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The Pacific barkcloth team had a busy week at the beginning of April. We welcomed our advisory panel members for a visit - together we examined some of the barkcloths from the Hunterian collection, discussed the work in progress and heard reports from the three researchers, Historical Research Associate Dr Andy Mills, Scientific Research Associate Dr Margaret Smith and Conservation Researcher Misa Tamura, demonstrating the enormous progress towards the research goals made by all three in the first year of the project.
The meeting was followed by the Museum Ethnographers Group 2017 conference, hosted by the Centre for Textile Conservation and Technical Art History and the Hunterian Museum. We were very pleased to welcome delegates from around the UK and Europe as well as from the USA, Australia and New Zealand to the conference. Presentations over two days focused on artefacts from a huge range of cultures around the world including a Tahitian mourner’s costume, Crowfoot regalia, Guatemalan weaving, indigo dyed textiles, and barkcloth from Africa and Indonesia as well as the Pacific.
Pacific barkcloth was a significant focus. Our own researchers discussed aspects of their work: Dr Adrienne Kaeppler talked about cultural signatures which aid identification of Polynesian barkcloths; Dr Mark Nesbitt and Brittany Curtis discussed the textiles collected by the 1867 voyage of HMS Galatea, and Dr Andy Mills spoke on the making practices of combining barkcloths into large sheets, and their resonance with the later division of cloths for ceremonial purposes as well as by European collectors. Other collections of Pacific barkcloth also featured, including those of National Museums Scotland and Aberdeen University Museums. Please see details of the programme on the MEG website – some of the papers will be published in the Journal of Museum Ethnography.
Delegates were able to enjoy a whistle-stop tour of the Centre for Textile Conservation and Technical Art History one lunchtime, or could spend time assessing some interesting ethnographic objects from the Hunterian collection, and en route admiring the new Kelvin Hall search room facilities. The conference reception was held in the Hunterian Museum and was a great opportunity to see the museum displays, catch up with old friends and to meet new colleagues. The conference was a fascinating and inspiring two days, ably organised by Andy Mills, supported by Isabel Robinson, the barkcloth project administrator, and a team of student volunteers.
The conservation programme for the project is supported by Mphil students from Centre for Textile Conservation working with us as conservation volunteers.
In this blog post at the Textile Conservation: A blog about textile conservation at the University of Glasgow, four student volunteers share their experiences with working on the Pacific barkcloth from the Hunterian Museum and Economic Botany Collection, Royal Botanic Gardens Kew.
Follow the link for the article:
On 17 March 2017, the barkcloth team joined the students and facluty members of CTCTAH to host the Open Day 2017. The centre welcomed the visitors and showcased numerous projects carried out here. The barkcloth lab was opened to the visitors with some of the barkcloths and barkcloth production tools on show. We communicated the progress of the research to the public and professional colleagues. It was a pleasure to talk to the engaging and interested audience.
Read more about the day on the CTC blog, posted by Cecilia Voss on:
The Centre for Textile Conservation and this project are proud to announce that tickets are now on sale for the 2017 conference of the Museum Ethnographers Group. We are co-hosting this year's MEG conference with our University of Glasgow colleagues at the Hunterian. The conference theme this year is Cloth & Costume in Ethnographic Museums: New Directions in Research, Care & Interpretation. As you can see, we have had an important influence on this year's theme, and we are looking forward to a number of fascinating papers on world barkcloth, Pacific textiles, and a wide range of cloth and costume traditions from the Americas, Africa and Asia too. There will be opportunities for delegates to tour the Centre for Textile Conservation and meet the Centre's staff, including our team; to see some of the highlights and mystery textiles from the Hunterian's ethnographic collections in Kelvin Hall's wonderful new collections research facilities; and to view a selection of archival films from the collections of the Royal Anthropological Institute that explore dress, adornment and costume around the world. Come and join us on the 6th and 7th of April for two days of stimulating papers, discussion and networking. Also, don't forget to book your place for the conference dinner at Mother India, a Glasgow institution and one of the UK's most loved Indian restaurants. Visit the conference Eventbrite page to book your tickets.
Visit the MEG 2017 Conference page for more information on the programme and travel directions to Kelvin Hall and Glasgow's west end.
European Researchers Night
The barkcloth project team have had many visitors over the last 11 months. These have included historians, scientists, conservators, curators and some people who were just interested in the project and what the team at Glasgow are researching.
However, to bring the project and its aims to a wider audience we have also taken the project on ‘tour’. Our first, of hopefully many ventures, was to take part in the European Researchers’ Night, as part of the University of Glasgow’s Explorathon activities, at the Hunterian Museum on the 30th September. The event actually took place from 12noon until 4pm!
All the Glasgow team were there manning our research stall which was based on the second floor of the Hunterian Museum. On the stall we had examples of contemporary barkcloth, a small barkcloth piece from the Hunterian’s own collection, a variety of raw materials used in barkcloth making and a small sample of resin embedded barkcloth that visitors could view using a microscope.
