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Sunday, May 15 • 3:00pm - 3:30pm
(Textiles) Inherent Vice in the Woven Structure of Northwest Coast Spruce Root Hats

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This paper investigates a selection of Aboriginal Northwest coast woven hats, detailing their materials, fabrication and treatment history. It also describes current strategies undertaken for the stabilization of the hats and the decision making process applied to the care and maintenance of such a collection. The McCord Museum in Montréal is a Canadian social history museum that counts among its many collections a rich and diverse group of First Nations objects. As a means of highlighting this collection, the museum has mounted a permanent exhibition entitled Wearing Our Identity, which examines clothing and implements originating from several North American First Nations. The exhibition invites a discussion not only of the historical use and functionality of these objects in traditional and contemporary life, but also treats clothing as an expression of personal, political and spiritual identity in First Nations cultures. The scheduled exhibition length of five years has necessitated the rotation of objects from the collection as a means of limiting the exposure and stress placed upon such fragile artifacts. Among the objects chosen for the exhibition’s rotation schedule are five painted woven spruce root hats from Aboriginal Nations on the Northwest coast of Canada. A survey of spruce root hats in preparation for this exhibition revealed that conservation treatments had been undertaken on the majority of them at some point in their history, with several having undergone multiple interventions. It was necessary to thoroughly examine these past interventions in order to critically assess changes or improvements for newer treatments. Questions arose as to whether or not some repairs were traditional Aboriginal repairs done in communities where the hats originated, or resultant from later non-Aboriginal handling. The hats, in the shape of a truncated cone with a concave disc at the top of the crown, are woven in a continuous circular line that starts at the centre top of the crown and winds its way down through the brim to the outer edge. This complex weave structure can cause deformation, splits and breaks in the finished object. Several of the treatments failed soon after they had been completed, likely due to tensions present in the woven structure. The painted designs on a few of the hats have faded significantly, and in some instances there are large areas of loss. While the general shape and materials used for the hats are similar, there are numerous differences not only in fabrication technique, but also in application of painted decoration and of pigments and binders used. However, through the process of treating and stabilizing these hats, one finds parallels in areas of weakness and their ensuing problems. Notwithstanding the aesthetic beauty of the objects, one is confronted with the question as to whether the very process used to fabricate the hats may result in inherent vice, where structural tensions in the finished product may in turn lead to difficulties in its preservation.

avatar for Sara Serban

Sara Serban

Objects Conservator, Musée McCord
Sara Serban is currently Conservator of objects at the Musée McCord in Montréal. She has also worked at the National Gallery of Canada and the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal. In addition, she has worked for the Centre de Conservation du Québec, for whom she has treated... Read More →

Sunday May 15, 2016 3:00pm - 3:30pm EDT
Room 511 A/D