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Published 17 December 2015 Referencing Hub media
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In the 1980s, a pare (lintel) in Auckland War Memorial Museum’s carving collection fell and shattered. We follow its painstaking rebuild in a project that brought together conservationists from Auckland Museum and carvers Bernard Makoare and Lyonel Grant.

Microscopy and chemical analysis were used alongside expert knowledge of carving in order to piece the taonga back together. Through their meticulous work, pare 5168 was restored and new history about the taonga emerged.

Transcript

Dr Ocean Mercier

Māori have always been scientists, and we continue to be scientists. Our science has allowed us to live, work and thrive in the world for hundreds of years. My name is Dr Ocean Mercier, and I’m a lecturer in putaiao Māori at the Victoria University of Wellington. My job takes me all over the world to talk about Māori science and how traditional knowledge is being married with western science here in Aotearoa in order to find innovative solutions to universal global issues.

In this programme, we’re going to show you how these worlds of science are intersecting, and how the paths to our future are being formed.

<Opening titles>

Pare 5168 had been in Auckland Museum’s collection since 1901, engari, he muna tōna takenga mai me tōna whakapaparanga mai (but where it was from and the providence of the object was a mystery).

But in 1989, the pare was damaged while in storage and left in over 30 pieces. Over 30 years later, a repair would be undertaken. It was a revolutionary project that utilised the skills of practising carvers as well as conservators. Their mission was to put the pieces of the shattered taonga back together but also to unlock its intriguing history.

Dr Ocean Mercier

I mōhio a Chanel Clarke, he kaitiaki taonga i te wāhanga Māori o Tamaki Paenga Hira, ki te tupuhekenga kua pā ki a pare 5168. (Chanel Clarke, a curator at Auckland Museum’s Māori Department was aware of pare 5168 and the damage that had been inflicted on the taonga.)

Chanel Clarke

The pare arrived in the museum in 1901, and we didn’t have very much information on it at all other than the museum purchased it and it had come from Maketu in the Bay of Plenty. Didn’t know the name of the carver, didn’t know the name of the house, didn’t even know at that point what type of wood it was. It had been on display in the galleries and then was taken off and it was, kind of, as a pare – a lintel – it was put on two door jambs, but they weren’t the door jambs that, you know, it was from. So, it was sort of a bit of an odd thing, something that museums do to present it as it would’ve been, on a doorway with the legs, but the legs weren’t actually … didn’t actually belong to it.

So, it stood like that in storage as well, and unfortunately it fell in the storeroom. We’re not sure how or why, whether it lost its balance, and it fell over and unfortunately broke in half and then shattered into a hundred, sort of, little bits.

So that was about 1989, and it sort of remained like that because we didn’t have any conservator to do any work on it until last year when our conservation staff had an intern who was starting with them, and they were looking for things that they could work on. And that was when I suggested Bernard, who is a member of our Taumata and is also a carver himself.

Dr Ocean Mercier

Ko te tangata tuatahi i kōrero atu ai a Chanel, ko Bernard Makoare – tētahi o ngā māngai o te Taumata-ā-Iwi o Te Paenga Hira. (The first person she, Chanel, got in touch with was Bernard Makoare – one of the museum’s Taumata-ā-Iwi representatives.)

Bernard Makoare

We became aware of this project because of Heike and her work as a conservator. And for some time, we’d been aware of the damage that had occurred to this pare. And the opportunity arose with Alex’s internship in the museum and his interest in wood conservation and restoration of wooden artefacts, and the idea really grew from there.

So it was a really exciting project, because in one sense, it was allowing new technologies to be considered by the Taumata and the museum and combining them with people like Lyonel Grant with his experience as a carver, but also his whole identity as a Te Arawa descendent and explore what that actually can mean in the fullness of this project.

Dr Ocean Mercier

Engari tuatahi, me aromatawai ngā tupuhekenga, e te roopu rokiroki. (But first the conservation team needed to assess the damage.)

Heike Winkelbauer

Before you even think about any treatment or methods that you have a very close look at the artefact. You examine it, you look at markings, tool markings, you look at the damage, how you best arrange things, and then you describe it, you sit down, you have your piece of paper with it, you measure it, and it takes a long time. It’s actually the most important part is to examine and start to familiarise yourself with all of the details before you make any decisions about further treatments.

