Thursday, 16 April 2015

Tahitian Barkcloth

Chris and Al, the Pitt Rivers technicians working on the new Cook-voyage display, have mocked-up the case to make the process of mount making and object installation easier.  Otherwise, this work would have to be carried out in the Lower Gallery, causing disruption to visitors for longer than is necessary.  Only when all the mounts have been made and the objects placed according to the design, will the final installation into the real case occur.

One of the first challenges we've been working on is how to display the Tahitian barkcloth.  Even though the new case is 8 metres long and nearly 3 metres high, there still doesn't seem to be much room!

In previous displays, the barkcloth has been folded, and often other objects placed on top.  We wanted to recreate something of the feel of this type of display, but at the same time wanted to avoid creating deep creases in the barkcloth, which can be caused by folding them tightly.  We needed to find a way to reduce the size of the barkcloth too, and reluctantly decided to omit 1886.1.1248 which at over 12 metres long was too big to fit in at all.

The solution was to roll the barkcloths over oval-shaped rolls, reducing the height of each roll, meaning that we could fit more into the space available.  A section of barkcloth could extend from the roll, and be held over a padded metal bar - this is the model Chris and Al made to illustrate the concept - you can see it allows us to stack the barkcloths in a limited space but still give an idea of the different colours and designs on the cloth, as well as the sheer volume of barkcloth collected.

Model of barkcloth mount

The next stage was to make the rolls - they were constructed from zero formaldehyde MDF with inert foam edges.  The rolls were covered with Moistop barrier foil and aluminium tape to seal the surface, as the barkcloth was rolled directly onto them. 

Ironing Moistop barrier foil onto the rolls

Careful calculations of the space available and barkcloth sizes allowed us to sort the barkcloths into their positions in the stack.  The barkcloths were rolled onto the supports, with a measured amount protruding from the roll to hand over the padded bar.

Preparing to roll a barkcloth

Once rolled, the supports could be slotted into position in the case mock-up, and the barkcloth arranged over the bars.

The bottom two barkcloths in position

Friday, 10 April 2015

New Cook-voyage Case

The new case

The new case for the redisplay of the Cook-voyage collections has been in place on the Lower Gallery of the museum for a few months now.  Made by Mayvaert, the case is 8 metres long and 2.8m tall, and will provide space to display nearly all of the first and second voyage collections.  The modern showcase could be seen as a departure from the more 'traditional' cabinets at the Pitt Rivers, but we wanted the objects to speak for themselves, without the distraction of a case designed to appear Victorian.

The case had to be lifted into the museum in sections by crane - a nerve-wracking experience for everyone concerned!

Lifting case components into the back of the museum

The new display has been designed by two of our Museum Technicians, Chris Wilkinson and Alan Cooke, and over the next few weeks I'll be showing how we are meeting the challenges of mounting some of the objects for display.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

An Otahietan Fisherman's Petticoat - a new discovery

Forster 36, 1886.1.1179 - before conservation treatment

Forster number 36 in the Catalogue of Curiosities is described as 'An Otaheitian fisherman's petticoat of coloured threads/filaments of bark.'

There was an entry for it in the 'List of Anthropological objects transferred from the Ashmolean to the Pitt Rivers Museum' in 1886, where it is listed as 'A New Zealand Woaman's Apron, or Petticoat; made of narrow long strips, or rather shreds, of the inner bark of some tree ... each piece being doubled and looped over a twisted cord made of the same material, the ends of which are left long for tying. The whole has the appearance of a very deep rough fringe. Width 30 inches; Depth 2 feet. Probably Captain Cook's Collection. 1772-1774. Number lost. Given by Reinhold Forster, Esq.'

This entry was the last time it was recorded as being seen by museum staff, until last week when I found it in a box of grass clothing from Papua New Guinea.  It had been folded in half and tied tightly, hiding the Ashmolean label inside the bundle. 

Cataloguing and re-storage of the grass fibre clothing collections is part of our ongoing work to upgrade the store.  Finding 'missing' objects like this apron is just one of the benefits of carrying out this kind of work, which can be time consuming and not very glamorous! 

Comparison with similar objects in other Cook-voyage collections suggests that this skirt is indeed from Tahiti - it will be displayed with the rest of the Pitt Rivers Cook-voyage collections in mid 2015.

Monday, 1 September 2014

A Black Stripe

For the last few weeks, we've been working with Rachael Lee from the Textiles Conservation section at the Victoria and Albert Museum to help us make a mount for the Tahitian Mourner's costume.  The costume will be one of the highlights of the new display of Cook-voyage objects which will open in 2015.  The new display case which will house this exhibition is being installed this week in the Lower Gallery of the Pitt Rivers, and the re-mounted Mourner's costume will use almost the entire 2.7m height of this case. 

A few months ago, I blogged about finding a strip of barkcloth in one of our stores which I was sure was part of the Mourner's costume headdress.  Once in the lab, it was possible to confirm that this was the case - the strip was exactly the right length to fit back on the cape in the expected position.

Barkcloth strip before conservation treatment

Expected position of black strip

The barkcloth was very fragile, and couldn't be handled without damage.  It was necessary to line the strip with very fine Japanese tissue, a strong paper with long fibres, leaving a tab at the top to attach to the white barkcloth under-layer of the cape.  The adhesive used for this was a made from arrowroot and sodium alginate - it is a fairly 'dry' paste but strong enough to support the strip when hanging from the cape.  Small magnets were used to hold the barkcloth in place until the paste was dry.

Small magnets holding the tissue tab at the top of the black barkcloth strip in position

The two parts of the cape have been reunited after 120 years - one thing that is more noticeable now is the extent to which the barkcloth of the cape has faded after being on display almost continously for almost 250 years, compared with the black strip which has been in storage. 

Cape after treatment

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Cook Redisplay Begins

Work started this week on the Lower Gallery of the museum (this gallery space is now closed until the 5th September) to prepare for the installation of a new case for the Cook-voyage collections.

Taking the Mourner's costume headdress off its mount

 On Monday, we deinstalled the Tahitian Mourner's costume exhibition, moving most of the pieces to the conservation lab.  We will be working over the summer with Rachael Lee from the Textiles Conservation section at the Victoria and Albert Museum to make a mount for the complete costume for the new display.

Removing featherwork from display

While we were doing this, Collections staff emptied some of the featherwork cases, which have to be moved to allow the new case to fit into the corner of the gallery.  The current Cook case will be dismantled next weekend.