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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.
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 >
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 bar 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 >
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 More >
New Barkcloth Research at the ESfO Conference 2017
10th July 2017
Project staff and international colleagues have been publicising their barkcloth research at the 2017 ESfO conference More >
Work at the Kew Archives is Producing Some Fascinating Insights
5th July 2017
The project's historical researcher Andy Mills has been delving into the archives of the UK's national botanical gardens at Kew More >