Kew Gardens

Recent Advances in Bark Cloth Conservation Technical Analysis at Kew Gardens by In*ter*is*land Collective

‘Situating Pacific Barkcloth in Time and Place’ project, is a collaboration between the Centre for Textile Conservation and Technical Art History at the University of Glasgow, the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution. Over three years (2016 -18) they investigated the material nature of Polynesian barkcloth collections from The Hunterian Museum (Glasgow) and the Economic Botany Collection (Kew). The role of conservation in the project was to review and develop technical methods for conserving barkcloth, to stabilise and better store objects, and to facilitate visual and physical access for all user communities.

In*ter*is*land Collective, working with Mark Nesbitt, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and Frances Lennard, University of Glasgow facilitated a community guestlist for the symposium, this initial connection also allowed for the group to meet lead managers from the project and to start investigating the opportunity of connecting research and collections to source communities.  The group gathered included members of the Pacific Community in London alongside academics from the Pacific, attending the Pacific Histories Association Conference in Cambridge, in turn producing an interesting spread of representation from across the Pacific from Hawai’i to the Cook Islands and back to Aotearoa.

While content from the days presentations was technical and scientifically based, much research was shared and received gratefully, particularly time spent with the Economic Botany Collection which included extraordinary examples of barkcloth from Pitcairn, Hawai’i, Fiji, Tahiti, the Cook Islands, Samoa, Futuna, Tonga, the Solomon Islands and New Guinea.  

Closing comments and discussion brought up the disconnect between new scientific research and information contained inside ancient language and text, oral history and cultural practices, alongside the importance of reconnecting the collections back to source communities in the Pacific and repatriation of knowledge.  We look forward to working on initiating conversations in the future and increasing accessibility to our communities.

Words: Jo Walsh

Images: Ariana Davis

Acknowledgements:  Mark Nesbitt, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew / Frances Lennard, University of Glasgow and a SPECIAL call out to Kim Walker.

Presentations by:

Situating Pacific Barkcloth Production in Time and Place - Research

Misa Tamura, University of Glasgow

Situating Pacific Barkcloth Production in Time and Place - Materials analysis of Pacific barkcloth

Margaret Smith, University of Glasgow


Barkcloth on display - the Discovering Worlds Project at RAMM

Sarah Klopf, Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter


Exploring support materials and adhesives for the repair of barkcloth:

Aspects of conserving tapa elements of a Tahitian mourner’s costume

Sophie Rowe, Nicole Rode and Monique Pullan, The British Museum


Mounting barkcloth with rare earth magnets: the compression and fibre resiliency answer

Gwen Spicer, Spicer Art Conservation