Conference Postprints

Recent Advances in Barkcloth Conservation and Technical Analysis (2018)

Held at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew on 7 December 2018

Edited by Misa Tamura, Charlotte Ridley and Frances Lennard

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These postprints are a record of the presentations given at the symposium, Recent Advances in Barkcloth Conservation and Technical Analysis, held on 7 December 2018 at the Economic Botany Collection, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.  The symposium was organised jointly by the Situating Pacific Barkcloth in Time and Place project team at the University of Glasgow and the Icon Ethnography Group.


Situating Pacific Barkcloth in Time and Place was a three-year research project, based at the University’s Centre for Textile Conservation and Technical Art History, and funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council from 2016-2019. Whereas most previous research has focused on the design and cultural significance of barkcloth, we aimed to look at tapa’s material properties, as fabric and plant product. An interdisciplinary team of researchers from Pacific art history, materials science and conservation investigated the development of barkcloth production in the Pacific in the 18th and 19th centuries through a close examination of two significant collections, at The Hunterian, University of Glasgow, and Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, combined with Pacific-based research into plant sources and manufacturing methods. The collection at the National History Museum, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, was an important reference.

This work has shed new light on the materials used to make barkcloth, revealed regional and chronological differences in manufacturing methods and demonstrated the impact of materials and processes on the nature and uses of the finished fabric.

For further information on the project please see

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This symposium focused on the conservation and science elements of the research. Project researchers Misa Tamura and Dr Margaret Smith discussed their findings, while other speakers showcased wider research in the conservation and analysis of tapa. Misa Tamura’s role, as Research Conservator on the Situating Pacific Barkcloth project, focused on the tapa in the Hunterian and Kew collections, making the cloths safe for long-term storage and accessible to Pacific community members and researchers, as well as carrying out research into conservation techniques for tapa. Other papers reflected the current interest in the display of tapa, as demonstrated by the papers about the treatment and preparation of barkcloth artefacts for recent displays at the British Museum (Sophie Rowe et al.), the Royal Albert Memorial Museum (Sarah Klopf) and Royal Museums Greenwich (Nora Meller). Gwen Spicer contributed her expertise on the very popular use of magnets for the display of barkcloth, while Isamu Sakamoto and Saiful Bakhri took us further afield to look at the preservation of barkcloth scrolls or wayang beber in Indonesia. We have also been fortunate to include in this volume a paper from Sabine Weik from Auckland Museum which was not presented at the symposium; she focuses on the treatment of tapa for the museum’s Pacific Collections Access Project. Dr Margaret Smith, Scientific Research Associate with the Glasgow project, discussed her work on the development of fibre identification methods for barkcloth, as well as her findings from the analysis of the fibres and colourants of cloths in the Kew and Hunterian collections. Dr Diego Tamburini also presented the results of analysis of the British Museum collections. The papers by Smith and Tamburini are not included here as they has already been published elsewhere; you will find links to these publications below.

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The posters displayed at the symposium are also presented here. Many of these also focus on barkcloth from areas beyond the Pacific. Ana Carolina Delgado Vieira and Renata Peters investigated barkcloth from the Ticuna, the largest indigenous nation of the Brazilian Amazon.  Dmitrenko et al. also showcase barkcloth from Latin America, displayed at the Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography in St Petersburg.  Nicolas Moret shares his research into a loincloth from Papua New Guinea in the collection of the Musée d’ethnographie de Neuchâtel. The treatment of a small collection of Polynesian tapa for digitization at Cornell University Library highlights another role of conservation (Jill Iacchei), while Ruby Antonowicz-Behnan shares her findings on the wet cleaning of tapa. More broadly, Michele Austin-Dennehy advocates for the sharing of study resources to enhance our understanding of barkcloth.  

All of these contributions demonstrate a renewed interest in the study, research and display of barkcloth, both in the UK and internationally. We were very pleased to welcome Pacific community members to the symposium and, importantly, these papers also speak to our moves towards greater communication with members of the communities which created these barkcloth artefacts, to enhance our mutual understanding of this beautiful and skilfully produced material.

I would like to thank my fellow organisers of the event: Prof. Mark Nesbitt at Kew, and Misa Tamura, former project researcher, and Charlotte Ridley, of the Icon Ethnography Group. We were also indebted to a group of volunteers from the Icon Ethnography Group, and staff in Glasgow, who helped to ensure the smooth running of the day.

Professor Frances Lennard (University of Glasgow)

Links to published papers

Please see the copyright information for each individual journal.


Smith, M.J., Holmes-Smith, A.S. and Lennard, F.

Development of non-destructive methodology using ATR-FTIR with PCA to differentiate between historical Pacific barkcloth

Journal of Cultural Heritage [online] (2019) 39: 32-41



Flowers, T.H., Smith, M.J. and Brunton, J.

Colouring of Pacific barkcloths:identification of the brown, red and yellow colourants used in the decoration of historic Pacific barkcloths

Heritage Science [online] (2019) 7(2)



Tamburini, D., Cartwright, C.R., Melchiorre di Crescenzo , M. and Rayner, G.

Scientific characterisation of the dyes, pigments, fibres and wood used in the production of barkcloth from Pacific islands

Archaeological & Anthropological Sciences (2019) 11(7): 3121–3141



Tamburini, D., Cartwright, C. and Adams, J. 

The scientific study of the materials used to create the Tahitian Mourner’s costume in the British Museum collection

Journal of Cultural Heritage (2019) 42: 263-269



Iacchei, J.

Less of you, more of my ancestors: The conservation treatment of Polynesian barkcloth.

AIC Book and Paper Group Annual [online] (2017) 36:136-149

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