Photo by Alessandra Mello.

Visitors take in the exquisite tapa on display in the Pacific Worlds exhibition. Photo by Alessandra Mello.

100 Years of Storage
Thursday, June 25, 2015


Conserving Tapa for Pacific Worlds

Pacific Worlds, a new exhibition on view in OMCA’s Great Hall, looks at the Museum’s historic Pacific Island collections through the eyes of Bay Area Pacific Islanders. The exhibit includes hundreds of objects from the Museum’s 3,000-piece Pacific Island collections, most of which have never been on display. We worked closely with the local Pacific Islander community on the development of the exhibition. Before we could talk to this community about what the objects might mean to them today, OMCA needed to conserve the objects.

According to Julie Trosper, OMCA’s senior conservator, “Several thousand of these objects were in storage for 100 years or so, and they were covered with dust or suffering from deterioration. We had a tremendous amount of work to do to prepare them for exhibition.”

Tom Fuller
Conservator Tom Fuller carefully conserves the mats for OMCA's major exhibition Pacific Worlds.

The Museum’s exceptional collections of tapa, or beaten barkcloth, and fine mats woven from pandanus and other fibers, required major attention. Textile conservator Hannah Riley painstakingly conserved the tapa and ethnographic objects, and conservator Tom Fuller conserved the mats. In Pacific Worlds, tapa and fine mats are exhibited together to highlight their shared role as precious gifts and ceremonial clothing, particularly for people of Samoan, Tongan, and Fijian heritage.

Photo by Jean MelesaineFor the purpose of the exhibition and with a focus of updating OMCA’s collection of 19th century tapa, we commissioned Oakland seamstress and tapa maker Langilangi Mavae to create a ngatu, or Tongan tapa. The beautiful tapa, decorated with the seal of Tonga, is on display in Pacific Worlds along with a video documenting her process.

Come see Pacific Worlds, where objects old and new paint a vivid portrait of California’s diverse Pacific Islander communities.

— Suzanne Fischer, associate curator of contemporary history and trends