Saturday, June 7, 2014

Denver Art Museum and Bark Cloth

Wednesday I went to the Denver Art Museum (DAM).  I had signed up for a talk about Bark Cloth and it was fascinating.  They have recently expanded the Textile Department and the talk took place in the "Preview" area.  This is one of the areas where they prepare items for exhibit.  Here they examine, prepare, catalogue, photograph every step, perform any necessary conservation actions and develop mounting.  The talk was given by Allison McClosky, Associate Textile Conservator.  Allison sowed us 3 different pieces of Bark Cloth and spoke about the process involved in getting them ready for exhibit.

Blue and Brown Barkcloth
Beige and Brown barkcloth
Barkcloth is made from pounding the inner bark of the Mulberry tree, so it is sort of a crossover between paper and cloth.  These samples were made in the Samoan Islands, possibly around the end of the 19th century or the beginning of the 20th century.  The cloth was stored rolled up and covered in muslin so it has a bit of a curl.  In order to relax it the cloth is placed under plastic and humidified.  As it softens glass plates are placed on the cloth with a fiber interface or  acrylic blocks are placed on the cloth with rare earth magnets as weights.  The introduction of humidity gives the fibers a chance to re-form hydrogen bonds and relax.  One of the examples had undergone humidification and needed a bit more. They also  have a hoist, to lift the items, a camera attached to the computer to take pictures and special tables were the glass can be removed so that both sides of the item can be accessed.
Humidification process and hoist
Rolled with muslin cover removed

No action is taken until an item is evaluated and reports are written.  After approval of the proposed process, each step is carefully documented and recorded.  I found it fascinating that they use rare earth magnets quite a bit.  Apparently in addition to being strong, they can be calibrated to determine just how much pressure they will be exerting on the item so as to have just enough pressure  to display the item but not so much as to make an impression.  In addition they wrap the magnet in tyvek, so as not to damage the cloth and if the item to be displayed has a pattern, they might photocopy the pattern and wrap the magnet in the photocopy to further disguise it.  Cool eh?

Other items to be displayed go through similar processes that can take months of work to prepare them for display.  These talks are offered every first and third Wednesdays and the Preview room is open Thursday afternoon.  I heartily recommend checking on the lectures and taking a look at the Preview room. 

When I was there they also had a wonderful display of quilts in the display area adjacent to the Preview Room.  More on quilts and button coats next post.

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