Bark cloth storage gets a makeover overview image

Bark cloth storage gets a makeover

  • Post Date5/31/2016
  • AuthorJen Grove
  • Reading Time4 minute read

For the past year, Collections volunteer Jen Grove has been working to improve the storage methods of nearly 50 masks, costumes, and ceremonial outfits from our Tukuna bark cloth collection. You can read more about the history of this unique collection on our Notable Collections page.

Before Jen reassessed these artifacts, many of them were being stored using a variety of inadequate techniques. Some of them were stuffed with materials that are no longer recommended for preservation, such as butcher paper and a wax paper-like material called glassine. The materials were not soft enough for the delicate bark cloth and were too acidic to be in long-term contact with the artifacts. In addition, the rough paper did not hold the ideal shape of the costumes, causing creases and warping. Other masks and costumes were never stuffed and stored flat, which also lead to deformations. Due to low humidity in our building, these pieces will inevitably dry and stiffen over time, so it is vital that they are supported and housed in a way that replicates their intended shape and how they were worn.

  • Child costume stored improperly by using rough butcher paper
    This child’s costume (2000.01.0918) had been filled with rough butcher paper.
  • A costume that has been stored without stuffing or padding
    This costume (2000.01.0850) demonstrates what happens when these pieces have been stored completely flat without stuffing or padding.
  • Mask with a collapsed wooden face as a result of being stored without stuffing
    This mask (2000.01.0157) was stored without stuffing, causing the wooden face to collapse into the bark cloth surrounding it.

To provide proper support for each bark cloth piece, Jen created a custom made pillow to be placed inside each item to help comfortably hold its ideal shape. The new pillows are made of a smooth, breathable material called Tyvek—which you have seen in large-scale applications wrapped around buildings while they’re under construction to prevent water damage—and filled with soft polyester stuffing.

  • Child costume stuffed with custom-designed Tyvek pillow
    Jen’s custom-designed Tyvek pillow is already inside a child’s costume (2000.01.0824) as she fills it with batting.
  • Two costumes and one mask
    Two costumes and one mask (left to right 2000.01.0824, 2000.01.0850, 2000.01.0977) show some of the different shapes and sizes of pillows Jen needed to make.
  • Full body costume stuffed with three Tyvek-covered Ethafoam supports
    This full body costume (2000.01.0882) is stuffed with three Tyvek pillows, one for the body and one for each arm. Its tray also has Tyvek-covered Ethafoam supports to help keep the costume’s ideal shape and to stabilize it during movement.

Some masks also had ears and other appendages that needed support to prevent sagging or tearing at the seams. Custom trays and boxes were created with Ethafoam supports to stabilize the appendages in desired positions. These containers also provide easy access to artifacts without directly handling the pliable, fragile bark cloth material. Additionally, each fully enclosed box provides added protection from dust and pests and is labeled with a picture of its contents for easy identification.

  • Mask in a box supported by Tyvek pillows and Ethafoam ear supports
    This mask (2000.01.0157) is fully supported by a Tyvek pillow and placed in a blue board box with Ethafoam ear supports.
  • The outside of a box labeled with a photo of the mask that is inside of it
    The outside of this box is labeled and has a photograph of the mask (2000.01.0157) for easy identification.

These costumes are now ready for long-term preservation, future study, and exhibition.