Of the numerous visitors that stopped to view the items and discuss the research many left comments in our visitors’ book. They ranged from visitors who had never encountered barkcloth to those who had previous interest in this art form. Here are a few of these comments:
‘I knew nothing about barkcloth at all! Thanks for an interesting and informative experience’.
‘Absolutely fascinating project. So nice to see a strongly interdisciplinary team investigating something like from so many different angles. Clearly explained. Look forward to hearing more in the future’.
‘It was exceptionally fascinating and I’m glad the research is finally being done on the Pacific bark!’
In 2017 the Glasgow team are planning to bring their research to a number of venues and we will be advertising these in the near future.
For a fuller report on ‘Situating Pacific Barkcloth Production in Time and Place’ at the European Researchers’ Night can be found at:
Below shows some images from the event.
(above) A fine siapo mamanu in the classic style of Leone village, Tutuila, American Samoa. Pre-1897.
Over recent months, we have been building a useful collaboration with the World Cultures team of Glasgow Museums. We have many shared goals for improving our understanding, and promoting public awareness, of important Polynesian barkcloth collections in Scotland - particularly in the city of Glasgow. Due to the city’s maritime heritage and long history of scholarship and study, Glasgow Museums have accumulated a rich collection of fine tapa from the 19th Century. I was fortunate to spend three busy but satisfying days with Glasgow Museums’ curator Pat Allan, and her colleagues Katie Webbe and Ed Johnson, surveying the Glasgow Museums collection. This revealed a number of very fine cloths of great beauty and art historical value.
(above) an intricately hand-painted salatasi waist-cover from Futuna, north-western Polynesia. Pre-1897.
I was particularly delighted to find three books of barkcloth samples that our project partner, the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, had donated to the Kelvingrove Museum in the late 19th Century - part of the collection of Hawaiian kapa brought back to Britain by the Reverend Andrew Bloxam aboard HMS Blonde - much of it gifted by King Kamehameha III and Poki, Governor of Oahu - all of it dating to 1824-5. As part of the distributed Kew collection, these samples are a central to our research work, and provide a uniquely accurate picture of Hawaiian barkcloth style in the 1820s. They provide a fascinating contrast to the styles of kapa collected, for example, on James Cook’s third voyage in 1778-9, and provide an interesting impression of how barkcloth manufacture in Hawaii changed over the first fifty years of recorded collection.
Andy Mills, Research Associate: Historical
(above) a sample book of Hawaiian kapa collected on the voyage of HMS Blonde in 1824-5, reflecting a range of early styles.
Paper made of inner bark of paper mulberry (Broussonetia papyrifera), often generically called “Japanese paper”, is in fact manufactured widely in Far East and some areas of South East Asia. It is often employed in conserving various materials from book and paper to three-dimensional, organic as well as inorganic objects. The kind of mulberry paper the conservators favour to use is long-fibred, naturally sun-bleached and un-sized. Its flexibility, modifiability, light-weightiness and long-term stability make it ideal to create backing and lining repairs, loss compensation and other types of structural support that’s visually and materially sympathetic to often fragile historical objects.
The mulberry paper is extensively used for the conservation programme for this project in order to stabilise the objects with tears, splits and compromised fibre structure. Many of the Pacific barkcloths the project deals with are of course made by the inner bark of paper mulberry themselves. Therefore, repairs made using the material are often compatible in weight and general texture of the barkcloth objects. This helps the conservation addition achieves long-lasting stabilisation effect as well as helps the repair to blend in nicely for display. Visual sympathy is as important as material stability in such circumstances because the conservation treatment should not ideally be too distracting or dominant to the viewership. Simultaneously, barkcloths and the paper have properties that make them distinct from each other. The differences are largely attributed to respective manufacturing methods - barkcloths are beaten while the paper is macerated and strained. These differences help us easily differentiate the two in close examination as to avoid confusion between the original material and conservation addition.
The paper can also be tinted to match the colour of the barkcloth if required for display, such as shown in the example with GLAHM E.458/2 (Fig.1).
Fig.1 Tengujo paper (5gsm) tinted to match the base colour of GLAHM E.458/2 during its conservation treatment
The repair tabs can be used as a temporary securing solution as well as for permanent repair. Here is an example of the barkcloth GLAHM E.601. The structural repairs are usually applied from the back of the object in order not to disrupt the applied surface. However, in this instance, the feathered edges of the tears prevented to make a good alignment of the joins while the strong linear design was very unforgiving of misalignment. So I made a re-moistenable paper tabs impregnated with weak, cellulose-based adhesive to align and temporarily secure the joins. After the structural stabilisation was carried out from the back, temporary tabs were removed by dampening them slightly using deionised water. The tabs were safely removed without damaging the fibre structure or leaving visible excess adhesive residue on surface (Fig.2-5).
