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

Flowers, T.H., Smith, M.J. and Brunton, J. (2019) Colouring of Pacific barkcloth: identification of the brown, red and yellow colourants used in the decoration of historic Pacific barkcloths. Heritage Science, 7, 2. (doi: 10.1186/s40494-018-0243-9)

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Barkcloth textiles made in the Pacific islands and collected by western explorers in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries form part of many museum collections worldwide. Here high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) and X-ray fluorescence (XRF) were used on cloths that were highly coloured or pigmented specifically focussing on identifying the red, yellow and brown colorants. The cloths studied came from collections held at the Hunterian, University of Glasgow, the Economic Botany Collection, Royal Botanic Gardens Kew and the Centre for Textile Conservation and Technical Art History, University of Glasgow. HPLC analysis was carried out following a sequential extraction procedure to minimise changes to the colorants during extraction. A portable XRF was used so no invasive sampling was required. A small number of plant derived colorants were found, Morinda citrifolia, noni (morindin or morindone), Rubia tinctorum (madder), tree tannins and Curcuma longa (turmeric) plus an inorganic colorant, iron oxide. For 40 samples a single colorant was found while in the remaining 12 samples combinations of up to three colorants were found. Madder was found in only 2 samples on the same cloth. The morindone coloured samples were all red whereas morindin samples were both red and yellow. Morindin was used predominantly in combination with other colouring agents. A combination of iron ochre and organic colorant was found in 4 samples. These findings show that despite the numerous potential colorant sources for red, brown and yellow shades listed in the many accounts of historic barkcloth making, only five types of plant colourant and one inorganic pigment were found. There are a number of potential reasons for these findings. Some colours may have faded and so no longer appear coloured. It is also possible that, as some of these cloths were prepared specifically as gifts for visitors or for ceremonial uses, the makers used materials that they knew would retain their integrity over time. Perhaps, like artisans worldwide, experience had taught them that some colorants, although initially bright and vivid, faded over time.

Item Type:Articles
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Smith, Dr Margaret and Flowers, Dr Hugh and Brunton, Miss Jennifer
Authors: Flowers, T.H., Smith, M.J., and Brunton, J.
College/School:College of Arts & Humanities > School of Culture and Creative Arts > History of Art
College of Science and Engineering > School of Chemistry
Journal Name:Heritage Science
ISSN (Online):2050-7445
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2019 The Authors
First Published:First published in Heritage Science 7: 2
Publisher Policy:Reproduced under a Creative Commons License

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Project CodeAward NoProject NamePrincipal InvestigatorFunder's NameFunder RefLead Dept
662721Situating Pacific barkcloth production in time and placeFrances LennardArts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC)AH/M00886X/1CCA - HISTORY OF ART