It has an advantage, in some ways for us, when they are actually in pieces, because you get to look at areas which you normally can’t see. So before you even start assembling it, you use all your options to look at ... having a side view and seeing all sorts of other things, like the paint or the adhesives or nails – whatever you can find out by looking at all of the bits and pieces. And then you arrange it, but you have to see the patterns of the carvings, you know, you can recreate the shapes and things like this.

Alexander Lencz

So the condition we found the pare 5168 in was it was mounted on unfitting door jambs and it accidentally fell into many pieces. So we had to demount it first and have a look at how it might have been together as a piece.

So I was looking at all the different bits and pieces, and a really close look at them. And also looked at the crack edges, so if the remains of glue or paint on the surface of the crack edges to give me a hint if this is an old crack or a new one, for example.

The fact that the wood split gave us also the possibility to take samples of the wood without hurting the surface. So we had crack edges where we could take samples of the wood off.

Heike Winkelbauer

So, we got the wood identified by the university, and it’s tōtara, so it’s carved out of tōtara. And we also found out that most of the cracks were all with the wood grain and that, after talking to other experts, it’s a very common pattern for tōtara to break.

Dr Ocean Mercier

Tērā pea kei te tohunga whakairo nei, a Lyonel Grant, he kōrero tāpiri. (Carver Lyonel Grant could add to their findings.)

Lyonel Grant

Initially, it was just the cracking, and the way it cracks across the short grain, it’s just typical of tōtara. I mean, it’s a pretty good guess to identify tōtara as the major timber used in that particular area in Te Arawa. If it was indeed, it came from the Maketu area. The wood of choice is tōtara for carvers anyway, and it’s in abundance in the Te Arawa rohe.

It’s stylistically generally looks like the Te Arawa layout where you might have three prominent figures across the pare composition with the arms stretched up. You know, it was quite common 1860s/1880s, so you saw that quite a lot that composition. So, if you didn’t know anything else, you’d say well it’s Te Arawa, you know, just from that. And then you look at the cuts and the just the general lay of the work, and it’s not hard to draw that conclusion really.

Dr Ocean Mercier

Initial assessments of pare 5168 had uncovered information hei makenu noa i tōna whakapapa (that could help to trace its history), but there was still much to be done. With the conservators able to provide state-of-the-art analysis of materials, there was still a lot to learn about the pare before they even began the painstaking work of piecing it back together.

Pare 5168, which had been in the Auckland War Memorial Museum collection since 1901, had been shattered by an accident in the 1980s.

Kua whakatūria he roopu awhe hei whakahaere i te whakahōutanga. (A working group had been formed to oversee the restoration.) Conservators were driving the restoration work, and master carver Lyonel Grant was providing his expertise, while the Taumata-ā-Iwi group ensured cultural protocols were observed.

Bernard Makoare

Heike and Alex were very conscious at the very beginning of being as respectful as they can be culturally, that they knew that they had technical expertise and ability, but they also declared that their knowledge of cultural aspects was minimal. So that’s where our role is really is to ensure that their ability is able to be brought to the project so that the project is successful and that the care for the whole project in a cultural sense comes down to us as the Taumata-ā-Iwi.

Alexander Lencz

So after a visual examination, we used micro-chemical tests to identify the binding media or tried to identify it. The tests are invasive, so you have to take a really small sample. We use a sample of the glue and use different chemicals to try to stain the sample, and a colour change indicates the presence of, in this case, protein, for example. 

So what I’m going to do is take a sample of the high glue, just a really small one will do, and put a drop of copper II sulfate on it. Afterwards, I’m going to put a small amount of sodium hydroxide solution on it, and if the sample turns violet or blue, that indicates the presence of proteins. The adhesive that was used included protein, so it was most likely some kind of animal glue.

Lyonel Grant

Possibly might’ve been the glue on hand at the time that whoever needed to repair that pare at the time used. And it could’ve been borrowed off a farmer or a local exponent, you know. So I guess I’ve seen carvings that haven’t been glued, just been dowelled – pinned and dowelled because … and then you might fill up the gap with resin, and that’s the repair done. There’s no glue. So the fact that there was glue, they had access to a certain amount of technology then.

Heike Winkelbauer

Europeans used a lot of animal bone glues and things, so that would also fit with the timeline that it was carved in the 19th century.

Alexander Lencz

Second half.

Heike Winkelbauer

Second half.        

