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

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.