Focus on Central Asia

Michele Hardy of the Nickle Galleries in Calgary recently shared this article entitled How Soviet propaganda influenced traditional Oriental carpets. Having seen similar carpets and textiles in Central Asia I found it a fascinating read.

An embroidered portrait of Molotov, dated 1934-35 from the collection of the Azerbaijani Carpet Museum in Baku

It’s difficult to be certain, but this portrait of Molotov appears to be chain stitch embroidery on broadcloth. The basic structure and outer motifs in the carpet below appear to be quite classical, but just look at the subject of the central lozenge.

Carpet from 1969 showing a laboratory. State Museum of Oriental Art, Moscow.

The subject of Soviet propaganda was also examined by Irina Bogoslovskaya at the Textile Society of America Symposium in 2012 in her paper The Soviet “Invasion” of Central Asian Applied Arts: How Artisans Incorporated Communist Political Messages and Symbols. I remember being really struck by the some of the motifs Irina showed during her talk, the full text of which can be downloaded here. In it she states that “a powerful way to show the difference between Czarist and Soviet power was through mass-propaganda art” and explains how this applied not just to Socialist Realism in paintings, but also to textiles, carpets and even china.

Cotton print from the early 1930s featuring the Turkestan-Siberia Railroad. Cotton print. Collection of I. Yasinskaya.

The cotton print above celebrates the Turkestan-Siberia Railroad, juxtaposing the images of the traditional method of transport – camels – with the modern railroad. Another very popular motif was agricultural machinery, as featured on this design by Sergei Burylin in 1925.

Printed cotton textile from the Ivanovo-Voznesensk Textile Factory

It seems that in the late 19th century the Russian manufacturers were printing textiles designed to appeal to the Central Asian market – generally with floral motifs on a vivid red background. We often see these textiles used as the lining on ikat chapans. The textile below is quite different in that it is clearly imitating an ikat design. This example was exhibited at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893 and was produced by the factory of Anton Gandurin and Brothers.

Textile from the factory of Anton Gandurin and Brothers, exhibited at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893

The D. G. Burylin Ivanovo State Museum of Local History has a really wonderful collection of printed textiles which you can access online. Entitled From hand block printing to printing machines: The fabrics collection of the Ivanovo Calico Museum, this showcases textiles from 1710-1931. The textile samples are shown in date order, giving us a great opportunity to see how the designs changed over time. Compare the two images below from 1900 and 1920 to see the sudden change in style.

Textile samples from 1900
Textile samples from 1920

The earliest textiles in the collection were hand-blocked and the design was achieved using soot and drying oil. We then move on to examples using madder and mordant dyeing, and later to roller printing. There are lots of ways of searching within the collection. I found the section on agitprop textiles in the 1920s fascinating. Many feel very modern and daring in their designs, but some feel like more of a halfway house, incorporating new motifs such as aeroplanes and stars with the familiar floral elements and colour palette.

Textile designed in 1930 by Olga Fedoseeva for the Ivanovo-Voznesensk State Textile Trust.

It’s also interesting to see how some Central Asian people adopted Soviet motifs. In Turkmenistan short neckties were embroidered by women for their husbands to wear to political meetings. Its clear that these were not traditional apparel as the Turkmen use the word galstuk – borrowed from the Russian – to describe them as there was no word for necktie in Turkmen. The embroidery style and the stitches used were typically Turkmen, but the motifs most definitely were not. Many incorporate important dates, the hammer and sickle, red star, or Kremlin clock tower.

A galstuck with traditional motifs in the lower half and a star, the date 1925 and SSSR embroidered in the top section.
Richardson Collection
A galstuk showing the clock tower of the Kremlin. Richardson Collection

A tush kiyiz is a wall-hanging intended for the interior of a Kyrgyz yurt. This particular example from the collection of the British Museum is far too large for that purpose and may well have been commissioned for a public building.

Tush kiyiz – wall-hanging from the 1950s-1980s featuring the emblems of Soviet Socialist Republics worked in chainstitch.
©The Trustees of the British Museum.

OATG members David and Sue Richardson have a very similar example in their collection. It was acquired 20 years ago in Bishkek and was said to have been made by an old lady from Novopavlovka. The date 1959 is embroidered on the central triangle. This textile illustrates the bizarre marriage of Soviet thinking and Soviet design with traditional Kyrgyz nomadic folk art. The border has been embroidered using quite thick cotton threads in chain stitch throughout. 

