New life for ancient taonga

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Textile conservator Dr Tracey Wedge, of Matakohe, Northland, during the Maori Cloak Preventative Conservation workshop being held at Te Hikoi Museum by the Riverton Heritage Society.

STAFF and volunteers at Riverton’s Te Hikoi Museum have been learning from an expert how to care for precious ancient Maori textiles including cloaks, footwear and kete [bag], some more than 100 years old.

Textile conservator Dr Tracey Wedge, of Matakohe Kauri Museum, Northland, taught participants how to handle the taonga, surface cleaning and how to relax the garments, as well as storage and display techniques during the Maori Cloak Preventative Conservation workshops.

Dr Wedge was invited by the Riverton Heritage Society, and funded by Southland Regional Heritage Committee, to restore the 30 pieces, which were all made with muka, the fibre from harakeke (flax).

Te Hikoi Museum operations manager Karyn Owen said the workshops built on an assessment of the Maori textiles which had been undertaken in 2017.

She described it as “a painstaking maintenance operation for [the] treasured Maori textiles, including a ceremonial cloak”.

“The first task has been to survey the condition of each item, and then decide the best way to stabilise them to ensure their long-term condition.”

The items ranged from full-length cloaks to intricately-made, decorative kete, “some were just the size of an evening bag”.

Ms Owen said Dr Wedge, and her assistant and husband Stephen Davies, were also working with museum volunteers, teaching the skills required for long-term care of the pieces.

“The kaitaka paepaeroa (prestigious cloak), measuring 1450cm by 1180cm, is the oldest piece in the museum textile collection. It was folded and stored in a trunk for many years,” Dr Wedge said.

“First we had to surface clean it, then we made a humidification bed to relax the folds and creases resulting form storage.

“Now we have made a special box to keep it flat and it will lie on a tray of similar size for storage.”

As part of the process, some of the items were deposited in a deep freeze to eliminate insects, which could damage decorations such as feathers.

Ms Owen and Dr Wedge were also interested if anyone had photographs of people wearing Maori cloaks to help with the research of each cloak.

“We would like people to bring in photographs, which we could copy, to identify the cloaks and bring the stories to life.”

Ms Owen said members of the public were welcome to attend the workshops and “watch the intricate processes designed to give the ancient pieces a new life”.

  • To view and learn about the process, call in to Te Hikoi Museum, Riverton, on weekdays from 10am-4pm or phone 3 234 8260 to book a place. The final day of the workshops would be tomorrow.
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