Bombay today for a 3 day wedding, the whole class joined in and we went through the core unit and the colour wheel. Some of the students are already excellent artists in their own right, so doing this was almost an insult, but they all need to complete the course and this is a fundamental part of it.


All the students are engaged on at least one project allocated to them from the archbishops, and then many have brought in their own work, including today some wonderful polychrome statues and exquisite paintings which are a joy to see.


IMG_3898I am not quite sure at times who is  learning the most, them or me with a full immersion in Indo/Portuguese candle – relic holders, statues (Saints which have their faces carved in ivory) paintings on canvas  (Milena brought a beautiful painting of Mary holding lovingly the baby Jesus) and panel painting (Saint Peter surrounded by angels and the symbology of fire and a cockerel a the bottom).






This afternoon work started on the scaffolding in the chapel to enable us to work on the statue of Christ behind the altar. Our resident architect Rhea (one of the students) supervised how they were building the bamboo scaffolding, and assured me that bamboo is in fact stronger than steel! It will be an interesting cleaning job    5-6 metres up to the base of the statue.



Sadly it’s Anna’s last day here in Goa – she has been a real star and so helpful. Two of the paintings are back on the stretchers and a third one is shrunk and almost cleaned. She was brilliant at mentoring the other students (I think there is a born teacher lurking beneath her skin). We will miss her and the lethal calorific cakes, but she tells me that she has loved every minute and wants to come back!

Better day

Flag Raising


Republic day started with the flag raising ceremony at the college where we are staying. The students paraded followed by the hoisting of the flag with  petals fluttering down and the pledging of the alliance to the Republic.


A new student arrived on the course – Father Mansueto who has an artistic background. How important it is to have a priest who understands conservation and is able to guide restoration in the Churches of Goa. The Archbishop  has given his blessing and I hope so will his superior in the Seminary.

Back to the treatments which had already been started, such as the strip lining by Anna. The binder is still sticky 24 hours later, we left it until tomorrow and then we shall make a decision as to how to proceed. The removal of the ply wood was also left as we had tried to consolidate the paint layers in one area and want to see how it behaves.

IMG_3826The students worked on four other paintings which required application of gesso,scalpelling gesso, strip lining with an italian paste and surface cleaning of the seventh Archbishop (cleaning the frame meant removing a wasp’s nest, checking that the termites are no longer there ….quite different from what we are used to).


In between we were sending desperate messages back to Elizabeth in London to sent materials with the other students who are still coming out to help. I am sure that once the India students start working as restorers, they will source the right materials, but right now it takes ages to find anything remotely appropriate.

We seem to improvise quite a bit, and today we needed weights to flatten the paintings, so we raided the garden for flowerpots only to discover a little while later as I was checking the painting that one of the pots had an ants nest. The pots went back in to the garden immediately!


We are all familiar with a difficult start to the week

Last night was not good. There is some different sort of music every night and boy do they play it loud. If it wasn’t for the fact that we have ferocious guard dogs who are let loose at 10pm, i would have gone to a hotel.

Monday morning bright eyed and bushy tailed we arrived at the Palace full of confidence and very positive. How wrong of me. I knew Anna had been on Sunday to flatten a painting (it is looking very good). What I found out was that a student had kindly come in to remove the ply wood from the back of a canvas (it had stuck in some places extremely well), the result surprised me because apart from a considerable new hole, the paint had crumbled and disintegrated in about 7 large areas. Extremely puzzling and quite scary.

I needed time to absorb and understand what had happened so I went on another project which needed strip lining due to limited supplies we were trying to save on the melinex but managed to stick the new canvas to newspaper… we spend some valuable time removing newspaper from the canvas. The final result looked very positive as we left. Let us hope we have a pleasant surprise when we go in tomorrow.

The students were working mainly on the sculpture and one after the other they asked to either repeat the cleaning procedure because they believed that the visible colour was not original; one had found examples of St Anthony’s missing hand to make from scratch, one had cleaned St Gaetano with a scalpel and brought out a much nicer detailed head. So all in all they notice so much already and are presenting their case as to why they should do a specific treatment.

I am thrilled at their progress and I feel privileged to have them as students. Not to mention how lucky i am to have Anna and Joanna who have both accomplished difficult treatments incredibly well.

I was delighted to have a visit from a young priest who is enthusiastic and keen to join the programme. It would be invaluable  if his superiors do give him permission, as it would mean a real asset to the church to have someone with inside knowledge of restoration.