Tush kiyiz made in 1959. Richardson Collection

The design is a celebration of the Soviet Union, being dominated by circular medallions representing the Soviet Socialist Republics.  Most of the medallions conform to a set format, with a rising sun, a hammer and sickle, and some feature of the Republic concerned in the centre, and a frame of the local produce, mainly agricultural, such as wheat, maize, cotton, or trees. 

A hoopoe embroidered on the central section

The spaces between these medallions are filled with a variety of wild and domestic animals and birds: a butterfly, a goat, parrot, swan, geese, and cow; a horse, woodpecker and white doves of peace.  On the tumar some of the birds, such as the hoopoe and cuckoo, are named and even a Soviet warplane gets in on the act!

A Soviet plane, also embroidered on the central section.

More exciting online lectures and videos ….

PLEASE NOTE The video referred to in the title is no longer available. I will add it to a future blog when it is.

OATG member Dr Sarah Fee will be giving our first Zoom lecture later this month. Dr Fee is Senior Curator, Global Fashion & Textiles (Asia and Africa) at the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto.

For the first time in 50 years, the Royal Ontario Museum’s world-renowned collection of Indian chintz is being presented to the public in a new original exhibition. Lead curator Dr. Sarah Fee will share highlights from the exhibition and discuss its wider narrative arc that traces 750 years of global trade in, and desire for, this most-influential of India’s trade textiles, from medieval times to the present. She will also share the challenges of bringing the exhibit to fruition during this time of global pandemic.

This online talk will take place on Wednesday 21 October at 1830 BST. This event is free for OATG members and just £3 (payable by Paypal) for non-members. Please note that registration is essential.

We have another excellent talk lined up for December, and the next edition of Asian Textiles is out later this month so why not consider joining us? Click here for more details.

The Seattle Art Museum will host an online lecture TOMORROW with the intriguing title of Dragon’s Blood and the Blood of Dragons. This is part of their Saturday University Lecture Series: Color in Asian Art – Material and Meaning. The presenter is Jennifer Stager, Associate Professor of Art History, Johns Hopkins University.

As an entry point into attitudes toward color, this talk considers the red pigment identified as cinnabar or dragon’s blood in the ancient Mediterranean. The Roman historian Pliny the Elder attributes this pigment (derived from Socotra tree resin) to the blood of actual dragons living on the Indian subcontinent. His critique of painters for their indulgence and excess in using it—and the persistent idea that colors contaminate—stands against an idealized whiteness constructed in opposition to the materials and geopolitics of other cultures. Prof. Stager examines the afterlives of Pliny’s fantastical slander. Seattle Art Museum website.

This talk will take place on Saturday 3 October at 1000 Seattle time, which is 1800 in the UK. You need to register in advance.

Mrs. George nee Elizabeth Blakeway by Frederic William Burton, private collection

The Japan Foundation are hosting an online talk entitled Kimono Crossing the Sea – Its Power to Inspire Imagination and Creativity on Friday 16 October at 1200 BST.  Renowned fashion historian and curator, Fukai Akiko, will discuss how the kimono was depicted in the latter half of 19th century and the intriguing relationship between the kimono and artists.

For progressive artists such as Manet and Whistler, as well as innovative fashion designers such as Paul Poiret and Madeleine Vionnet, the kimono was not merely a beautiful garment invoking exoticism, but an inspirational source for their creativity and, as a result, we are able to perceive its significant influence in their pieces. – Japan Foundation.

The talk will be preceded by an introduction  by Anna Jackson, the Curator of Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk, and a brief conversation with Fukai Akiko will follow her lecture. Register for the talk here.

Finally Marilyn Murphy and her team at ClothRoads have put together another great list of textile-related events. Their list is definitely worth subscribing too as they often feature events that I don’t come across elsewhere.

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More reopenings!

 

PLEASE NOTE Subscribers who usually read this blog via their email may need to click on the blue title to access it through our WordPress site instead to enable them to watch the video.

Many museums are either now open once again, or are preparing to reopen soon. There will obviously be some changes to the visitor experience. In many cases tickets have to be booked in advance and one-way routes have been marked out. For example the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford reopened this week and everyone, including members, has to book their ticket in advance. This should lead to a better experience for all visitors.

