Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Surprising Barkcloth

Sometimes, objects can surprise us.  The barkcloth mentioned in the last post, 1886.21.19, was collected in Tahiti by Joseph Banks and donated by him to Christ Church, his old Oxford College.  Our museum database suggested that it was nearly 4 metres long, and just over a metre wide.
Once the barkcloth had been brought to the Conservation Lab for treatment, it was soon obvious that these were the folded measurements.  The piece of barkcloth actually measures 3.35m wide by 3.85m long.

Barkcloth fully unfolded

In our small conservation lab objects this size can pose a problem.  It was impossible to open the barkcloth out fully, and the processes of surface cleaning and reinforcement of tears had to be carried out by keeping the barkcloth rolled at each end, like a scroll, and working on the small unrolled section.  We had to decide how to store the barkcloth, and came to the conclusion that our stores could only accomodate it if it were folded in half and then rolled.  Folding it needed the largest tables in the museum, found in our Researchers area, and it was amazing to see such a large sheet of fine, almost translucent barkcloth and to think about how it would have been made, probably by groups of women working together.  The barkcloth is so finely beaten, however, that there is no evidence of any joins.

Folding the barkcloth

The barkcloth has been rolled for storage around a custom made support sewn from calico and filled with polyester wadding.