Tapa: Situating Pacific Barkcloth in Time and Place

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Barkcloth Basics: Interpreting and Understanding Pacific Barkcloth

13th January 2020


Venues & Dates:          Horniman Museum and Gardens, London, Friday 3 April 2020

Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter, Wednesday 8 April 2020

New Walk Museum and Art Gallery, Leicester, Tuesday 14 April 2020

The Royal Pavilion and Museums, Brighton, Friday 17 April 2020

National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh, Friday 24 April 2020


Time:                             10h00 – 16h30


Places available:            10 per venue


The University of Glasgow’s AHRC-funded research project Situating Pacific Barkcloth in Time and Place has received further funding to maximise impact and engagement and is delighted to announce an exciting 1-day workshop, to be held at 5 regional host venues, in April 2020.

Led by the host venue, the project team and Reggie Meredith and Uilisone Fitiao, barkcloth makers and scholars from American Samoa, the workshop is aimed at non-specialist curators and museum staff from local and regional museums and historic houses. Participants will explore through talks, demonstrations and practical sessions:

  • Barkcloth significance, us and history
  • Barkcloth materials, manufacture and decoration
  • Barkcloth storage and conservation
  • Understanding and working with your own barkcloth collections

Each host venue’s barkcloth collection will act as a valuable study resource during discussions, while examples of modern raw plant materials, tools and barkcloth will be available for participants to interact and engage with. Participants are expected to bring images and provenance information of their museum’s barkcloth pieces for analysis and discussion. Resources will be provided to help in the further interpretation and understanding of barkcloth, allowing museums to make it more accessible and host innovative, interactive and informative opportunities for their own visitors.

A public 1-day event follows each museum staff workshop; for more information, please see the website of each regional host. All participants are welcome to attend the public events.

Each 1-day workshop includes catering for all participants. Travel/accommodation funding will be taken under consideration if requested. This will be decided upon the discretion of the workshop organisers. Booking is essential; select venues may have the capacity to host more than 10 places.

To apply for a place,* please fill in the application form and send to arts-admin-barkcloth@glasgow.ac.uk by 17.00 on Monday 9 March 2020.


*If applying to attend a workshop in a region other than your own, please explain why on the form. First priority will be given to participants located within each region.



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Registration open for the Recent Advances in Barkcloth Conservation Symposium

16th October 2018

Date: Friday 7th December 2018
Time: 09:30 - 17:00 GMT
Location: Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
Lady Lisa Sainsbury Lecture Theatre, Kew, Jodrell Laboratory Gate, Kew Road, TW9 3DS
Organisers: Tapa: Situating Pacific Barkcloth in Time and Place, and the ICON Ethnography Group

Barkcloth has a long and widespread history of manufacture and use throughout the tropics. It is present in large quantities in many museums, and is of interest to many source communities seeking to revive or strengthen their barkcloth-making heritage. This one-day meeting presents diverse approaches to understanding the making, conservation and display of barkcloth in several tropical regions. It will be of interest to conservators, curators, anthropologists, art historians, makers, and all who value this beautiful material.

The meeting is organised by the Situating Pacific Barkcloth in Time and Place project, a collaboration between the Centre for Textile Conservation and Technical Art History at the University of Glasgow, the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution. Over the three years 2016-2018 we investigated the material nature of Polynesian barkcloth collections from The Hunterian Museum (Glasgow) and the Economic Botany Collection (Kew). The role of conservation in the project was to review and develop technical methods for conserving barkcloth, to stabilise and better store objects, and to facilitate visual and physical access for all user communities.

The symposium will share some of the project’s findings and will mark the end of the project’s conservation programme by creating a platform for conservators and those non-conservation professionals with interest in the subject to share and discuss the joys and challenges of working with barkcloth. We have a wonderful selection of posters and papers that encompass barkcloth practices from different corners of the world with topics ranging from practical conservation case studies to material analysis. There will be an opportunity to see and discuss some of the conserved barkcloth objects from Kew's Economic Botany Collection.

PDF postprints will be published online, available at Institute of Conservation website. Conference participants will also receive a digital copy upon publication

Practical information

Registration includes morning and afternoon refreshments and lunch; please specify any dietary preferences when you order your ticket. Doors open at 0900 and talks begin at 0930 and finish at 1700. Accomodation nearby (reasonable walk or short bus ride) include the Kew Bridge Premier Inn and Travelodge. The Lady Lisa Sainsbury Lecture Theatre is in easy walking distance from Kew Gardens station, Kew Bridge station is just over 10 minutes away. Detailed travel information and programme will be sent closer to the meeting. The Jodrell Lecture theatre is fully accessible; please contact us with any detailed queries.


To find out more about the event and to register, please visit the symposium Eventbrite page.


