Tapa: Situating Pacific Barkcloth in Time and Place

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Special Research Visit from Ngaa Kitai Taria Pureariki and Dr Michaela Appel

26th June 2017

Last week the Barckloth Conservation Lab was pleased to receive a visit from Dr Michaela Appel, Curator at The Museum Fünf Kontinente and Ngaa Kitai Taria Pureariki, from Aitutaki in the Cook Islands.

Michaela and Ngaa were in Glasgow for a two-day research visit viewing Aitutaki objects held across the Hunterian Collection. Here, Michaela and Ngaa discuss two key pieces of barkcloth with our Project Conservator, Misa Tamura (E.457/8. & E.670).

Michaela and Ngaa also visited our research partners at The Hunterian Museum and Kelvin Hall. To find out more about this, visit http://hunterian.academicblogs.co.uk/cook-islands-research-visit/


Ngaa Kitai Taria Pureariki examining E.670


Ngaa Kitai Taria Pureariki & Michaela Appel examining E.670


Ngaa Kitai Taria Pureariki & Michaela Appel examining E.457/8

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Adrienne Kaeppler Research Visit to Tonga

19th June 2017

Adrienne Kaeppler with the Queen of Tonga, Her Majesty Nanasipau`u, researching a Tongan kupesi design board from the 1940s. It illustrates the tennis court from a group of kupesi that depict the sports field at Tupou College. Photo by Mary Fonua.


Adrienne Kaeppler with the Queen of Tonga, Her Majesty Nanasipau`u, researching a Tongan kupesi, design board, from the 1940s. It illustrates the tennis court from a group of kupesi that depict the sports field at Tupou College. Photo Mary Fonua

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Annual Advisory Committee Meeting and Museum Ethnographers Group Conference 2017

20th April 2017

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.

Adv Ctte in lab 1

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.

Adv Ctte in lab 2

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.

Andy MEG 2017

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.

MEG 2017 delegates

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Volunteering for the barkcloth research project

30th March 2017

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:


Beth Knight


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Open Day 2017 - Centre for Textile Conservation and Technical Art History

29th March 2017

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:


Open Day 2017_2

Open Day 2017_1


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Booking has Opened for the 2017 Museum Ethnographers Group Conference in Glasgow

20th January 2017

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.

 Kelvinhall Pic

Visit the MEG 2017 Conference page for more information on the programme and travel directions to Kelvin Hall and Glasgow's west end.

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Barkcloth at European Researchers' Night

20th December 2016

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.

Andy Mills the project historian


Misa with visitors


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Barkcloth Treasures in Glasgow Museums

15th November 2016

A pre-1897 serrated circular siapo mamanu from Leone village, Tutuila, American Samoa

(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.

A finely painted salatasi waist-cover from Futuna

(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

Sample book of Hawaiian kapa collected by Andrew Bloxam 1824-5

(above) a sample book of Hawaiian kapa collected on the voyage of HMS Blonde in 1824-5, reflecting a range of early styles.

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Mulberry paper used for conserving barkcloths

9th September 2016

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).

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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).

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Fig.2 A damaged area on GLAHM E.601 before treatment

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Fig.3 Temporary securing tabs applied to GLAHM E.601 in order to secure the aligned joins

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Fig.4 The damaged area after treatment and after removal of temporary securing tabs

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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.

Misa Tamura
Research Conservator

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Explorathon - Researchers' Night Scotland

2nd September 2016


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


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