Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Storing "Curiosities"

This post was written by Katherine Clough, who is currently volunteering with the Cook-Voyage project helping to provide customized storage solutions for the collection artefacts.

Many of the artefacts currently undergoing conservation during this project will be redisplayed in a fantastic new display within the Pitt Rivers Museum dedicated to the Cook-Voyage collections. In the meantime, temporary storage solutions are required for many of the objects after conservation treatment. Some of them, for example, the larger bark cloths, may have to return to storage. Stored objects will not have been neglected, but have each had customized storage boxes personally (and lovingly) made for their protection and for easier accessibility for future research purposes. One of my main tasks as a volunteer has to be construct boxes for these barkcloths.

Historically, the bark cloths were previously stored folded and stacked. This has caused uneven wear on the folded areas. Now each bark cloth has been unfolded, cleaned and conserved, and then rolled around custom-made calico supports, as described in previous posts on this blog. The final stage of storage preparation has involved the careful measurement of the rolled bark cloth and the making of a lidded box to these measurements. 

Kathy and Conor, our ICON conservation intern, making a Correx box

Making a box out of Correx board (sheets of corrugated plastic) is not too complicated, but has required a fair amount of crawling on the floor due to the sizes of the bark cloths. Firstly, the box net is drawn on the large board using the measurements from the object. The plastic is then cut out and scored with a craft knife. Finally the side-flaps are cut and folded, and secured in place using brass paper fasteners. A little bit of mathematics is required to work out the required dimensions of the corresponding lid so it fits the box snugly. The bark cloths are characteristically long (over 1 metre) but only about 20 centimeters wide and high when rolled. Therefore, most of the boxes I have made so far are also long and thin.

Cook-voyage collection objects stored on padded boards

In addition to box making duties, I have had also helped with other storage requirements. I have assisted, along with other volunteers, with sewing fabric supports for objects in the Cook-Voyage collection, from the long calico tube supports for bark cloth rolls to padded supports for smaller objects. I have also been ‘outsourced’ from working on the Cook-Voyage collections, helping to sew cushioned supports to meet transportation requirements of several North American artefacts that went out on loan to an exhibition in Germany earlier this year.

Completing these storage preparation tasks has enabled me to see artefacts from the Cook-Voyage collection close up and during the processes of conservation, and has given me a fascinating insight into the workings of the conservation department at an ethnographic museum. More recently, I have been assisting by photographing the labels removed from the Cook Collection artefacts in the 1970s, creating a visual archive that will be available on the new website for this project. Currently, I am also reading George Forster’s account of Cook’s second voyage, A Voyage Round the World, taking notes whenever exchanges occur between the local populations of the Pacific and the European visitors. This information will be formatted to create an accessible record to make tracking potential provenances of Cook-Voyage objects and similar items easier in future research.

As a recent graduate of Art History, Anthropology and Archaeology, who is about to begin an Anthropology Masters later this year, I have found my experience so far very enriching and it will certainly add to my growing understandings of material culture research. I have genuinely enjoyed helping with these practical and research tasks, but knowing that my boxes, cushions and additional tasks are contributing to the preservation and research potential of such an important and iconic collection makes it even more worthwhile. 

Thanks go to the other Museum volunteers who have contributed to the project.  Their work is very much appreciated.