Friday, 20 December 2013

Project end

Today marks the end of my two-year project, funded by the Clothworkers' Foundation, to conserve and investigate the Cook-voyage collections at the Pitt Rivers Museum.  During the course of the project, with help from interns, I have worked on over 200 objects, generating new information and nearly 1000 photos for the new Cook website, which will be launched next year.

Work on the Cook-voyage collections won't stop.  I am speaking at an international conference in Cologne in January - 'Made in Oceania  - Social and cultural meaning, restoration and museum presentation of Oceanic tapa - where I will be talking about the Cook-voyage barkcloth held by the Pitt Rivers.  In addition, a number of objects collected by Joseph Banks, including the amazing fau headdress from Tahiti, will be going on loan to The Collection in Lincoln in February.

1886.1.1683 - Tahitian fau

The Cook collection will be redisplayed in the museum too, hopefully in a new case large enough to display the Tahitian Mourner's costume to its full potential.  We will hear if we have been successful in a funding bid for this new 8m long, 3m high case early in the new year.

Blog posts will continue, though less regularly, to keep you updated on the work on the collection.

Friday, 13 December 2013

'Safe and without injury'

Tahitian cylindrical drum

While working on this drum from Tahiti (1886.1.1518) I noticed in the documentation (available on the Pitt Rivers online database) that this and several other objects in the Cook-voyage collections had been sent to the International Colonial and Export Trade Exhibition of 1883 in Amsterdam, for which the Ashmolean (the collections were housed there before transfer to the newly opened Pitt Rivers in 1886) won a 'diploma of a silver medal, and a catalogue.'  We also learn that the objects 'were all returned safe and without injury.'

A view of the exhibition

The exhibition was held in the summer of 1883, and took place in the grounds behind the Rijksmuseum, now the 'Museumplein'.

View of the exhibition grounds

24 nations took part, as can be seen in the map of the fairground below.

Over a million tickets were sold for the exhibition by the time it closed in November 1883.

For more information on the exhibition, see

Monday, 2 December 2013

A Red Woollen Thread

This cloak is thought to be Forster No. 103 'A dogskin coat'

1886.1.1132 Maori Cloak

It is made of muka, the prepared fibre of the New Zealand flax plant (Phormium tenax), twined in the whatu aho rua technique (double-pair weft-twining).

The 100th aho row, is in whatu aho patahi (single-pair weft-twining) - this is the only row made in this technique.

The cloak was worn as a paepaeroa, with the aho rows vertical. 

There are 7 whenu warps per cm with a 6-7mm spacing between each aho weft row. 

A single length of red woolen thread is woven into the kaupapa of the cloak.

Red wool thread woven into the cloak

The pattern formed is known as paheke, which means 'trickle' or 'flow'.   This strand of red wool must have been obtained by unravelling fabric or clothing obtained during the first voyage, and it is clearly woven in as the cloak was constructed, rather than being added afterwards.

Detail of paheke design

Because of the way that the red wool thread is woven into the cloak, with the 'tails' of the thread woven in after the main pattern,it is possible to tell that construction began at the edge furthest from the wool insertion.

Shaping rows, aho poka, are present.  There are two clear wedge inserts are present, one near the side furthest from the commencement  (1240mm from this edge) and one near the centre (790mm from the commencement edge).  A third set of aho poka are present which do not form a clear insert - these are approximately 40mm from the commencement.

Cloak showing the ends of the aho poka marked with paper triangles.  The right-hand edge was where weaving commenced.

The bottom of the cloak, the left hand edge as constructed, is finished with a twisted three-ply braid of dyed muka.  Each ply in turn is held by a successive aho row, so that each ply is attached to the cloak every third row. The muka used to make the cord is natural in colour, and also dyed black and brown, giving a variegated effect.

Cord of plied muka fibre used to edge cloak

The top of the cloak, the right hand side as constructed, is finished with a fine plaited border made of dyed muka.  In some areas the colours are mixed,  so that plies of black, brown and naturally coloured flax fibre produce a variegated effect to the plaited edge.

The plaited edge to the cloak, as well as the method of attachment of the dogskin tags

Tags of dog skin are attached to the upper corners of the cloak.  The dog skin strips are approximately 24cm in length, and are folded in half and tied to the cloak with a length of plied muka cord.  The cord is threaded through the body of the cloak, a single length being used to hold all the strips in place.

This finely made taonga (treasure), with its use of dogskin and precious red wool, was clearly a high status item of clothing.

The description of the cloak is based on information and descriptions found in Whatū Kākahu / Māori Cloaks, edited by Awhina Tamarapa. Wellington: Te Papa Press (2011)