A preliminary investigation into material culture composed of western red cedar (Thuya plicata) bark

Ingrid Neuman and Harry A. Alden


This presentation will provide a general overview of typical examples of two and three-dimensional objects made from western red cedar found with museum collections. The basic botanical and chemical structure of this inner phloem material will be illustrated at the microscopic level with the aid of botanical staining methods. A discussion of manufacturing processes and traditional tools will follow. Deterioration mechanisms, both macroscopic and microscopic, will also be discussed.

One institution’s history of cedar bark conservation treatments, which involved the use of a wide range of adhesives, was studied for this project. Technical examinations of previously treated cedar bark mats with scanning electron microscopy and energy dispersive x-ray analysis were undertaken, and the tensile strength of both new and old samples of cedar bark were measured. One treatment of an individual cedar bark mat will be outlined here, including suggestions for exhibition mounting and storage, and an evaluation of a treatment after ten years will be presented. An updated bibliography will be included.

Although cedar bark has historically been manipulated for a wide variety of functional purposes by Native groups in the Northwest United States, and collected by anthropological and natural history museums internationally, conservation and preservation strategies have not been widely written about. The author hopes that this paper will initiate more discussion of and research into this extremely versatile material.

1999 | St. Louis | Volume 6