First, what is Barkcloth?
"Barkcloth is a versatile material that was once common in Asia, Africa, Indonesia, and the Pacific. Barkcloth comes primarily from trees of the Moraceae family, including Broussonetia papyrifera, Artocarpus altilis, and Ficus natalensis. It is made by beating sodden strips of the fibrous inner bark of these trees into sheets, which are then finished into a variety of items. Many texts that mention "paper" clothing are actually referring to barkcloth." -- Wikipedia, accessed February 24, 2018
Given the fibrous nature of the material and methods of fabrication, barkcloth is often characterized by creased surfaces, undulating edges and irregular sizes. It is used for clothing, for masks and various ritual objects, to support painted decoration and to mark sacred spaces. Write Nicholas Thomas and Jonathan Watkins, "... barkcloth formed a major vehicle for creativity, kinship, exchange, and the expression of political prestige. Everywhere these fabrics maintained and communicated the artists’ deep connections to ancestors and country." 
Mounting with Magnets
Barkcloth has long been a challenge to mount in museums due to its wide variety and difficulty of fitting it within standard mounting museum methods. For one, is it a textile or paper? Actually, neither of these fully describe the nature of this material. Conservators have in the past generally mounted barkcloth as though it was a textile, using Velcro, sleeves for rods, hinges or even Plexiglas clips in an attempt to find a suitable method to support these widely varied materials.
As one can imagine the possibilities of using magnets is now an increasingly viable option. What has become clear in researching magnetic systems for mounting barkcloth with magnets, however, is that few systems have been published. The few systems that have been published do not fully describe the system such that could be fully reproduced.
Part of the reason to visit Monique Pullman at the British Museum was to see she how she has mounted barkcloth in their collection. She showed me a method were she attached a 'magnetic' stainless steel sheet to a Tycore (honeycomb archival paper board) mount. The full mount was covered with flannel and display fabric (for information about 'magnetic' stainless steel see our recent post 'What is magnetized stainless steel?'). The fabric-covered, disc-shaped N42 grade magnets were positioned along the upper and side edges of the barkcloth, as shown below. The outer surface of the magnets were covered with toned Japanese tissue paper (more can be read about camouflage of magnets by reading 'How do I camouflage my magnets?').
|Cross-section of the magnetic mounting system used by Monique Pullman and the British Museum (left);|
Schematic showing the location of the individual disc-shaped magnets along the upper and side edges.
|Monique Pullman's mock-up board for her |
magnetic system for mounting Barkcloth.
This is only one of the many variations of magnetic mounting systems that have been used and that I have documented. A summary of all of the systems found at this time is that they are all 'point-fasteners', in essence where single individual magnets, either disc- or block-shaped, are used with a receiving metal.
In studying the magnetic systems used, I have been interested in the spacing and location of the individual magnets, the weight and thickness of the barkcloth, the grade, size and shape of the magnet, as well as the type and gauge of the receiving side metal or the ferromagnetic material, whether stainless steel or steel. All of these details are important to gather in order to replicate the mounting system or to even develop a possible 'rule of thumb' to mount an artifact as varied as barkcloth.
Learn more about magnets and their many uses in the new publications Magnetic Mounting Systems for Museums and Cultural Institutions. Available for purchase at www.spicerart.com/magnetbook.
 Nicholas Thomas and Jonathan Watkins. Tapa: Barkcloth Paintings from the Pacific. Exhibition Catalogue, Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, UK. 2013.
Kimberly Adams. World in Progress: Modern Bark cloth in Uganda. Deutsche Welle. (2016-01-27). 2016-01-28.
Margot M. Wright (ed.). Barkcloth: Aspects of preparation, use,deterioration, conservation and display, 96-111. London: Archetype Publications. 2007.
Peter Mesenhöller and Annemarie Stauffer (eds.). Made in Oceana: Proceedings of the International Symposium on Social and Cultural Meanings and Presentation of Oceanic Tapa. 117-28. Newcastle on Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing. 2014.
UNESCO. Bark Cloth Making in Uganda. 2005.