Dr Ocean Mercier

E ai ki te aromatawai kāpia, nō te wāhanga tuarua o te rautau tekau ma iwa, ngā whakatikatika. Ināianei ka wānanga te roopu rokiroki i ētahi atu āhuatanga o pare 5168. (With the glue analysis dating the repair to the second half of the 19th century, the conservation team moved onto other aspects of pare 5168.)

Alexander Lencz

I got the cross-sections of the pare here. I think this one is pretty good.

Dr Ocean Mercier

Ko te hangarau karuwhakarahi ta Alex raua ko Heike e whakamahi nei ki te rangahou korero mo te peita o runga I te pare. (The microscope that Alex and Heike are using will hopefully determine the paint used on the pare.)

Alexander Lencz

At a magnification of 10, we can get a pretty good overview.

Heike Winkelbauer

We are looking at all of the layers from the wood to the top surface which we can see. So this is the top red paint layer, which you can see when you look onto the carving, and this at the bottom here is the wood. So you can see that there is one red paint layer, and then there’s maybe it’s accumulation of dirt, then you have another red paint layer and then you have the same fine line here again, which could be, again, due to the exposure to the environment. And then you have the white, and then you have a relatively large thick area where we also think that this could be accumulation of dirt and particles due to the exposure when it was maybe in a house or a meeting house, and then you have all of the wood cells.

The sample size is probably around 3 mm by a half millimetre and, of course, the sample was taken from one of the break lines, so you can’t see it when the object comes back together.

So you can see the different colours, the different reds. It’s very, very high likelihood that the last paint was applied here at the museum to make it all looking like it belongs together.

Lyonel Grant

If you need to impress the aristocracy that … an impending visit, well then you just go around with red paint and you make them all red, you know, and make it as palatable to the aristocracy as you possibly can. And so it’s easier to just go over them and make them all look pretty without any thought of the reasons why or how that they became what they were in the first place.

So, I mean, you know, that’s not the worst thing, you can take paint off. I mean, chopping the top of pou tokomanawa figures is even more reprehensible, I guess. You know, cutting things to length because they don’t fit into a box or don’t fit into the stud height of a building, that’s even worse. But at least with paint, you can take it off.

Why carvings are red is because the heart tōtara is very red in its appearance, and you add oil and kōkōwai on the top of that, and it just enhances this rich red glow that the carvings have, and it’s a very desirable colour, it’s a very sacred colour to Māori. The blood of Mother Earth, Papatūānuku, applied to the carving to give it more ihi and wehi. So, the white is interesting that there didn’t seem to be any traces of black, so the white was strictly used as an undercoat, and tōtara is classically difficult to undercoat, because you would have to have certain tōtara primers for the undercoat to adhere to tōtara, because of the oil that it had in the timber. So it’s interesting that the initial layer was a white.

Dr Ocean Mercier

Pare 5168 was slowly shedding its secrets under the analysis of the team, but the conservators still faced the challenge of restoration. Rebuilding the shattered taonga would test Alex’s skills and reveal still more about its story.

Nā te āta rangahau i a pare 5168 (Close analysis of pare 5168), which had lain in pieces for over 30 years, kua hua mai ētahi āhuatanga o tōna hītori kāore i mōhiotia i mua (had revealed unknown aspects of its history).

Now it was time for intern Alex to set about the rebuild.

Alexander Lencz

We removed the old glue with just cotton wool and warm water.

When that was done, we used a synthetic resin for the reassembling. Well, we needed a glue that is easily reversible to be able to … well, to quickly correct mistakes. We glued pieces of tōtara together, and we tested the strength of the bonding with a little machine that I built. The little machine that I built measures the pressure that you can put on the bonding before it cracks so the strength of the bonding itself.

So, we started with relatively small pieces of the pare and glued them together with clamps. Where it was possible, we used those conservation clamps that are really lightweight to put pressure on the joints.

Well, the reassembly of the object, of course, was much more complicated than this, and it took a few weeks to get it all done.

Of course, the crack edges weren’t always straight, and of course, the surface of the object wasn’t always even, so we used wedges to balance the angle. At first, we … I reassembled the object, and afterwards we had the meeting with the practitioners. Yeah, I was quite nervous about it, but they showed a great respect towards my work, and so it was a really good atmosphere.

