Lovely to Look at: Difficult to Summarize
I have been absorbed by Mary Schoeser’s book Textiles: The Art of Mankind.
Schoeser has written many books on textile history, including World Textiles: A Concise History and Silk. This book is a little different – it is not a history book or a structured catalog of techniques. It is 555 glorious pages of full-color inspiration, with works both historic and modern, created by anonymous craftspeople as well as by well-known textile artists and designers.
Here’s what Schoeser says about her intention for the book:
Over the past forty years, the first-hand sight of hundreds of thousands of examples has convinced me that textiles are beautiful, inventive, expressive, and more. They reveal the human compulsion to engage with texture, colour, and storytelling. They record our ever-changing feelings of play, joy, wonder, and profound thoughtfulness. They preserve skills, encourage creativity and represent community. (p. 12)
By focusing on superb textiles from around the world, irrespective of their age, my aim is to inspire textile artists, those who are new to collecting, and those whose choices will shape the future of the textile arts. (p. 13)
-from the Introduction
The structure of this book is intriguing. There are six sections: Impact, Ingredients, Construction, Surface, Added Dimension, and Imagery. Each of the sections begins with an essay, and is rounded out by a selection of 150 – 200 textiles that illustrate that concept; a montage that might include an Egyptian linen fragment, a Chinese silk tapestry, a dress made out of gum wrappers, a mat made from strips of plastic bags, and Tibetan shoes made out of twined sisal.
Within each section, I had a hard time discerning any structure. I really couldn’t guess what criteria were used for selection and arrangement. Sometimes a work showed up in more than one section. Sometimes one image (for example, a butterfly) was shown in six textiles in a row, but then, on the next page, all the textiles seemed very disparate in imagery and material and technique – like, a tall feathered hat in bright colors juxtaposed with some tan felted shrinking figures.
But that really didn’t bother me. Together, the themes of the book and the unpredictable arrangement of the examples made me think in new ways. So I thought I would do a series of posts, looking for examples of each of those themes within my own textile collection.
First is Impact. Maybe because I live in a small country house instead of Highclere Castle, I have not considered trying to achieve “Impact” with textiles before. Generally I use textiles in very safe ways, just to add some softness or color to a room.
One exception is in the nature quilts I make to bring along to volunteer events. I would like those quilts to have visual impact, to catch people’s interest so we can teach them about pollinators and native plants.
To get an idea of how Schoeser sees “Impact,” here are three recent works that she included:
Belles de Jour/Belles de Nuit, 2009, by Marie-Laure Ilie. This is a large 3-D piece of transparent and pleated images of the drapery from classical statues.
Beauty in the Deep, 2006, by Jennifer Falck Linssen. This is a basket of katagami-style handcarved paper, with coiled sterling silver.
Nine Objects No. 7, 2004, and Untitled, (After Te-lta) 2010*, by Rowland Ricketts (both pieces are at the same link). The first piece is a basket made from maple keys and indigo-dyed wool, and the second piece is a large installation of indigo wool-covered stones.
So, looking around our house, there are not many candidates in the Impact category, but there is one textile that I would grant the label to.
This is a rug that belonged to my husband’s grandparents, but we don’t know where it came from before then.
It epitomizes Impact to me, because it has a strong composition, and is beautiful at every level of construction,
I had really never studied this rug before. It has so many lessons for me on the way small features can build into a big impact!
For those of you interested in the details, I believe the warp is wool, 8-ply very loosely spun together. The knots are also wool and there are about 84 per square inch, and there are two rows of plain wool weft between the rows of knots. Sadly, I do not own ANY books on Oriental rugs, so I don’t know anything more about the knot technique or the imagery. But you know I will be trying to fill that horrible gap in my knowledge.
*Textiles: The Art of Mankind gives the date as 2009, but the artist’s website gives the date as 2010.)
The piece is amazing but you bring out all the reasons it is amazing. Could it be Indian? I’m just guessing. Perhaps it is Chinese. Maybe your mother-in-law might remember where it came from.
It came from my father-in-law’s side, and everyone on that side has been gone for many years. I am thinking it is more likely to be from Iraq, Iran, or Turkey, but I really don’t know. I will have to invest in some rug resources!
Well you are right about not needing those types of IMPACT 🙂 How big is your rug? It is lovely.
It is about 3 feet by 5 feet. It used to be longer before it was walked on for 100 years! 🙂
It looks like a flat weave rather than a tufted rug. Depending on where it was made, the makers may have mixed natural and artificially dyed wools. I don’t think most red dyes used were natural due to the extreme cost of the raw dye material. Maybe you should try for the Antiques Roadshow when it hits Texas next.
I always thought it was a flat weave until I looked closely at it. They are definitely knots. No interlocking wefts, no slits, no wefts carried along. I took a lot of pictures of the back and some macro pictures of the knots and yarns used, but since I couldn’t figure out the exact technique, I didn’t post them. I will if I figure out more!
I could fill a whole episode of Antiques Road Show with the odds and ends of stuff we have, that no one in the family ever recorded where they came from! Not valuable, but interesting.
Thanks for sharing. I like looking at rugs.
This sounds like a fascinating book! I’d never considered textiles from the point of view of impact before, really–the Ricketts Indigo pieces are stunning! Your rug is a good example of the concept–as you say, there’s so much to learn from it and from studying the nuances. And every little bit adds up to the final impact!
She talks in this section about how textiles used to have a tremendous impact, like in ecclesiastical or royal settings, but we have so many around us that we have become blind to them. It is interesting to think about what it would take to create a textile that would really awaken people’s attention! I think some of these artists have managed it.
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