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Six 140-year-old Japanese silk paintings by Utagawa Kunitsuru have undergone major restoration thanks to Washington, D.C.-based conservator, Yoshi Nishio. The paintings, which measure about 6 feet tall and 21 ½ feet wide, were previously hung in the Decatur House, a historic home and functioning museum, which serves as the National Center for White House History. The Decatur House is located across Lafayette Square from the White House and was designated a U.S. National Historic Landmark in 1976.

The paintings are believed to have been created in 1873 during a time of rich cultural exchange between Japan and the United States. The leading theory suggests that President Ulysses S. Grant acquired the works when he visited Japan in 1879 as part of a world tour. Only one of the six paintings is signed and dated.

The works have hung in the Decatur House for over a century and years of smoke, sunlight, and moisture had left the paintings wrinkled and darkened. Nishio, who received the paintings last year, spent hours cleaning the works with water, solvents, cotton swabs, and bamboo brushes with sable bristles. He worked on particularly delicate portions of the paintings with a scalpel under magnification. The paintings also had to be immersed in water to separate them from the boards they had been glued to.      

The paintings, which feature a geisha, a robed samurai, white cranes, cherry blossoms, and a long-tailed rooster, are expected to return to the Decatur House in June 2013.

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