Treatment Policy

The conservation component of the project aimed to stabilise the barkcloth collections of The Hunterian and the Economic Botany Collection, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in order to facilitate future access and ease of handling by researchers, Pacific community scholars and interested members of the public. Since the objects were conserved primarily for storage and not usually for display, minimal intervention techniques were used, with the aim of enabling them to withstand the kind of handling expected from research visits. Features that were deemed to be potentially evidence of original use (such as creases in garments made as a result of wearing) or pre-acquisition repair were not removed.

Policy of minimal intervention treatment

Our minimal interventive treatment entailed:

Surface cleaning to reduce old but post-acquisition “museum” dirt and minimise further damage caused by the acidic, sulphuric contents of industrial soot and grime. This was carried out with a museum vacuum with variable speed control or vacuum tweezers, with some further cleaning using conservation materials such as chemical sponges.

Colour photograph showing a conservation assistant at work surface cleaning barkcloth with a cosmetic sponge to remove surface soiling (copyright University of Glasgow)
Surface cleaning barkcloth with a cosmetic sponge to remove surface soiling

Humidification to reduce post-acquisition creases and fold lines to prevent further physical damage and to facilitate rolling and unrolling. Humidification was carried out using PTFE membranes such as Gore-tex or SympaTex with cloths slightly dampened with deionised water.

Colour photograph showing a conservation assistant at work humidifying barkcloth with an ultrasonic humidifier to relax creasing (copyright University of Glasgow)
Humidifying barkcloth with an ultrasonic humidifier to relax creasing

Structural stabilisation, such as repairs to align and join tears and splits, to facilitate safe handling and prevent further damage in these areas. Supports of Japanese paper of varying density were used with an adhesive chosen for its suitability (strength, flexibility and stability) for the individual object. Adhesives included wheat starch paste and methyl cellulose.

Colour photograph showing an example of damage, before repair, to a barkcloth object from the Hunterian collection that could be made worse by handling (copyright University of Glasgow)
Before repair; an example of damage to barkcloth that could be made worse by handling

Stabilisation to painted surfaces if it was so damaged that access and handling would result in further loss of the paint. This was not done where the instability was considered part of the object’s material nature, for example, powdery pigment was not consolidated.

Production of custom-made storage mounts and boxes or the provision of new rollers. All materials used were inert or acid-free with excellent long-term stability.

Colour photograph showing an example of custom-made storage for a barkcloth beater made using archival-grade materials to support long-term preservation (copyright University of Glasgow)
Custom-made storage for a beater made using archival-grade materials

Provision of conservation treatment records

Treatment records and photographs were passed to the two institutions to add to the objects’ documentation records.