Fig.2 A damaged area on GLAHM E.601 before treatment
Fig.3 Temporary securing tabs applied to GLAHM E.601 in order to secure the aligned joins
Fig.4 The damaged area after treatment and after removal of temporary securing tabs
Fig.5 GLHM E.601 after treatment
The structural stabilisation is one of the key conservation works to be carried out within this project. Stabilised objects can be safely accessed and handled, thus facilitating and increasing the opportunities for them to be studied by the interested parties as well as to be displayed so that they can be viewed appreciated by the museum visitors.
Explorathon 2016 is the third edition of the largest celebration for European Researchers’ Night across Scotland. It takes place on the 30th September.
We are happy to announce that we will be part of this year’s Explorathon program. Come along to the Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery on Friday 30th September to find out more about our research. We'll be taking part the event Hunterian Unlocked and will have a stand showcasing the barkcloth research. Bring your own barkcloth along, or come to see the barkcloth plants and pieces from the Hunterian collection in detail and though the microscope. For more information visit http://www.explorathon.co.uk/glasgow/hunterian.
The technique of taking paint cross-section samples, often less than a millimetre in size, has been employed for over a century. It is used to understand and identify the layers of materials employed to create artworks such as oil paintings, wall paintings and polychromes. Commonly the technique involves embedding these tiny samples in resins and polishing the resin to bring the samples to the surface enabling them to be viewed by light microscopy. Through magnification, these tiny samples are revealed as preparatory ground and paint layers and sometimes the underlying support, often a textile. The use of this technique to study the construction of painted barkcloth has not been exploited before now. However, recent samples from a Hawai’ian painted cloth (GLAHM E.667, Fig.1), part of the Hunterian Collection, have been embedded in an acrylic resin and viewed using light microscopy. Figure 2 shows a typical area where paint has been used to decorate the barkcloth fibre. In the cross-section sample (Fig.3) shown here it is clear that two paint layers have been used, a lighter and a darker red. The top darker red layer is extremely thin.
Fig.1 GLAHM E.667
Fig.2 GLAHM E.667
Fig.3 Cross-section GLAHM E.667
Polishing a complete cross-section including the beaten bark poses problems that a cross-section of paint layers alone would not. The beaten bark is easily damaged if polished and so here a layer of resin still remains. The sample shown has still some resin on top of the sample which slightly impairs the quality of the image. Further developmental work is needed to improve the microscopic imagery from painted barkcloth cross-sections which may include sandwiching them in a softer embedding material that can be cut revealing the layers without the need for polishing which can so easily damage the bark.
With a high quality embedded cross-section further information can be obtained from the sample which would shed light on the materials used. This could be done by using a variety of analytical instruments such as scanning-electron microscopy with energy dispersive X-ray (SEM/EDX) spectroscopy, Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy mapping. These methodologies can help identify the materials used to create the painted barkcloths.
Dr Margaret Smith, Research Associate: Scientific
Yesterday our Principal Investigator Frances Lennard and I spent a great day meeting staff from National Museums Scotland (NMS) and building bridges towards a future collaboration. A few months ago, we were delighted to learn that Sarah Worden (below right), senior curator of African collections at NMS, is herself conducting a research project on barkcloth from Uganda, where a characteristically finely beaten, undecorated and fragrant brown cloth is still produced from the bark of the Ficus natalensis. Dr Worden's research resonates with our work as the related Ficus prolixa and Ficus obliqua were similarly used to produce a naturally brown cloth in parts of the Pacific.
Antje Denner (above left), the National Museums' principal curator for Oceania, Africa and the Americas, chaired a productive meeting with her fellow curators, the Head of Collections, and representatives from textile conservation and science. We explored the strengths of the museum's barkcloth collection, which is the largest in Scotland. We were delighted to learn that the curators for Asia, Africa and the Pacific are all keen to invest their time and expertise in exploring the common ground of barkcloth's production, dyeing, cultural significance and ageing around the world. The exact details of our future collaboration are still under development, but we intend to combine our efforts in both Glasgow and Edinburgh in various ways, to develop greater understanding of how we can care for this unique material, interpret it better for the public and reveal some of its many secrets through research.
We were fortunate to spend the afternoon in the stores, examining fantastic barkcloth garments from Sulawesi in Indonesia, various wonderfully made and decorated African cloths, and some stand-out Polynesian artefacts. My fascination was torn between a magnificent stamp-printed Hawaiian kapa mo'e collected in the late 1820s by Frederick Beechey, an exquisite red and yellow fern-printed Tahitian cloth, and a beautiful fringed and finely handpainted tiputa (poncho) bearing more than 300 words in the Niuean language. An inter-regional approach to barkcloth immediately showed its relevance, as we learned that some Indonesian barkcloths, like this wonderful barkcloth skirt from Sulawesi with tassels of beads and brilliantly dyed cotton flowers (above), were dyed black using the same technique of mud-immersion historically used in Polynesia. Interestingly, we found the same process of the cloth's accelerated decay that Te Rangi Hiroa recognised on black-dyed Hawaiian cloths at the Bishop Museum in Honolulu back in the 1950s, implying that the chemical properties of black mud make barkcloth particularly fragile.
Andy Mills, Research Associate: Historical