Two conservation students from Camberwell College of Arts have spent three weeks surveying barkcloth specimens from the Pacific.
We are BA students on the undergraduate conservation degree at Camberwell College of Arts. As part of our course, students spend three-week placements in a wide range of historic collections, ranging from St Paul's Cathedral to the Royal Collection. These give us a chance to apply our skills to real-life collections, resulting in experience for us, and useful work carried out for curators. Past students have worked on Kew's collections of paper and Egyptian archaeology.
Cristina Rico Liria and Daniel Barter working in the Collection store (Photo: Daniel Barter).
During our time at Kew we have undertaken a survey of the tapa cloth in the Economic Botany Collection. Tapa is the term usually used for barkcloth from the Pacific Islands where its manufacture is an ancient craft which has been practised for thousands of years, and was once widespread. Tapa is made from the inner bark of several trees, mainly paper mulberry (Broussonetia papyrifera), which is coppiced as a sustainable source of bark (PDF). Kew's collection was formed between 1840 and 1900 and is unusually wide-ranging in geographical origin.
Barkcloth from Ceram, Indonesia, collected by Henry Ogg Forbes in 1883. One of several barkcloths from Indonesia, made from a jackfruit species (Artocarpus). We idenified this as a conservation priority because of the fragile tassels. (Photo: Daniel Barter).
Our survey found 51 objects, most being tapa cloth garments, blankets or room dividers. A few items of the collection however were part of the tapa cloth manufacturing process, such as heavy wooden beaters. The aim of the survey was to assess the condition of the collection. We drew up a "condition form", describing the stability, condition, potential treatment and packaging of each specimen, as well as a photographing everything. This information will then be used to inform decisions on prioritising object treatment and packaging. Some pieces have already been conserved by other students, so this was also a good opportunity to see different treatments and methods of packing.
Tapa tiputa or poncho from Samoa. Collected by Captain Home of HMS North Star, on its trip to New Zealand and the Pacific in 1846. The shiny glaze is probably from the sap of Bischofia javanica (o’a), a naturally brown resin that acts as waterproofing. Conserved by Judith Hubbard at the Textile Conservation Centre in 2008. EBC 42861. (Photo: TCC).
We have both found this a very beneficial experience. It has enabled us to become involved in the inner workings of an impressive collection, and has increased our knowledge of tapa cloth and how to perform collection surveys. We were also able to repack quite a few pieces into larger boxes, a cheap and easy form of preventative conservation.
We are very grateful to Kew for giving us this opportunity and we hope to be conserving and preserving objects from their collection very soon.
- Conservation at Camberwell College of Arts
- Tapa in the Economic Botany Collection
- Tapa cloth and the forgotten women of the Bounty mutiny
- Conservation careers
About Mark Nesbitt
Mark Nesbitt is curator of the Economic Botany Collection at Kew. After studying agricultural botany at Reading University, Mark moved onto the archaeology of plants via a doctorate at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London. After 15 years of research in the Near East, he joined Kew in 1999 as a specialist in useful plants both past and present.
At the core of Mark's work is caring for the Collection: adding new specimens (about 800 a year), monitoring environmental conditions, lending to exhibitions, upgrading the Collection database and rehousing specimens. Mark hosts around 500 visitors each year, from many different disciplines, organises conservation, teaching and research projects with collaborators, and carries out research into the history of plant fibres, medicine and colonial botany. A team of 5-6 volunteers, placement students and interns play a vital role in keeping everything going.
Mark's aims are both to ensure the Collection is cared for to modern museum standards, and to help the fascinating stories told by its 85,000 artefacts reach the widest possible audience.
- around the world
- the UK
- at risk
- ground breaking
- needs help
- english heritage
- Kew overseas
- verge of extinction
- wet tropics
- gifts that help
- South East Asia
- of use
- hot spot
- english garden
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