Please email: m.nesbitt@kew.org

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Call for Papers: Conservation of Barkcloth Material

10th July 2018

Call for Papers: Conservation of Barkcloth Material

Date: Friday 7th December 2018
Lady Lisa Sainsbury Lecture Theatre, Jodrell Laboratory, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, London, UK
Situating Pacific Barkcloth in Time and Place project, Centre for Textile Conservation and Technical Art History (CTCTAH), University of Glasgow
Institute of Conservation UK Ethnography Group
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

The Situating Pacific Barkcloth in Time and Place project was launched in 2016 at CTCTAH. The project brought together scientific, historical and conservation researchers from CTCTAH, the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, to investigate the material nature of Polynesian barkcloth collections from The Hunterian Museum (University of Glasgow) and the Economic Botany Collection (Kew). The role of conservation in the project was to review and develop technical methods for conserving barkcloth and to stabilise the objects as well as improve their storage. The conservation programme aimed to facilitate visual and physical access for people with strong cultural and academic interest in the objects. The symposium will share some of the project’s findings and will mark the end of the project’s conservation programme by creating a platform for conservators and those non-conservation professionals with interest in the subject to share and discuss the joys and challenges of working with barkcloth.  

The Glasgow Barkcloth project and the ICON Ethnography Group invite submissions for a one-day symposium on the conservation of barkcloth material from any part of the world.

We welcome papers on all aspects, including:

• Case studies of interventive conservation, preventive care, storage, transport and display of barkcloth, or of objects made of beaten inner-bark/bast-fibre materials.
• The material science of dyes, pigments, various bast-fibres and other materials used for barkcloth production. 
• Collaborative working among museums, conservators, artists and community.

Presenters are invited to give either a presentation (10 or 20 mins) or a poster and will contribute to the symposium’s PDF post-print. 

Please submit your abstract (max. 250 words), together with your contact details, professional/academic affiliation and whether you are offering a presentation or a poster, to arts-admin-barkcloth@glasgow.ac.uk by Friday 14 September 2018. Contributions by students and emerging professionals are warmly welcomed.

The prospective presenters will be notified by Friday 21 September 2018.

Should you wish to discuss your paper please do not hesitate to contact Misa Tamura. We look forward to hearing from you.

Frances Lennard, Principal Investigator (Glasgow)
Misa Tamura, Former Research Conservator and affiliate (Glasgow)
Charlotte Ridley, Chair of the ICON Ethnography Group
Mark Nesbitt, Research Leader, Economic Botany (Kew)

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Student Blog: Volunteering for the Barkcloth Workshop

19th June 2018

This spring, four students from the CTC assisted with the Conservation of Polynesian Barkcloth & Practical Siapo Barkcloth Making workshop held at the University of Glasgow. The three-day workshop combined presentations and practical work led by two members of the research project Tapa: Situating Pacific Barkcloth Production in Time and Place, and two practising barkcloth artists and teachers from American Samoa. Research Conservator Misa Tamura and Scientific Associate Dr Margaret Smith led conservation and research sessions, while Reggie Meredith Fitiao and Uilisone Fitiao led sessions on the history, materials, and processes of Siapo (Samoan barkcloth) production. As workshop volunteers, Megan Creamer, Kim Tourret, Eva Catic and Staphany Cheng describe a few of their experiences during the workshop.

To read the blog, please click here.

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Research Studentship Working on the Barkcloth Project

12th June 2018

My name is Jennifer Brunton and I have recently completed a five-month research studentship on the Pacific barkcloth project, a multi-disciplinary project funded by the AHRC. Working under the supervision of project scientist Dr Margaret Smith and project conservator Misa Tamura, I have been able to expand upon my knowledge of barkcloth, both in terms of scientific analysis and conservation issues. My role focussed on carrying out analysis on cloths through cross-section embedding and polishing for light microscopy, Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy for molecular identification, X-ray Fluorescence for pigment analysis and optical microscopy to determine morphology. Figure 1, viewing cloth E609 from the Hunterian Collection.


Figure 1. Viewing cloth E609 using stereomicroscopy.

A cloth from the Hunterian collection is shown (figure 2):


Figure 2. Bottom right of cloth E537 from the Hunterian collection. The markers indicate where samples were taken.

Prior to beginning this studentship, I undertook my MLitt in Technical Art History at Glasgow University. Technical art history places focus on the importance of art technological sources alongside scientific analysis and technical reconstructions. This allows conservators and curators to consider artists’ intent, making and meaning, ensuring the artwork is appropriately conserved, interpreted and accessible to future generations.

Conducting optical microscopy has provided an interesting comparison, and solution, to the problems encountered using cross section embedding to analyse barkcloth samples. I initially carried out cross-section embedding to attempt to understand the application of dyes and pigments applied to the cloths. Cross-section embedding involves taking a small sample from the barkcloth and placing this into resin, afterwards this is cured and polished. This provides an image of a layer structure; however, from figure 3 the difficulties faced with taking good quality cross-sections are visible.


