On a trek through Bhutan in 1992, art restorer Sabine Cotte was struck by the beauty of the tiny kingdom’s ancient fortresses and temples – but also by the buildings’ cracked walls and crumbling foundations.
After winning her Rolex Award in 1996, Cotte and architect David Nock undertook an intensive, eight-week research trip to Bhutan to visit 17 sites ranging from small village temples to elaborate monasteries. The trip resulted in an extensive report and recommendations that were presented to Bhutan’s government to ensure the future preservation of the temples and of their artworks, including mural paintings, painted banners and statues.
I was careful not to come in as the expert foreigner who gave instructions on what they had to do. Monks are naturally proud of their beautiful cultural heritage, and now we have been able to help them to preserve it.
In 2000, she published the Handbook of Preventive Conservation for Dzongs and Lhankangs in English and Dzongkha. The handbook is still used in Bhutan, and the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property made it available online. It also inspired the National Textile Museum of Bhutan to adapt it for use in textile restoration. In 2008, Cotte trained heritage architecture students from Khwopa College in Nepal to document mural paintings. Their final examination work included the creation of a similar handbook. Since then she has led workshops in the Himalayas, participated in sustainable conservation projects, trained conservation students in Taiwan and published several papers in conservation journals.
Cotte now works in Australia as an art restorer.