PUBLICATION REVIEWS


Ornament Bookshelf 37.2



Amelia Peck. editor, 2013 Interwoven Globe: The Worldwide Textile Trade, 1500-1800. Yale University Press: 360 pp., hardcover $65.00.

Calico, damask, nankeen: their very names reveal their intimate relationship to place. The premise of Interwoven Globe—that textiles bridge cultures and borders—is simple, even simplistic. But there is nothing simple or straightforward about the astonishing pieces gathered together in this catalog of the blockbuster Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition (which closed in January).

In the Met’s galleries, the history of technology, exploration, commerce, and conflict was eloquently spelled out in impressive and, often, extremely large textiles. The catalog adds depth and breadth to what was already an unusually scholarly and wide-ranging exhibition. Essays by an interdisciplinary team of curators delve into the formation of the museum’s textile collection, the history of the dye trade, European Orientalism, the North and South American markets, and the roles of Japan, China, Spain, India, Portugal, Turkey, and Iran in the global textile economy. The essays incorporate images and objects—temple carvings, casta paintings, dolls, fashion plates—not included in the show, which illustrate how textiles were worn and used. Several maps trace the spread of motifs, dyes and techniques. The book concludes with a wonderfully thorough checklist of the exhibition’s one hundred twenty objects, and a less-thorough glossary.

The first piece in the checklist—a seventeenth-century gold silk quilt with a three-masted ship stitched at its center—sets the stage for a story of trade, not conquest (although conquest gets its due). It is thought to have been made in Mediterranean Europe, but displays Chinese and Indian influences; what is more, it belongs to Winterthur, a museum of early American art. Anyone accustomed to thinking of textiles in terms of East and West, Orient and Occident, will think again. Certain artifacts, like bizarre silks, are so hybrid that experts still do not know exactly where they came from.

Here, the exceptional is the rule. A stunning bizarre silk made in China in the early eighteenth century was woven on a narrow European-style loom rather than a wide Chinese loom—perhaps a deliberate attempt to circumvent the French and English ban on Asian imports. The swirling vine motif with playful animals embroidered on an eighteenth-century bedcover is typically English, but the addition of tigers, peacocks and elephants betrays its Indian origin. An American schoolgirl’s sampler is painstakingly embroidered with a Turkish harem scene.

Technical analysis proves key to the curatorial detective work. An eighteenth-century Mexican wedding coverlet is embroidered with yarns of Chinese silk, colored by European and American dyes. The velvet of a stunning compass cloak worn by a Portuguese man in the sixteenth century is identified as Chinese by its selvedge and by the right-handed twist of its distinctive gold thread; the authors speculate that it may have been a diplomatic gift.

Beyond the selection and identification of rare and fragile objects, the challenges of mounting such an exhibition (or publishing such a book) are myriad. Trade textiles are often overlooked by museums, “straddling not only cultures but also the line between artifact and art,” Peck writes. “Interwoven Globe” required collaboration across several of the Met’s departments: European decorative arts, Asian art, Islamic art, American art, and costume. More than three quarters of the objects in the book come from Met’s encyclopedic collection; the rest are knockout loans.

It is a monumental achievement, lacking only a few things. Though the checklist is generously illustrated, the book cannot replicate the experience of seeing vast shawls, carpets and coverlets up close in spacious galleries. By ending in 1800, the authors miss the opportunity to explore the age of industrialization and international exhibitions. And although they are primarily concerned with where, more information on how these extraordinary textiles were made would have been welcome.

Interwoven Globe recalls a time when export textiles were coveted status symbols and sources of design inspiration—an especially poignant theme given current attitudes towards clothes made in China or Bangladesh. One client of the Oberkampf printed cotton manufactory boasted that you could not tell their chintzes were made in France, rather than India. Globalization never looked so good.  

 

Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell

 

 

 

Sofia Hedman. editor, 2013 A Queen Within: Adorned Archetypes, Fashion and Chess. World Chess Hall of Fame: unpaginated, softbound $75.00, available only in museum store Q Boutique.

