Tapa: Situating Pacific Barkcloth in Time and Place

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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


Other recent news items:

Making O'a (brown dye) in American Samoa
29th April 2020
Reggie Meredith describes how o'a is made  More >

American Samoan U'a Patch & New Workshop Dates
26th March 2020
Reggie & Uilisone's u'a (paper mulberry) patch needs to be regularly maintained and cared for  More >

Barkcloth Basics - Workshop Postponement Announcement
12th March 2020
Barkcloth Basics: Interpreting and Understanding Pacific Barkcloth has been postponed due to concern over the spread of COVID-19  More >

Barkcloth Basics: Interpreting and Understanding Pacific Barkcloth
13th January 2020
An exciting, upcoming workshop which aims to raise the awareness, skills and understanding of Pacific barkcloth for museum staff  More >

Registration open for the Recent Advances in Barkcloth Conservation Symposium
16th October 2018
Presenting diverse approaches to understanding the making, conservation and display of barkcloth in several tropical regions  More >

Call for Papers: Conservation of Barkcloth Material
10th July 2018
Invitation for submissions for a one day symposium on the conservation of barkcloth from any part of the world  More >

Student Blog: Volunteering for the Barkcloth Workshop
19th June 2018
Four students describe their experiences participating in the three day event  More >

Research Studentship Working on the Barkcloth Project
12th June 2018
Experience from Jennifer Brunton who embarked on a recent research studentship  More >

Tapa symposium at Auckland War Memorial Museum
8th January 2018
Andy Mills and Frances Lennard spent two weeks in New Zealand in October  More >