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Flat Storage of Tapa and Tapa Fragments


This system provides access and long-term, stable storage with minimal folding and stacking for tapa (barkcloth) and tapa fragments of various sizes and shapes.


Diana H.Dicus
Pacific Regional Cons. Ctr.
Bishop Museum,
P.O. Box 19000-A
Honolulu, HI 96817-0916 USA
Tel. (808) 848-4113
Fax. (808) 841-8968

Photograph: Linda W.F. Hee

Illustrations: Karen Ackoff after Tracie Mackenzie

Publication: 1992


The tapa is stored in gasketed steel cabinets, with locking double doors. Cabinets can be stacked two high and hold 15 metal drawers that slide out on steel channels. Each tapa is folded to the drawer dimension, with alkaline buffered tissue padding at the folds (Fig. 1).

Figure 1. Folded tapa in drawer of steel storage cabinet.

If several small tapa, or tapa fragments, are placed in one drawer, drawer-size alkaline buffered paper separates them and can be used to carry the tapa from the storage cabinet to study area.

Each drawer has an alkaline buffered lining paper on the bottom and a top lining paper dust cover, which also prevents any possibility of tapa snagging as the drawer is opened or closed.


Materials, Tools & Supplies

  • Alkaline buffered heavy lining paper
  • Alkaline buffered paper envelopes
  • Alkaline buffered tissue paper
  • Polyester film sleeves, 5 mm
  • Polyester tape with acrylic adhesive
  • Steel cabinets, 81 in (width) x 447/8 in (deep) x 367/8 in (height)
  • Steel drawers, 741/2 in (width) x 42 in (deep) x 17/8 in (height) or 23/4 in (height)


  1. Create a large, clean work area for working with the tapa.
  2. Measure and record the dimensions of the tapa.
  3. Measure the dimensions of the drawer.
  4. Determine the number of folds necessary to place a specific tapa in each drawer.
  5. Line each drawer with heavy, alkaline buffered lining paper cut to fit the inside dimensions of the drawer.
  6. Fold the tapa, padding each fold with alkaline buffered tissue, and place it inside the drawer on top of the lining paper (Fig. 2). 
    (See Comments regarding the need for humidification of tapa prior to unfolding and refolding.)

    Figure 2. Diagram of tapa folding for a large tapa.

  7. Cut alkaline buffered tissue to drawer size and cover the tapa.
  8. If there is room in the drawer, fold a second tapa and place it in the drawer over the first tapa (Fig. 3).

    Figure 3. Diagram of several folded tapa layered in a drawer.

  9. Cover the second tapa with alkaline buffered tissue.
  10. Cut a piece of heavy, alkaline buffered lining paper to the inner dimensions of the drawer and place it on top of the tapa. This second layer of paper acts as a drawer dust cover and provides physical protection against snagging.
  11. Make a list of the contents in each drawer, and protect the list with a polyester film sleeve. Place the list in an alkaline buffered envelope inside the cabinet door with 1in polyester tape, or add to collections database.
  12. The following documentation should be included in the list for each cabinet of the database:
  • Drawer letter designation.
  • Catalogue number of each tapa in the drawer.
  • Feature/motif of each tapa, such as color, watermark.
  • Function of each tapa, such as bedding, clothing.
  • Number of sheets in each tapa, or in fragment.
  • Number of folds for each tapa.
  • Donor/Collector.


Consult Rose et al. (1988) for documentation of the humidification system used to unfold tapas safely. This reference also gives details of some tapa repair and research done on the storage project.


Adapted From

Rose, R., C. Turchan, N. Firnhaber and L. Brown. 1988. The Bishop Museum tapa collection: conservation and research into special problems. Bishop Museum Occasional Papers, 28:1-34.

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