Thick band or bracelet. Constructed of woven roots from the vanilla bean plant (family Orchidaeceae, genus Vanilla). Weave pattern most closely resembles plaited twill with a 2/2 interval.
The bracelet is important foremost because of its collector and the circumstances of how it came to the Kew collections. Gustav Mann donated the object to the museum in the early 1900s. Mann, a German gardener at the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew, collected thousands of botanic specimens from West Africa and later Darjeeling during his time with the Indian Forest Service. Many of these specimens can still be found in the Economic Botany Collection.
While the collector of the bracelet is known, its exact provenance and culture are not given. The object record posits that the band originated in “Tropical West Africa,” but offers no further information.
A great part of the significance of the object comes from the material it is made from. Even with extensive research, I have been unable to find any other objects in ethnographic collections and worldwide museums that are made from vanilla root. Many objects, especially from Mexico, are constructed from vanilla pods. However, no other examples of vanilla root as a weaving material were found. However, the Economic Botany Collection has objects made from plant materials, which are identified down to the genus and species level. Many analogous objects in ethnographic and anthropological collections probably do not have the precise plant materials identified to this level. As such, collections may contain woven vanilla root and not know it.
A black, sooty material coats the entire surface of the band.
The vanilla root fibers woven into the band have become brittle. The band was torn in half at some point in its history. A woven section approximately 3.2 x 3.0 centimetres is missing from the object. On all edges of the break and missing area, the root fibers are torn. They easily become detached with any movement of the band.
The band has become distorted and warped, especially on either side of a small tear.
Clean ingrained museum dirt from the woven roots. Repair breakages and fill missing area to restore handleability and allow the bracelet to be more easily interpreted.
The bracelet was cleaned with Groomstick (molecular trap) to remove surface soiling.
Under local humidification with a Preservation Pencil, the small tear in the bracelet was repaired using hard Tyvek (flash-woven polyethylene fibers).
The Tyvek was toned with Golden Acrylics cut into uniform 1.0mm strips and woven through the missing areas and tacked into place with arrowroot and sodium alginate paste.
Small, alligator clips, softened by small pieces of Plastazote foam were used to clamp the repairs as they set
To make the fill, the strips were woven into a 2/2 plaited twill pattern to match surrounding areas on the bracelet. It was interwoven into the areas surrounding the loss and attached with arrowroot and sodium alginate paste. The fill was toned a darker color with Golden Acrylic paints to match.