Figure 3. E537, cross section image 1. x 50 magnification.

Interestingly, optical microscopy provides a much better image of barkcloth. It provides a visual image of the surface (or reverse) of the material, whereas cross sections capture the object from a lateral perspective. Taking high magnification images also highlights the uneven topography of these cloths; therefore taking stacking images became the most efficient way to look at the surface of the barkcloth. Stacking creates a flattened image of the uneven surface, capturing the whole sample in focus. This is a particularly appropriate way to communicate barkcloth deterioration; in some cases, this has highlighted micro cracking (figure 4).


Figure 4. Optical Microscopy. E537 stacking imaging (S1, P1, T3).

One particular cloth, which has benefitted from stacking imaging, was cloth E537 from the Hunterian collection. This patterned and coloured cloth is thinly beaten and tangibly flexible. From looking at the cloth with the naked eye, it looks in deceptively good condition. However, once a sample had been taken (from sample sites highlighted in figure 1) and optical microscopy and stacking imaging was carried out, it became clear from the extensive micro cracking that the paint structure was under significant stress.  

Being able to understand, analyse and appreciate the historical significance of these cloths at first hand has been an invaluable experience and has led me to have a real interest in barkcloth and as a result expand upon my own research interests.






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Barkcloth workshops and visiting practitioners from American Samoa

18th April 2018

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 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.




Frances Lennard, Project Principal Investigator

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Tapa symposium at Auckland War Memorial Museum

8th January 2018

In an exciting new stage of the project, the barkcloth research has moved to the Pacific in recent months. In the first instalment of our travels, Andy Mills and Frances Lennard spent two weeks in New Zealand in October, visiting collections, carrying out research and meeting barkcloth makers, curators and conservators. Our visit was centred on Auckland, the city with the world’s largest Pacific population.

The main focus of the visit was a tapa symposium, kindly hosted for us by Auckland War Memorial Museum and organised by Fuli Pereira, the Pacific Curator. This was a wonderful opportunity to meet contemporary artists and tapa makers of Pacific heritage and to see how contemporary art practice is inspired by tapa. We were welcomed to the museum by the Director, Dr David Gaimster who, satisfyingly, had supported the development of the project in his former role as director of The Hunterian at the University of Glasgow! The museum has an exciting ongoing project, the Pacific Collections Access Project (PCAP) which brings Pacific knowledge holders to the museum to share knowledge and understanding of the museum’s Pacific collections, and our symposium was able to draw on this rich knowledge base.

After a presentation by Frances and Andy about the aims and research methods of our project, we heard individual presentations from the participants about their own experiences of working with tapa. A key theme was the makers’ experience of drawing on their heritage – information about barkcloth making has survived to a greater or lesser degree in the different island groups of the Pacific, and we heard from Glenda Vilisoni, for example, about her efforts to learn the art of her ancestors despite the long ago loss of the tradition in Niue. The participants also spoke of their determination to see the skill of barkcloth making survive and the challenge of interesting younger generations in its survival. The day was enriched with food and drink, conversation and song, and it was clear that bringing together artists and makers from different traditions in this way was extremely rewarding for all concerned. We would like to thank the Auckland War Memorial Museum, particularly David Gaimster and Fuli Pereira, very much indeed for welcoming us and for hosting the event, and we would like to thank all the participants very warmly for sharing their knowledge with us. We hope they will keep in touch.

While we were in Auckland we took part in two other events. Firstly we spoke at an evening meeting at Auckland Central Library where members of the public were able to see one of the treasures of Auckland Libraries, their copy of the Alexander Shaw book of 18th century tapa samples. We are very grateful to Daren Kamali, inaugural Senior Curator Pacific at Auckland Libraries, for inviting us to take part in this event.

Finally we were hosted by the project Ancient Futures: late 18th and early 19th century Tongan arts and their legacies at the University of Auckland Business School where Andy led a workshop on the barkcloth garment, the malo or maro. With many thanks to our colleagues at the University, particularly Dr Billie Lythberg and Dr Phyllis Herda. We are grateful to all our colleagues in New Zealand who made our visit such an enriching and informative experience.

Frances Lennard, Project Principal Investigator

Matua Robert Newson meets Andy Mills. Matua Bobby Newson welcomed the visitors to the museum on behalf of the Ngati Whatua, the local iwi or tribal group, in the mihi whakatau ceremony.

Matua Robert Newson meets Andy Mills

The Fiji panel

The Fiji panel.

The symposium participants.

The symposium participants

Viewing the Shaw book at Auckland Central Library

Viewing the Shaw book at Auckland Central Library

Pacific artists, Rosanna Raymond and Numangatini MacKenzie, demonstrate different methods of tying the maro.

