Tapa: Situating Pacific Barkcloth in Time and Place


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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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