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A significant New Zealand artifact has had its first ever conservation treatment

February 8, 2018 | In the Press

From Stuff.com (https://www.stuff.co.nz/entertainment/arts/101247002/A-significant-New-Zealand-artifact-has-had-its-first-ever-conservation-treatment)

A  plough used in the Parihaka land wars of 1879 and which became a symbol of peace has gone through its first-ever conservation treatment. 

The artifact, on display in the Takapou Whariki gallery at Puke Ariki in New Plymouth, has been with the museum since the 1960s. 

"The plough is a rare survivor of that time, and that, combined with its history, makes it a potent and powerful object," Puke Ariki manager Kelvin Day said.

"The more work we do on our collections, the more of their unknown history we unlock."

The single-furrow plough is designed to be pulled by a horse and controlled by a person walking behind it. Due to this the handle had been somewhat damaged before arriving at Puke Ariki. 

Conservation work became necessary after curator for the taonga Maori collection, Kararaina Te Ira, noticed active corrosion in the working parts of the plough. 

"It's like a fungal disease. Once you get it, if you don't treat it it will spread.

"It's important so it needed to be cleared and preserved for as long as we can," Te Ira said. 

Auckland-based conservator Mahshid Ezbarami completed the conservation within the gallery as not to damage the object further. 

The process, completed within a week, involved removing any rust and coating the plough with a solution made of tannic acid (found in tea), phosphoric acid, and methylated spirits, which created a protective film.

Multiple coats of the solution resulted in the iron plough changing to a darker colour. 

During conservation many soil deposits were found and had to be removed. 

"Soil deposits hold moisture so we have to get rid of it. Best museum practice is to keep the dirt as it's proof of its use, but if it's at the detriment of the object then you have to consider removal." 

Te Ira is hopeful that if the plough stays in this condition another treatment won't be needed. 

"If it's nicked you expose the metal and the work restarts, but if it stays in this condition then time is on our side."

"The museum is climatically controlled, as if climate and humidity are changed too much it can be damaging to the artifacts we have on display," Day added. 

The plough was thought to have been used in the peaceful resistance of Parihaka to government land confiscations. This culminated in October 1881 when Native Affairs Minister William Rolleston signed a declaration to invade the village of 2,000 people.

The plough was on display in front of the signing table at the Parihaka Reconciliation signing in June.

Parihaka leader Te Whiti o Rongomai III famously told his people before the invasion: "Go, put your hands to the plough. Look not back. If any come with guns and swords, be not afraid. If they smite you, smite not in return. If they rend you, be not discouraged. Another will take up the good work."

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