There have been exciting developments for the barkcloth project team recently – at the end of March we hosted a visit from two barkcloth practitioners from American Samoa and also held a workshop for conservators to both share knowledge of the conservation of barkcloth and to gain experience of making and decorating traditional Samoan siapo.
We were delighted to welcome Reggie Meredith Fitiao, Professor of Art at American Samoa Community College and siapo maker, and Su’a Tupuola Uilisone Fitiao, contemporary artist and teacher, to the University for ten days to work with us. As well as the conservation workshop participants, groups of textile conservation students and some of our research colleagues, as well as the core research team, benefited from the opportunity to make barkcloth themselves by beating the bark and experimenting with different methods of decoration under Reggie and Uilisone’s inspiring guidance. This hands-on method of learning is absolutely invaluable in improving researchers’ and conservators’ understanding of barkcloth and can be of great help in understanding the way historic cloths were made, as well as contributing to decisions about the best methods to use when choosing conservation treatments.
While project staff have visited the Pacific and talked to barkcloth makers and enthusiasts there, it was also really valuable for the exchange to happen in the opposite direction. We benefited enormously from learning from Reggie about the making skills which have been handed down from one generation to another in Samoa, and from finding out more about the traditional designs for siapo from Uilisone. We were delighted that Reggie and Uilisone could take part in the project’s annual advisory panel meeting and we all felt that their personal knowledge and understanding enriched our discussions greatly. They have made Samoan siapo a living experience for us all and we thank them very much for making the long journey to Scotland.
The three-day conservation workshop was another exciting project outcome which gave museum conservators from the UK and the Netherlands the opportunity to learn more about the practices involved in preserving historic barkcloths for museum storage and display. It was led by Research Conservator Misa Tamura who was able to share the experience she has gained from her intensive experience of working with barkcloth on the project. Topics included an introduction to the way barkcloth is made and its regional diversity, and an introduction from Research Associate Margaret Smith on her research into the analysis of barkcloth fibres, dyes and pigments.
Practical sessions were an important part of the workshop, giving participants the opportunity to try out treatments on modern barkcloth samples, including cleaning, humidification and structural repairs. The chance to make their own small samples of barkcloth with Reggie and Uilisone was an added bonus for the conservators. We’re also very pleased that the workshops have produced two larger pieces, decorated with traditional Samoan designs, which are tangible outcomes of the project.
With many thanks to everyone involved, particularly Reggie Meredith Fitiao, Uilisone Fitiao, Misa Tamura, Dr Margaret Smith, our student volunteers who helped with the workshop: Eva-Maria Catic, Staphany Chang, Megan Creamer and Kim Tourret, and to the workshop delegates for their input.