Decorative Arts Thursday

This colorful men’s weave is the Kente cloth from the Ashanti region in Ghana. Kente is an Ashanti type of silk and cotton fabric made of interwoven cloth strips and is native to the Ashanti people ethnic group of Ashanti and the Ashantiland Peninsula. The Ashanti Region is located in south Ghana, the most populated region of Ghana’s total population. Kente was the cloth of Ashanti emperors-kings. Over time, the use of Ashanti kente became more widespread, but it is still held in high esteem with Ashantis. We hope you feel like an emperor today. 

Image from African textiles and decorative arts by Roy Sieber. 1972.
Date: n.d.
height 95 in; width 32 in.


Since 2010, Emily Zilber, the Ronald C. and Anita L. Wornick Curator of Contemporary Decorative Arts (a position within the Contemporary Art Department) at the MFA Boston, has taken her job and run with it.  Barely catching her breath after installing her ground breaking exhibition “New Blue and White”(which closed in July) she turned her attention to a reinstallation of the permanent collection.  On August 3, 2013 the dedicated gallery of contemporary decorative arts reopened and clearly shows the support she is getting from a core group of private collectors and within her institution.  Her choices from the permanent collection blend a hybrid mix of categories -  without prejudice or typical hierarchy - positioning the masters of studio craft and material based sculpture side by side with cutting edge explorations of concept that include photography and design. 

The MFA named its contemporary craft gallery in the Linde Family Wing for Contemporary Art after another power pair of benefactors Daphne and Peter Farago, whose collection was assembled with an encyclopedic eye to history and legacy.  Opened in 2011 with “Crafting Contemporary: Selections from the Daphne Farago Collection”, the first installation was an overview drawn from the over 950 objects that have been donated to the museum in Mrs. Farago’s lifetime.   This newest installation reflects the numerous recent acquisitions, both gifts and purchases - all identified with red squares.  Zilber’s choices show a wide range from  recent conceptual work by Nicole Cherubini, photography by Lauren Kalman adjacent to a loveseat by Wendel Castle and Tom Patti’s 1980 work in glass. 

Zilber is one of the new generation of curators who are tackling the ongoing transition spanning a time period that combines primary cutting edge works by living artists with seminal works by those who carved out this field.  Her curatorial practice with the support of the MFA Boston and their benevolent private collectors is providing leadership for the way museums acquire and present contemporary decorative arts. 

Emily Zilber is the MFA Boston’s first Ronald L. and Anita C. Wornick Curator of Contemporary Decorative Arts, joining the museum in October 2010. She is responsible for the MFA’s program of contemporary decorative arts, including guiding acquisitions and developing a presence for this material in the Linde Family Wing for Contemporary Art and throughout the museum. She oversees the MFA’s Daphne and Peter Farago Gallery. Recent projects include the exhibition New Blue-and-White, which focuses on contemporary interpretations of ceramic history by makers across media. Emily Zilber has edited and written for numerous publications and speaks regularly on topics related to 20th-century and contemporary decorative arts, craft, and design. She recieved a BA in Art History from The University of Chicago and an MA from the Bard Graduate Center for Decorative Arts, Design History, and Material Culture.


About Daphne and Peter Farago

About Lauren Kalman, represented by Sienna Patti Contemporary

About private collections represented by Ferrin Contemporary

About New Blue and White curated by Emily Zilber at the MFA Boston

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Decorative Arts Thursday

This tapestry-woven rug features geometric patterns and floral motifs in a design often compared to those of Turkic tribes. It has been suggested that the central scorpion motifs may have had an apotropaic purpose, serving as a protective amulet against the sting of these creatures or other evil forces. These rugs often made up significant portions of dowries and were featured in nomadic life in numerous ways. They could have been used not only as floor coverings, but also as linings for tent walls and even camel regalia.

Qashqai Kilim from Iran, photographed by Ullens de Schooten, Baroness Marie-Thérèse (Belgian, 1905-1989)
Date: 1951 – 1972
Harvard Fine Arts Library. Special Collections.

Decorative Arts Thursday

Asian rubbing from a floral decorative motif shows lotus flowers and branches. This motif is from the cross sections of border framework for the grid patterns used on the ceiling in the Gongxian Cave 4.

Gongxian cave temples: a set of 5 Buddhist grottoes (dated between 517-539), located 8 km north of Gongxian (midway between Luoyang and Zhengzhou), Henan province.

Title: Lian hua zhi tiao diao shi 莲花枝条雕饰
Paper, ink, relief

Harvard Fine Arts Library. Special Collections.