Glen R. Brown reviews “The Queen Within,” pages 34-37 in this issue, and showing through April 18 at the World Chess Hall of Fame in St. Louis, Missouri. The exhibition explores nine personas of the queen archetype: Sage, Mother Figure, Magician, Enchantress, Explorer, Ruler, Mother Earth, Heroine, and Orphan. London-based Sofia Hedman, a fashion curator, designer and artist, was brought in to develop a thematic exhibition that would explore the powerful role of the queen in the game of chess. In her exhibition designs, Hedman’s primary interests reside in conceptual and experimental interpretations in the realm of fashion and art. Only having seen pictures of the exhibition installation on the internet, it seems Hedman has achieved somewhat of a nightmarish magical maze in the thirty-two-hundred square feet given over to celebrating the female in contemporary fashion.

The exhibition catalog is faithful to Hedman’s visual ethos. Working in tandem with her partner, graphic designer Serge Martynov, the presentation is graphically awesome but an almost incoherent warren of visual gimmicks and sometimes impossible to follow. Avant garde and amusing chic may apply, but discerning content it is not. Coffee table book anyone?

 

Carolyn L. E. Benesh

 

 

 

 

 

 

Michael McCollom. 2014 The Way We Wore: Black Style Then. Glitterati Inc.: 176 pp., hardcover $30.00.

This is one charmer of a book and essentially a pictorial one. The wonderful photographs, though, are accompanied by delightful captions, each a commentary on black personal fashion, style and culture, ranging from the 1940s onward. Many of the photographs are drawn from the author’s personal collection from his own family and friends.

Given the enormous profits in the bead trade, there was fierce competition, and sometimes co-operation, among the European producers, who had already edged out native makers like the Indians. The author attempts to sort out who made what, using bead sample cards, as the modified Prosser process was used by the French, the Czechs and others. She also picked through the former Bapterosses factory dumpsite, which is so large that it is easily seen on Google Earth maps. Kaspers was able to verify some of what was actually produced at Briare, by beads she found herself, as well as from other collections of discards. The thought of being able to collect in this bead goldmine must be tantalizing, as it was to me.

Everyday African-American fashion is spiritedly and, one might properly infer, lovingly and respectfully shown, from white wedding dresses to bell-bottoms, mini dresses, knee high boots, and the glorious Afros. These are photographs of people enjoying the special moments of their lives, whether wearing their Sunday best or flaunting the outrageous fads that continuously sweep our nation. I could not help humming the lyrics of Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t worry, Be Happy,” from 1988. Buy this book: you will be glad that you did, no worries there.

 

CLEB

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lois S. Dubin. 2014 Floral Journey: Native North American Beadwork. Autry National Center of the American West/University of Washington Press: 250 pp., hardcover $65.00, softcover $48.00, available at the Autry Store.

Lois S. Dubin’s scholarship is widely recognized and appreciated. She has spent many years of her career either curating exhibitions or writing about Native American subjects, sometimes both. Her latest effort is the companion publication to her current curatorial effort: “Floral Journey: Native North American Beadwork,” now showing through April 26, 2015 at the Autry National Center of the American West. While the exhibition is a must see, the richly illustrated catalog is a must read, as it presents the history of how American Indian flower imagery, following European contact, became a major artform as well as a symbol of Native cultural and economic resilience.

The book shows in large format beaded and quilled moccasins, bags, dresses, hats, and jackets. Beautifully crafted by Native women, floral beadwork flourished from the Eastern Woodlands to the Columbia River Plateau as the fur trade and white settlement spread across the frontiers of the North American continent. The examples shown demonstrate just how Natives have always valued the decorative arts and the degree to which embellishment was core to their personal identity, from ancient times at Mesa Verde to the 2014 Heard Museum Guild Indian Market and Fair, in downtown Phoenix.

 

CLEB

 

 

 

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Our upcoming issue 37.4 contains

 

Nubian Jewelry

Kate Mensah

Philadelphia Craft Show

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