Pacific artists, Rosanna Raymond and Numangatini MacKenzie

Rosanna and Numangatini demonstrating methods of tying the maro

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Two-Day Workshop at the Bishop Museum, Honolulu

29th November 2017

"Caring for Tapa" workshop will take place at the Bishop Museum in partnership with the project.

 Kapa workshop flier


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New Barkcloth Research at the ESfO Conference 2017

10th July 2017


Kew EBC Museum

At the start of July, Kew’s Mark Nesbitt and I attended the 2017 conference of the European Society for Oceanists (ESfO) at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in the beautiful city of Munich, to present our ongoing barkcloth research. At Kew Gardens, Mark curates over 60,000 plant-derived objects from all over the world, and he spoke first about the role that such economic botany collections have historically played in the preservation of traditional ecological knowledge. Kew played an instrumental role in defining the model for economic botany museums around the world, and Mark discussed a number of botanical collectors and British naval personnel who made the long journey out to the central Pacific. By exploring the collections of barkcloth, basketry and woodcarvings these scientists sent to Kew when they returned home, Mark showed how we can continue to glean important information from these historical collections about the social history of the Pacific, and humanity’s complex relationship with the plant world.

Andy Wonu Discussing


The following day, I convened a panel on ‘Barkcloth in Pacific Environments’ with Dr Fanny Wonu Veys of the Museum Volkenkunde, the Dutch National Museum of Ethnology in Leiden. Wonu and I were delighted at the response to our call for papers, and we were privileged to hear from some of the leading European and North American names in the field of barkcloth research.

Anna Karina Hermkens

Anna-Karina Hermkens provided us with a national overview of Papua New Guinea’s many barkcloth traditions in both Broussonetia papyrifera and Ficus prolixa, while Pierre Lemonnier focused in on the significance of Ficus prolixa barkcloth cloaks in coming-of-age ceremonies among the Anga of southwestern Morobe Province.


Lamont Lindstrom took us out into Vanuatu with a discussion of Tanna men’s Ficus barkcloth belts, and then I reviewed the state of our knowledge about the use of secondary barkcloth species in Polynesia - i.e. those not composed of Broussonetia, which are frequently wild or (like Breadfruit) primarily cultivated for other reasons. Wonu Veys closed the panel with a discussion of colour-classifications and production methods for Tongan barkcloth pigments. Many of these papers directly, or indirectly, addressed the key research questions of this project, aiming to increase of our knowledge of the core fabrics, dyes and pigments involved in Pacific barkcloth production, and we aim to publish completed versions of these papers next year.  


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Work at the Kew Archives is Producing Some Fascinating Insights

5th July 2017

Recently I spent three very stimulating weeks working with our project Co-Investigator Mark Nesbitt and his colleagues at our primary UK partner institution, the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew. The UK’s national botanical garden, Kew not only contains the largest herbarium (reference collection of preserved plant materials) in the world, it continues to be one of the world’s leading centres of botanical research and teaching, and a mecca for those of us who love the history of scientific discovery. Kew’s economic botany collection is a museum collection of artefacts and samples made from the world’s plants that have been useful to humanity; everything from bamboo to birch bark, and rubber to raffia. Within this fascinating and wonderful collection of baskets, timbers, spices, medicines and so on, there is naturally a collection of tapa samples from many different parts of the Pacific.

These particular samples of cloth have the rare virtue of having generally been sent to London by trained botanical collectors, usually alongside other gifts of dried specimens, seeds, or living plants. We often know, therefore, which species of plant was used to manufacture each cloth – a vital piece of information for this project’s research objectives. During a rare heatwave which saw London’s temperatures soar to rival those of Polynesia, and which made the freshly watered flowerbeds exude a pungence that evoked my fond memories of the beautiful gardens of Tonga and Fiji, I sought refuge from the heat in Kew’s air conditioned archive.

Seemann homecoming letter

Leafing carefully through the 19th century journals and correspondence of botanists like the Scotsman William Grant Milne, and the German Berthold Carl Seemann – both of whom botanised on the 1850s voyage of HMS Herald to Fiji, Western Australia and other parts of the Pacific - I gained a sense of the physical extremes the two men went to in their plant collecting: walking vast distances every day, climbing mountains and trees, swimming through mangroves and fording rivers, exploring remote corners of the bush, to collect specimens from every ecological zone – and all against the ticking clock of Captain Denham’s expedition timetable. As Seemann's letter to William Jackson Hooker from Southampton shows, even after such hardships were overcome, many people suffered greatly on the long voyages out and back. We hope to use our study of fine archival resources like those of the Herald voyage botanists at Kew to learn more about precisely where, when, and under what conditions, these cloth samples were collected.