Reach 08: Situating barkcloth production in time and place

A’ Suidheachadh Dèanamh Clò-Rùisg a’ Chuain Shèimh ann an Tìm is Àite

Barkcloth
Misa Tamura (centre) Research Conservator, displaying barkcloth at a Centre for Textile Conservation and Technical Arts History open dat, 18th March 2016. Photo by Sarah Foskett.

Barkcloth has been used to make clothing, furnishings, garments and ritual masks in the tropical islands of the Pacific, such as Samoa, the Cook Islands and Hawaii for around 5000 years. It was made by beating the raw tree bark until it became a soft, tactile, non-woven textile. Although Western styles and fashions are now more common in the Pacific, the material is still used across the region as an expression of cultural identity. Yet very little is known about the material itself, and about how best to display, store and preserve barkcloth collections.

Frances Lennard, a Senior Lecturer in Textile Conservation, is leading a new AHRC funded project to study bark cloth as an art form. Lennard’s team includes Misa Tamura, a specialist in the conservation of ethnographic collections, material scientist Dr Margaret Smith who is studying the material properties of the cloth, and art historian Dr Andrew Mills who will be placing the artefacts in their historical context. The broader aim of the project is to ‘find out whether materials, techniques and designs originated from particular islands, how they were transmitted around the region and the effect of globalisation on this tradition.’ Cutting edge techniques will also be used to try and identify which plants were used to make the barkcloth, including protein and DNA analysis and isotope analysis. Read more about Reach 08: Situating barkcloth production in time and place

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