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Cloth that Grows on Trees

Date Dec 6, 2006 - Apr 15, 2007
Curated by Max Allen

Exhibition Overview

In tropical regions around the equator, people make clothes and ceremonial textiles from bark-cloth. Such cloth is not woven on looms; instead, it is pounded and stretched into thin, flexible sheets that are as smooth as paper, but much stronger. In fact, in many places pounded bark was probably the ancestor of paper.

The 2006 exhibition Cloth That Grows On Trees includes bark-cloth from Tonga, Uganda, Borneo, Fiji and Papua New Guinea. Curated by Textile Museum co-founder Max Allen, this is the first major exhibition of bark-cloth from the museum's collection, and the first in a Canadian museum.

Additional Information

In the tropics, where the climate is too hot or too wet to produce wool, silk or cotton, people make “cloth” not by weaving it, but rather, by pounding it from the bark of trees.

Sheets of soft inner bark are pounded on wooden anvils to further soften and expand them. Sometimes the sheets are joined together to make huge cloths used as carpets or ceremonial hangings. Smaller pieces are used as clothing. Bark-cloth can be decorated by free-hand painting, by stencilling, or by rubbing it over carved pattern-blocks.

Bark-cloth has been used in regions around the equator since the dawn of history. But perhaps you’ve never come across this ingenious invention. This is the first major exhibition in a Canadian museum of the cloth that grows on trees.

<i>Bark cloth</i>, Venezuela, 20th century
Installation, Photo: Jill Kitchener
Installation, Photo: Jill Kitchener
Installation, Photo: Jill Kitchener
<i>Bark cloth</i>, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 20th century
Installation, Photo: Jill Kitchener
<i>Ceremonial tunic</i>, Indonesia, early 20th century
<i>Vest</i>, Indonesia, 20th century
Installation, Photo: Jill Kitchener
<i>Hat</i>, Papua New Guinea, 20th century
<i>Bark cloth</i>, Tonga, 20th century
<i>Skirt</i>, Papua New Guinea, 20th century
View Collection Artifacts from this Exhibition