Bernard Makoare

It was an emotional thing to see the degree of restoration and also the care that the conservators took in the process, and I’m confident that the results for people to see are exciting and also mean a great deal for new museum practice, the linking of modern technology and ancient lived mātauranga Māori, and in a way that can benefit an institution but not at the expense of the descendants of the originators of the information about the taonga to begin with.

Heike Winkelbauer

And a wonderful part of our job is that we can bring pieces together again and do the artist justice, the culture, that it’s displayable again, people can look at it and appreciate it without seeing only parts. And I think it’s a beautiful part of our job that we are able to assemble things back together and give them their meaning back – how they were supposed to be looked at. Beautiful.

Alexander Lencz

Yeah. It’s a very good feeling to see it this way. I think we did a good job to, yeah, complete it or bring it closer to its original appearance as far as we could. And it’s also a good way … it’s also good to see it in the way that it’s packed now, that it’s safe and it’s reassembled and stored properly.

Heike Winkelbauer

And I think it was really special to meet Lyonel and Bernard, and that has a special emotional attachment because it’s not just the repair work but also learning so much new and being able to meet such amazing carvers and it was great. I thought it was one of those experience which you don’t forget. A special experience.

Alexander Lencz

Yeah, the exchange with the practitioners was very moving somehow.

Heike Winkelbauer

It was amazing that we were allowed to have a window, you know, looking into a different world where we normally are not exposed to.

Alexander Lencz

This piece brought a lot of people together to exchange and to talk about it and also talk about cultural similarities and differences.

Lyonel Grant

The earlier thinking I’d quite enjoy it if a piece of mine came under the knife in that way in a hundred years or whatever and got that sort of treatment, you know, to reinstate it, to bring it back to its former glory. They did a great job, really great, and probably more patience than a carver might’ve had. I know my grandfather would’ve just put a screw in it. He was a carver, but he’s a boat builder, but he would’ve just put a screw in it or a nail in it, and you can see it’s had that sort of abuse as well in its day. So they carefully take those out and put it back together properly, so I’m pretty impressed with the level of work that went on.

It’s such a great opportunity to be actually plugged into something like this, a programme like this, you know, and I have to thank Bernie for that, that they’re coming and asking carvers, “What do you think? Can you give us some sort of impression of this piece?” you know, and that’s an element that a carver might be able to contribute to the conversation that non-carvers can’t.

Bernard Makoare

The real platform that the restoration has provided the museum is the idea of lived knowledge represented by practitioners like Lyonel Grant and the learned knowledge from Heike and her team and practitioners like Alex, bringing that together and in a humble piece like this and then providing a platform to explore further what can be explored, learned, how this may, in this new form, inspire further work to happen.

Heike Winkelbauer

It’s exciting, and it should always happen, and it should be part of how we work.

Bernard Makoare

One of the exciting things – maybe very difficult to translate into policy – is that Heike, Alex, Lyonel, the curators, of course, the Taumata-ā-Iwi is a series of relationships that have come together and have worked well. We’ll assess what has worked well and then suggest that as a new practice in the future and particularly looking at taonga like the pare.

Chanel Clarke

We could carry on as a museum, you know, doing this type of work as we’ve usually done and not include the community or not have these types of conversations with practitioners, with artists, with descendants, but it only gives one half of the story.

There’s another whole side of the story that isn’t revealed if the community is not involved, and when we’re looking into a co-development approach, in terms of our galleries, to have this information already where we can approach iwi groups or descendants with a list of taonga that are in need of repair and work with them together in identifying which ones can be worked on and in identifying other groups, other parties that might be able to contribute to the conversation, it makes for a much richer story. You know, when you see the picture of the pare just like a jigsaw puzzle and then you see it all put back together again, it was pretty amazing.

Dr Ocean Mercier

After lying broken for close to three decades, pare 5168 has been given a new lease of life, and its story has been filled out significantly, and the groundbreaking practice of matching practitioners with conservators has been an enriching one.

Nā te moe tahi a te mātauranga tikanga whakairo me te mātauranga tiaki taonga o Heike rāua ko Alex kua ora anō te tongarerewā nei, otira, kua ora anō tōna mana. (Marrying mātauranga around the practices of carving with the conservation skills of Heike and Alex has resulted in a project that not only restored the object but also its mana

And although it’s back in one piece, I’ve got a feeling that this pare still has more to tell us.

Acknowledgements

Video courtesy of Scottie Productions.
© Scottie Productions2013.