The British Museum will be reopening on 27 August. To begin with only a selection of galleries will be opening, with more to be added later. Click here for the full list. Visitors will need to book a timed slot and follow the one-way route marked out.

The V&A in London has also partially reopened, with more galleries to be added to the list in the coming weeks. Please check their website for the new opening hours. Most exciting is the fact that their fantastic exhibition Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk will reopen on 27 August!

Standing courtesan, colour print from woodblocks, Katsukawa Shunsen, 1804-18, Japan. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

 

Parr (1893–1969); cotton or polyester cotton blend; screen printed. © Dorset Fine Arts

Further afield the Textile Museum of Canada opens again to the public on 19 August. Their current exhibition is entitled Printed Textiles from Kinngait Studios and celebrates these textiles which show the traditional way of life. Curated by Roxane Shaughnessy the exhibition also includes a small selection of clothing and footwear in addition to the examples of printed cloth. Last December I blogged about this exhibition, and a video has now been added to the museum’s website. For those (most of us) who can’t get to the museum this gives us a flavour of the textiles on display.

Last month I blogged about the major exhibition of chintz at the Royal Ontario Museum which had been postponed due to the pandemic. This will now open on 12 September. The museum website has lots of interesting background information and videos, including one about a rare book of Indian chintz patterns recorded by a Japanese cloth manufacturer which was published in 1785. Best of all is the video featuring OATG member Sarah Fee (the curator of this exhibition) in conversation with Anjli Patel examining the chintz collection “from the importance of historical pieces to the work of top designers embracing this heritage textile today.” This gives us a chance to see several of the textiles from the exhibition in close-up.

 

I was recently checking some of the Asian textile links on our WordPress site and noticed the Harris Museum in Preston, UK was listed. I checked out their website to see what collections they held, and became fascinated by the story of John Forbes Watson. In 1866 he put together an 18 volume set of fabric sample books entitled The Textile Manufactures of India. This was published by the India Office of the British Government. Forbes Watson was Reporter on the Products of India at the India Museum in London. As such he was responsible for identifying and cataloguing Indian products for the Secretary of State for India. “Forbes Watson’s great skill was as an organiser and cataloguer of information and objects. He re-organised the India Museum’s collections and published on a variety of subjects, including Indian tobacco, tea cultivation, and cotton. He even tried to catalogue the population of India in a photographic series called The Peoples of India (8 vols, 1868-75).” – Harris Museum website.

John Forbes Watson 1827-1892

Although he had worked in India for several years as a physician in the Bombay Medical Service, he did not return to India to collect the samples used in these books. Instead – textile lovers and curators look away now – he cut out sections from fabrics held in the stores of the India Museum and used them to create 20 sets of the 18 volume books. As you can imagine this involved hundreds of samples. The India Museum closed in 1879 and much of its contents were sent to the South Kensington Museum, now the V&A.

It’s important to realise that the fabrics chosen were not intended to fully represent the wide variety of textiles made in the region. Forbes Watson’s focus was on those fabrics which could be useful to British industry, more specifically to show manufacturers what they could copy. According to him “The 700 specimens … show what the people of India affect and deem suitable in the way of textile fabrics, and if the supply of these is to come from Britain, they must be imitated there. What is wanted, and what it is to be copied to meet that want, is thus accessible for study”.

 

Sample no 24 listed as a turban from fine cotton made in Jeypoor in Rajpootana.

 

A design registered by a British manufacturer which is clearly a copy of the sample shown above. ©Harris Museum and Art Gallery, Preston.

The Harris Museum website has a lot of fascinating background to these volumes and has now made all 700 textile samples in these books available to explore digitally for the first time. It is possible to just browse through each volume, or you can search under different categories. The title of the volumes is actually misleading as it only mentions India but they do contain some textiles from further afield such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, Uzbekistan and Nepal. I highly recommend taking a look.

A few days after discovering that website 2 different friends shared an article about these volumes from an Indian perspective. Written by Kaamya Sharma for The Hindu, we learn how copies of these books were sent to many British manufacturing locations and “As a result, cheap, mass-produced, British replicas of these samples inundated the Indian market within a decade. These were print imitations of intricate weaves whose technique had been developed and perfected by Indian weavers over several centuries. The cheaper prices of British textiles had a predictably devastating impact on Indian handlooms.” Forbes Watson was clearly a great admirer of Indian textiles and his books of samples are invaluable to textile historians, but we also need to acknowledge the devastating impact their publication had on the very textiles he so admired.

 

Moving to another area of Asia, I found this video by the Tracing Patterns Foundation on banana fibre cloths from Mindanao fascinating. This time the speaker is Craig Diamond, who has a passion for these T’nalak cloths woven by the Tboli people. The technique used is warp ikat and the colours are obtained using natural dyes. Craig explained that black is seen as the background, red as an embellishment, and white as the primary pattern. This was most helpful and something not every presenter would have thought of. The cloths have several uses, both for ceremonies and as a form of currency. I was amazed to learn that some are 35 feet in length!

With my interest piqued I started to look for more information on this textile tradition and found this article on the Narra Studio website provided a lot of background on how textiles are seen as a form of storytelling.

We hope OATG members enjoyed the special Lockdown Newsletter with a variety of interesting articles which was sent out last month. Please don’t forget to email our editor Gavin Strachan by the end of August if you have ideas for the next newsletter. These are being produced in addition to our usual Asian Textiles journal in recognition of the fact that we are currently not able to provide our usual programme of events. Don’t forget that all 76 back issues of our journals are available to search through and view online for members, with the first 62 also being available to non-members.

Newsflash!

Another exciting treat will also soon be arriving in your inboxes. Chris Buckley and Sandra Sardjono have produced an excellent video for us on Minangkabau Looms and Textiles. This will be in a password-protected area of our website and all members will receive the password in the coming days.

 

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Chintz at the ROM, Greek textiles and collection cataloguing

 

PLEASE NOTE Subscribers who usually read this blog via their email may need to click on the blue title to access it through our WordPress site instead to enable them to watch the video.

 

 

A major exhibition on Indian Chintz was due to open at the Royal Ontario Museum this Spring, but has had to be postponed due to the current situation. However all is not lost. The exhibition curator, OATG member Sarah Fee, will be in conversation with Anjli Patel this Wednesday 15 July. They will be examining the chintz collection “from the importance of historical pieces to the work of top designers embracing this heritage textile today.” ROM website. Sign up here for this free event which takes place at 4pm Ontario time (9pm GMT).

 

In addition to this presentation, the ROM has lots of fascinating information on the history and use of chintz on its website. This includes a look back at an earlier exhibition on chintz which took place in 1970 and a look at the global impact of Indian chintz. Why not immerse yourself in their website for a couple of hours?

 

Pages from an Embroideries Notebook of 1907, written by the author’s grandfather Alan J. B. Wace who was Keeper of Textiles at the V&A from 1924-1934

Now to a completely different topic – collecting, and more importantly, cataloguing and recording collections. This Hali article by Ann French, Collections Care Manager and Conservator (Textiles) at the Whitworth Art Gallery, looks at the role of archives in increasing our understanding of textiles. French examines how with “the opening up of museum archives, online availability of collections and access to others including family archives, a more complex picture of the interconnections, academic influences and research methods behind the early collecting of Greek embroideries is gradually emerging.” The aim is to re-catalogue certain collections of Greek embroideries, taking all of this new information into account. She discusses trying to trace a single object – in this case an embroidery from Melos – from the various recorded notes. This takes us on a journey from Liverpool to Cleveland Ohio, and from the V&A to the Textile Museum in Washington. A very detailed and interesting article .

Pholegandros pillowcase.

The importance of accurate recording of a collection was brought home to me by this statement from the article by Ann French:-

“This preservation together of labels and notebooks raises the issue of what conservators call the 10th Agent of Deterioration—Dissociation. Dissociation describes the loss of object-related data and therefore the ability to retrieve or associate objects and data. It affects the intellectual, and/or cultural aspects of an object as opposed to the other ten agents of deterioration (light, temperature etc.), which mainly affect the physical state of objects. Dissociation is a metaphysical agent and is prevented by maintaining and appreciating archives which make connections possible.” Ann French.

 

I was recently contacted by OATG member Nick Fielding on the same subject. We started a discussion on the different methods used to record private collections. As this is clearly a topic of interest to many of our members I’m including a request for suggestions on record-keeping from Nick in full below.

I am embarking on the daunting prospect of creating a virtual catalogue of Sheila Paine’s textile collection. It is ‘virtual’ because the collection itself has been broken up and is now scattered to the four corners of the globe. However, I have the card index files for each textile and, separately, photographs of each textile. Can anyone suggest a database or specific software that could be used to do this? I need approximately ten fields for info such as date of purchase, index number, location, description, price paid, etc, plus the facility of including up to five photographs for each entry. I know that museums use such (searchable) databases, but does anyone know of similar software for personal use? The aim is to produce a single searchable document of the whole collection that can then be stored by an institution or by individuals. It will be an invaluable research tool. When I have finished with Sheila’s records, I will embark on the same project in relation to my own collection. That should keep me busy for the next year or so…” 

If you have any useful suggestions – or indeed suggestions of methods to avoid – please email Nick directly. We will share this information at a later date.

 

Returning to the subject of Greek embroidery, I really enjoyed this short video by the Benaki Museum which focusses on 18th century bridal bolsters from Ioannina. It is presented in Greek by Xenia Politou, the curator of Modern Greek Culture, but has English subtitles.

 

In it Politou discusses the fascinating iconography depicted on these beautifully embroidered bolsters. We learn that the partridge is linked to fertility and that the hairpin, which looks like a branch, worn by the bride denoted a married woman. The links to the Ottomans are clear from the style of dress and the floral motifs used here can also be found on Iznik ceramics.

 

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Video: Fabric Pieces – Honouring the Past

 

This video was first broadcast by NHK World – Japan as part of its Core Kyoto series on 12 December 2018.

“Kyotoites in days of old valued high quality fabric and woven textiles from abroad like gold. Pieces of these fabrics have been handed down and continue to fascinate people today. Their eternal beauty is preserved through repurposing as tea utensil pouches, tobacco holders, obi sashes and even as works of art. Weavers strive to learn the techniques used in days gone by in order to reproduce them.”

Part of this video looks at the influence of Indian chintz on Japanese design and features an amazing scrapbook of fabric pieces. The problems of recreating different colours – especially red – are also discussed.

Another section of this video examines one man’s passion for kogire, as these old fabric pieces are called. Teiichiro Saito has over 1,000 of these small scraps, which he studies and tries to reproduce, or use as inspiration for new kimonos. Sometimes he adds small pieces of ancient fabric to modern designs. His most prized possession is a piece of Japanese fabric from the 1500s.

Please not this video is only available to view until 26 December so why not make a little time for yourself and watch it now – highly recommended viewing!

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Event: A Revolution in the Bedroom – How Indian dyed cottons transformed Europe’s interiors in the 17th and 18th centuries

 

Event date: Friday 29 June 2018 at 18:00, Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto.

Brightly coloured, washable Indian cotton fabrics revolutionised the décor of bedrooms and living-rooms of western households as soon as they were introduced in the 17th century.

Join Indian textiles specialist Rosemary Crill for a fascinating look at how the hybrid designs of these chintz fabrics, with their exotic flowers and trees, fed into the 18th-century craze for Chinoiserie, and how they became a staple element of western design vocabulary.

For more information visit the website of the Royal Ontario Museum

 

 

Exhibition: Chintz – Cotton in Bloom

Exhibition dates: 11 March – 10 September 2017

The Museum of Friesland in Leeuwarden presents a major exhibition of its extensive and well-preserved collection of chintz: the shiny, floral, hand-painted cotton from India that conquered sixteenth-century Europe. The beautiful patterns feel familiar while at the same time convey a special story. Objects displayed range from skirts, jackets, sun hats and regional clothing to wall hangings and blankets. The exhibition Chintz  Cotton in Bloom takes the visitor on a journey from India to Hindeloopen, Indonesia and Japan.

Chintz  Cotton in Bloom shows the wide variety of colourful floral patterns on skirts and jackets, as well as huge wapenpalempores (bedspreads larger than 3.5 x 2.5 metres with a coat of arms). The regional clothing demonstrates how the chintz was cherished and preserved. The visitor discovers the special techniques of this craft and how chintz played an important role in the world in the seventeenth century. In addition, the exhibition shows that chintz still inspires new initiatives in the field of handicrafts. Together with the Textiel Factorij, the Museum of Friesland presents contemporary works by Dutch artists and designers made with Indian craftsmen.

For more information, visit the website of the Fries Museum, Netherlands.