Thursday, 8 October 2015

Displaying Maori Cloaks

There are eight Maori cloaks in the Cook-voyage collections held at the Pitt Rivers museum.  Five have been selected for the new display, and they form a visual balance to the Tahitian fau and the Mourner's costume at the other end of the case.  Many of the cloaks have only been displayed flat in the past, but inspired by the photos in 'Whatu Kakahu/Maori Cloaks', edited by Awhina Tamarapa and published by Te Papa Press in 2011, we wanted to display these taonga to more represent the way they were worn.

The five cloaks mounted in the display mock-up

Torso-shaped mounts were made from inert Plastazote foam and low-formaldehyde MDF, and covered in polyester wadding and conservation-grade fabric.  Velcro strips were sewn to calico, and then attached to the back of each cloak using a herringbone stitch, passing between fibre bundles.  The corresponding part of the velcro strip was sewn to the mount, and in this way the cloak could be held in place. 

Cloaks mock-up with tissue paper during the mounting process.  The torso-shaped mounts can be seen underneath

The cloaks selected for display include 1886.1.1124, a rain cape, and 1886.1.1134, a cape made from fibres from the cabbage tree (ti kouka, Cordyline australis) which has the remains of feathers still attached.  Also chosen is 1886.1.1132, a cloak made from New Zealand flax and collected on the second voyage. It incorporates a red woollen thread which must have been obtained from a first voyage wool textile.

A thread of red wool incorporated into the cloak

Friday, 21 August 2015

'A Matt Pierced with Holes'

Forster No.56 is a waist mat or kie fau from Tonga, described in the 'Catalogue of Curiosities' as 'A Matt Pierced with Holes'

Kie fau or overskirt, Tonga.  Forster 56, 1886.1.1178

We wanted to display it as an overskirt on a mount, but this caused problems.  Normally we sew velcro mounted on a strip of calico to the back of a piece of clothing in order to attach it to the mount - this is what we do with Maori cloaks, for example.  But the overskirt is made from the inner bark of the purau (Thespasia populnea), which, while flexible, is not suitable for sewing into.  The solution was to use the fact that the skirt is, as the Forsters describe in the 'Catalogue of Curiosities', 'pierced with holes' to help us.

First, a mount was made with a top and base made from ZFMDF and a thick layer of dense, inert Plastazote foam in the middle.  This was covered with polyester felt, and then fabric.

Completed mount covered in display fabric

The skirt was rolled around the mount:

Overskirt rolled around mount, making sure the holes in the overlapping layers lined up

Chris and Al, the technicians working on the case, had made 25 'staples' from copper wire, sharpened at the ends and covered with inert plastic tubing to cushion them.

A staple

The staples were the correct width to pass through adjacent holes in the skirt and into the foam mount below.

One the skirt was pinned to the mount all the way around, it was securely held in position for display.

Overskirt on mount

 Here it is in position in the mock-up of the new Cook-voyage case:

Monday, 3 August 2015

A Tongan Fishing Net

The Tongan fishing net collected by the Forsters is 8m long - too big to be displayed in its entirety.  We needed to find a way to display a part of it, while keeping most of it rolled.

When I first worked on the net, I sewed it to Tyvek, an inert non-woven fabric, so that it could be rolled for storage.  We hoped that by rolling the net and mounting the roll vertically, just the last 50cm or so of the net could be displayed, hiding the roll behind the case structure.

Chris and Al, the technicians working on the Cook-voyage re-display, made a tube for the net to be rolled around.  The indentation at the bottom was to accommodate the rocks, used as weights on the net.  The tube was made from inert polyethylene piping and zero-formaldehyde MDF, and was covered with synthetic felt.

The roll, covered with synthetic felt

The fishing net was unrolled, still attached to its Tyvek backing, and the backing was trimmed.

The fishing net unrolled in a Museum corridor

The backed net was rolled onto its new tube, leaving a short section free at the end.

The Tyvek backing was then sewn to the covering of the tube through all the layers to keep the net in place when it was mounted vertically.

This is the structure of the mock-up of the case, ready to receive the net:

The case structure ready for the mounted fishing net.  The ends of the roll will be held by the brackets at top and bottom.  The end of the net will feed through the slot and be mounted on a panel

The net was mounted in the case, and the end fed through the slot.

Feeding the end of the net through the slot in the case

The end of the net, once through the slot, was mounted on hooks which supported the rocks and the twigs used as floats.

The roll will be hidden by a panel once the display is complete

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Tongan Barkcloth

As I said in my last post on barkcloth, the large size of many of the pieces in the Cook-voyage collections makes it difficult to know how to display them.  In the past, the pieces were folded and stacked on shelves, but after many hours of conservation work to humidify creases we didn't want to fold the barkcloths again.  This is especially problematic for the Tongan barkcloths, which are thick and have a shiny, almost resinous surface. 

Tahitian barkcloth and mats, folded in a previous display

The solution for us was to roll the barkcloths onto a padded roll, overlapping them as we did so.  Most of the roll could then be hidden behind the structure of the case, with only small section of overlapping barkcloth being visible.

Tongan barkcloth mounted in the mock-up of the new case

Our next challenge is the Tongan fishing net, which is over 8m long...

Monday, 8 June 2015

A Feather Headdress

The feather headdress on the Tahitian Mourner's costume surprised us when we dismantled the Cook-voyage display back in 2009 and took the costume apart for the first time for over 20 years.  We expected the headdress to be a single object, when in reality is was made up of seven bundles of feathers tied around the top of the hat. 

Detail of construction of feather bundles

Each feather is split along the vane from the tip almost to the end. They are then bound, both individually and in groups of two or three, by coconut fibre cord. Four of these small bundles of bound feathers are then attached to a loop of coconut fibre. Four, or sometimes more, of these loops are then threaded on to a thicker cord made from twined barkcloth to form an individual feather bundle. There appears to be some distinction in size of feather used between bundles: feathers of approximately the same size are used in each bundle. The bundles were attached to the headdress with a string made from loosely twined barkcloth.

Feather headdress and mounts before assembly

The feather headdress is the final part of the costume to be mounted.  Chris and Al, the museum technicians working on the display, made a ring from firm, inert Plastazote foam which fits over the top of the hat and rests on the bindings. 

Plastazote ring covered in linen scrim

The ring was covered with scrim, a loosely woven linen fabric, to disguise the ring. Separate wire mounts, covered in a plastic covering to protect the feather bundles, were inserted into the foam around the ring, spaced to hold the bundles in position to give the appearance of a headdress.

The headdress in postion on the costume