Kew Economic Botany Collection, 42890
Art Historical Description
Another prestigious Hawaiian kapa māmaki of Pipturus albidus fibres, indicating yet another variation of composite materials use: Here in this late example from 1851, particularly fine and short māmaki bast fibres have been shredded and uniformly mixed into a base fabric of heavily retted wauke (Broussonetia papyrifera). Technically, it is therefore a variation of the better-known pa‘i‘ula composite cloths; it may be, however, that this style of kapa māmaki was the ancestral form of all the pa‘i‘ula variants. Be that as it may, the result is a tasteful beige cloth, although its texture is dry and slightly stiff in comparison to a pure wauke fabric. The cloth bears a fine regular grid-like beater mark (ho‘opa‘i halua), which became commoner over the early 19th century.
The cloth’s stiffness has been accentuated by an aesthetically refined scheme of ruler-guided, hand-painted linear decoration with a deep chocolate-brown colourant which is yet to be identified. This cloth is the kilohana or visible uppermost layer of a kapa moe bed-cover, formerly overlying four or more sheets of plain kapa – as the unpicked stitching along one of its shorter edges indicates.
Illustrating one of the challenges of working with historic economic botany collections to study Pacific art history, this māmaki fabric was sent to London in 1851 by the Kew botanist Berthold Seemann as a fabric of Boehmeria albida. By the early 20th century, the manufacture and appearance of māmaki cloth had been all-but-forgotten in Hawai‘i itself, and the botanical classification of the species had been altered to Pipturus gaudichaudianus, which it was labelled as in Kew’s economic botany museum throughout the 20th century. Now reconciled to Pipturus albidus, we must trace back through the history of plant taxonomy to realise that Seemann was told in 1851 what it has taken scholars 170 years to reidentify.
250cm (length) x 186cm (width) x 0.52mm (thickness)
Broussonetia papyrifera; Pipturus albidus; Taro paddy mud
bark removal; river-board cortex stripping; long retting bast soak; fermentation; initial beating – stone anvil and round beater; mixed material composition; spreading and homogenisation; fusing composition; true grid beater marking; running stitches; hand painting
Associated Fabric Types
kapa māmaki; pa‘i‘ula; kaha
There were splits in the areas painted with dark brown colourant. Humidifed, and the most vulnerable splits supported with Japanese paper. Stored in custom made acid free box with internal support.
Entry created on 28 August 2020