Tapa: Situating Pacific Barkcloth in Time and Place

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The Project Team

The Core Research Collections

  • The Hunterian, University of Glasgow (Hunterian)
    The Pacific art collection of the Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery has a long history, and includes some of the earliest Polynesian barkcloths to be found in any museum: Its founding donor, the pioneering anatomist Dr William Hunter, acquired barkcloths collected in 1769 on Tahiti Nui by the artist Sydney Parkinson during Captain Cook’s first voyage of exploration. The Royal Navy surgeon-dentist Alexander Angus donated a collection of Hawaiian and Tahitian barkcloth to the Hunterian in 1810. The Lanarkshire missionary Dr George Turner lived in Samoa for over twenty years and travelled widely in the Pacific. Between the 1860s and 1880s, his large collection of Pacific art came to the Hunterian, including several fine barkcloths from Samoa, Niue, Erromango and elsewhere.

  • The Economic Botany Collection, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, UK (Kew)
    The Economic Botany collection of the UK’s national botanic gardens contains a diverse range of artefacts reflecting the human use of plants; from foods, condiments and medicines to basketry, woodwork and fabrics. As a national collection, Kew was the destination of barkcloth, manufacturing tools and botanic specimens from several Royal Navy voyages of exploration, scientific research and diplomacy: HMS Blonde, HMS Herald, HMS Challenger, HMS Curacoa and HMS Galatea. Equally, the London Missionary Society missionary William Wyatt Gill, a younger contemporary of George Turner who lived for many years in the Cook Islands and elsewhere in Polynesia, deposited a private collection of barkcloth rarities at Kew.

  • The National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, USA (NMNH)
    The large and richly-documented Pacific art collections of the USA’s national museum were founded on the collections made during the United States Exploring Expedition, which circumnavigated the globe and charted many parts of Polynesia between 1838 and 1842. The collections of the US Ex Ex include fine Fijian and Hawaiian barkcloths, providing researchers with a remarkable picture of stylistic and technical variation in tapa production during a very specific window of time. The NMNH collection is also particularly strong in other barkcloths and barkcloth beaters from Hawai‘i, Samoa and the Cook Islands, due to donations from such notable figures as Nathaniel Bright Emerson, Charles H. Townsend, Clifford Lee James Snr., Dewitt Clinton Ramsey and Rear Admiral L. A. Kimberly.

The Project Advisory Panel

The project advisory panel will meet annually (2016-18) at one of the three research institutions. It is composed of a mixture of conservators, conservation scientists and Pacific art historians:  

  • Dr Caroline Cartwright, Senior Scientist, Department of Conservation & Scientific Research, The British Museum.
  • Ms Sherry Doyal, Plant Materials Specialist.
  • Ms Julia Gresson, Deputy Head, Collections Conservation & Care, The Horniman Museum & Gardens.
  • Prof Steven Hooper, Director, Sainsbury Research Unit for the Arts of Africa, Oceania & the Americas, University of East Anglia.
  • Dr Maia Nuku, Evelyn A. J. Hall and John A. Friede Associate Curator for Oceanic Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
  • Ms Monique Pullan, Senior Conservator, Organics Conservation Department, The British Museum.
  • Mr Jeremy Uden, Deputy Head of Conservation, The Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford.
Project team meeting at Royal Botanic Gardens, KewProject team meeting at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew