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Friday, May 17 • 11:30am - 12:00pm
(Objects) Conserving 25 Jaki-Ed, Marshallese Dress Mats, at the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution

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Jaki-ed are woven dress mats from the Marshall Islands, an island nation in Micronesia. Made for decorative clothing or valuable gifts, these mats are woven, plaited, and embroidered with pandanus leaf strips, hibiscus inner bark, the inner bark of a beach creeper vine, and pigmented varnish. In support of Ingrid Ahlgren’s post-doctoral research on Jaki-ed in the collection of the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH), Smithsonian Institution, a group of 25 mats, collected around the turn of the 20th century, were studied and conserved. This project set out to characterize materials in the mats and devise a protocol to stabilize them in preparation for handling by visiting researchers. Due to scant documentation on materials, processing, and in particular coloring in jaki-ed, analytical techniques were explored including X-ray Fluorescence Spectroscopy (XRF), direct analysis in real time mass spectrometry (DART-MS), and Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy (FTIR). Results were compared with analysis of a mat-making materials kit that is contemporary with the mats as well as a collection of botanical samples. While each technique provided some information - for example confirming the presence of inorganic pesticides or characterizing the varnish on a hibiscus sample as a gum - examination with a stereomicroscope proved most fruitful for characterizing the mat making materials. Conservation protocol was initially guided by curatorial input, limited literature, and the structure of the mats and their materials. Mid-way through the project, Marshallese weavers Susan Jieta and Rosie Helmorey came with Aileen Sefeti, project coordinator for the Jaki-ed Revival program, to the NMNH through the Recovering Voices (RV) Community Research Program (CRP). The CRP visit provided a physical and intellectual space to collaboratively contemplate the ongoing value and legacy of these plaited mats, both for the indigenous population that originally made them, and for the museum’s collections staff. The RV grant helped overcome the great distance and limited communication lines between the Marshall Islands and Washington, DC, allowing weavers to visit the mats and share information about materials sourcing, traditional construction, traditional storage, social histories, and associated beliefs that have had important implications for their ongoing care. This project demonstrates how indigenous knowledge vastly improves a museum’s ability to care for cultural objects, but can also raise questions concerning the balance of conservation needs and indigenous expectations or desires. As an example, the weavers place high priority on the aesthetics of jaki-ed, and in another context, they might take a more restorative approach to their care. In this museum context, however, the conservator had limited weaving authority and familiarity with mat-making materials, as well as time restraints that directed treatment toward a more conservative approach. Conversations during the CRP visit helped refine protocol to merge the treatment approaches and care of Jaki-ed at the NMNH.

avatar for Rebecca Summerour

Rebecca Summerour

Sole Member, Summerour Art Conservation, LLC
REBECCA SUMMEROUR is a textile and objects conservator in the Washington, DC area and the Sole Member of Summerour Art Conservation, LLC. She currently works on contract with local museums. Prior to establishing her private practice, she was a contract conservator at the Textile Museum... Read More →

avatar for G. Asher Newsome

G. Asher Newsome

Physical Scientist, Smithsonian Museum Conservation Institute
G. ASHER NEWSOME received his Ph.D. in analytical chemistry at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. He has studied a wide variety of analytes using novel mass spectrometry methodologies, and since joining the Smithsonian in 2017 he has been developing ambient techniques for... Read More →
avatar for Gwénaëlle Kavich

Gwénaëlle Kavich

Conservation Scientist, Museum Conservation Institute. Smithsonian Institution
Gwénaëlle Kavich, Conservation Scientist at the Smithsonian Museum Conservation Institute, earned a BSc in Chemistry from The Nottingham Trent University (U.K.) and a PhD in Chemical Sciences from the University of Pisa (Italy). She contributes to a wide range of technical studies... Read More →
avatar for Ingrid Ahlgren PhD

Ingrid Ahlgren PhD

Curator of Oceanic Ethnography, Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology
Dr. Ingrid Ahlgren is a cultural anthropologist with expertise working with cultures of the Pacific. She received her PhD in Anthropology from The Australian National University, where her research focused on place-based taboos in the Marshall Islands, critically examining the sacred... Read More →

Friday May 17, 2019 11:30am - 12:00pm EDT
Salon B1, Uncas Ballroom
  Specialty Session, Objects
  • Track Objects
  • Ticketed Included in Main Registration
  • Authors in Publication Order Rebecca Summerour, Ingrid Ahlgren, PhD, G. Asher Newsome, PhD, Gwénaëlle Kavich, PhD
  • Abstract ID 19072
  • Tags Jaki-ed,Consultation,FTIR,DART,XRF