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

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Tongan Mats and Barkcloth

This week we've been laying out the Tongan barkcloth and mats so that the technicians can begin to prepare the mounts for the new case.

Because of the relatively large size of the barkcloth it has to be rolled for the most part.  Some of the smaller mats, and the overskirts such as the sisi fale, seen on the right in the picture below, will be more visible.

Case layout - the top of the image represents the top of the case

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Tahitian Mat

Mounting a large mat from Tahiti to the back wall of the new case was the next challenge we faced.  We decided the answer was magnets!  Small rare earth magnets have been used to mount barkcloth and textiles for several years now.  They have the advantage that they are small, but very strong, easily powerful enough to hold a mat in place.

Applying steel tape to the board

Finished board
The first step was to make a board slightly smaller than the mat from zero-formaldehyde MDF.  To provide a metallic surface under the mat for the magnets to stick to, we used strips of steel tape, which were riveted to the board to make sure they stayed in place for the duration of the display. 

The magnets were covered with synthetic tissue, which had been painted with acrylics to tone into the mat.  Once in place, they are almost invisible.

Mat mounted on the wall of case mock-up

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