C. has been efficient but rather absent, it was not until 2pm that he shared with me that he had a tummy bug. Inevitable!

Meeting of Restoration minds in Goa



Today Sunday, we went to the House first thing to check that Anna had everything she needed for the morning. I found Father Loiola in the studio organizing fresh biscuits and water for her, which was a lovely thoughtful gesture.


C. and I headed to Bogmalo near Vasco Da Gama to enjoy the almost unbearable heat on the beach and eat in the shack . We did not try the sugar cane juice on sale by the side of the road!


Coming back we met with Rita a passionate conservator working on a restoration project in a church. As we both have difficulties in sourcing materials we are joining forces and helping each other with whatever we have, and what I can organize with my students still to come from London to bring out more materials.

South Goa exploration

Exploring the South of Goa’s coast and then meandering back up through the very dry and still extremely green inner land was simply breath taking. On the way back Saturday mid- morning, having missed the turning for a Christian Monastery (we shall get there at some stage) we ended literally climbing a mountain as Joanna and I Dusty Roadwere asked by our brilliant driver to get out as the car stalled and would not move on this dirt track. As C. sped off leaving the two of us covered in this reddish dust, we were panting out loud and hoping that our driver would wait for us eventually. Anyway we reached the top and in the cacophony of sounds by all sorts of cars and scooters trying to turn and park in a space of 30 feet by 30 feet we became part of a visit to a shrine on its most important day of the year. We climbed up the steps to see the imposing view but did not queue to go in.

We missed another turning to one of the oldest churches, the maps are not detailed and the road signs do not indicate turnings …. we shall persevere and try again, but by then it was 4pm and our driver was understandably exhausted.

We booked our second weekend night at a Pousada which has one typical Portuguese two storey red brick colour house and another Hindu white house with an inner courtyard which has a fountain. No cockroaches tonight please. It is getting warmer, even at night we are approaching 30° C – wonderful!

Dinner was at the charming Fisherman’s Wharf and guess what… Anna and her husband George sat down 2 tables away. She had discovered the spice plantation but as she is leaving on Thursday she is worried to get the canvases ready for strip lining (quite rightly), so back at the House for her on Sunday.


After supper I wanted to see Old Goa by night with the full moon above, so we drove out there – it’s staggeringly beautiful, and at the same time so strange to think that it was deserted by the Portuguese because of disease (mostly malaria and cholera). Then back to Panjim to sleep.

No teaching on Friday!

IMG_3281 Friday is a non-teaching day to give time for the students to write estimates, start writing up their projects, do some research on the pieces they are restoring and go through their notes. There is a huge amount for them to take in, not to mention that this also gives us time to think about the severe problems on the paintings. The overpainting, extreme sagging and detachment of the canvas from the stretchers, the first and third Archbishops are stuck to ply wood which is infested with wood worm and not uniformly secure, and these problems are only the tip of the iceberg.IMG_3293

Friday morning, Joanna, C. and I went to Mapusa (pronounced Mapsa, 45 minutes north of Panjim) to find some 100% linen to reline and stripe line at least 3 paintings. The market is great fun, it had everything you can imagine including a stall with some kind of antiques. We found the linen (150gr weight) which seems perfect for the job. Anna will preshrink it on Monday and we will see how it behaves.

We headed off to the south coast at about 11 o’clock having found an antique shop which had early Indo Portuguese Christian statues and after a couple of hours on the main and smaller road having seen lovely landscape with a luscious vegetation, IMG_3347many rice fields, sweet old temple, we stumble on an imposing palanquin near a huge  temple which we discover is very important, to the deity Shantdurga (the goddess who mediates between Vishnu and Shiva). The palanquin is a huge chariot with massive wooden wheels, and was so majestic with a  flame red top against the intense blue sky which made it look even bigger. What a sight!


Finally we reached Agonda, a small sea coast village with the usual junk shops and quite a few places for yoga, massage, meditation…. We thought it was quite empty (luckily) and we all three disappeared in different directions and regrouped for a fish supper in a restaurant where you had your own pavilion and you ate sitting on pillows with crossed legs. IMG_3360C.’s long legs did not quite fit under the table, they kept on reappearing… We had booked in a beach hut resort which I thought might collapse at any time. Built on very long poles (circa 18 feet) stuck in the sand, every movement felt like an earthquake. As C. walked in the room I had to ask him to do it extra slowly, better still do not move!