Headbands from the Inca Empire, [insert date]. The Textile Museum 2009.2.1, .16, .13. Gifts of Robert and Maria Duff.
The three headbands shown above are part of a larger group of 43 said to have been found together in a weaver’s basket. They are unusual objects, and there are few similar objects in other collections. The upper band has a bold Inca zigzag and dot design, the lower one has coastal bird designs, and the center band combines coastal fish with an Inca “X-design.” When pieces of disparate style are found together, it normally means that the group was made at about the same time. If the date of one of the styles is known, it can be used to date the remaining items. In this case, the Inca style is well known and helps to date the bands with lesser-known coastal styles.
The pieces are all small, and not all of them are finished. They appear to have belonged to a weaver who was still working on them when she died. These objects are unusual—bands of this size do not seem to have been a normal part of coastal costume. There are related long narrow warp-patterned bands in the Chancay style from the central coast, which may have been headbands, but not short ones like these. There are a number of Spanish descriptions of Inca costume that mention that women wore headbands, but few such headbands survive. Examples found at the central coast site of Pachacamac are narrow, like the center band, and slightly longer than those shown here. It is possible that not all Inca women wore such headbands, but it does appear that these particular bands might have been intended for this purpose. The finished Inca headbands have a tie cord extending from the middle of each end. However, these bands lack such ties, and so even if they are completely woven, they are unfinished in this sense. The bands with the Inca patterns have less complex patterns than those from Pachacamac and are more diverse in size, so it is likely that all the bands were woven by a coastal weaver. While small, they are beautiful examples of more unusual designs from the era of the Inca empire.
Ann Pollard Rowe, Research Associate, Western Hemisphere Textiles. Originally printed in our Fall 2011 Member’s Magazine
Altar Frontal, Peru, 17th century. TM 91.412. Acquired by George Hewitt Myers in 1944.
This is a tapestry-woven panel. The center-right skeleton wears a Papal crown, and the left skeleton wears a royal crown. The date is thought to be about 1621 because in that year both the king of Spain and the pope died.
In the Garden, Stories of Haida Gwaii, Early Lessons (details). Vernal Bogren Swift, 2007-2008. Cotton, wax resist. The Textile Museum 2009.12.1b. Gift from the collection of the artist.
While we were familiar with the work of Vernal Bogren Swift, a contemporary textile artist, we were surprised and extremely grateful to recently receive one of her creations as a gift from the artist. Her major works are comprised of three long narrow textile panels structured in the format of a horizontal triptych. Within this form the artist explores legend, myth or frailties, both human and global. Her vision is rendered in an epic guise that snares the intellect with its creativity.
This is a detail from the museum’s triptych, which is entitled “Lies and Early Lessons.” In the work the artist explores such witticisms as:
The moon is made of cheese.
My grandmother told me I should choose the neck when chicken was
served, because chicken necks make you pretty.
Children in China would love to have the food left on your plate, do
you realize that? (Above right: “I tasted the flavor of guilt.”)
And remember that Santa likes a nice plate of cookies and also a big
glass of milk.
Swift uses a wax resist technique on cotton that draws on Indonesian batik traditions and borrows from there a restrained color palette and stylistic details such as fine, intricate filling motifs that vary the tempo within the composition. Here a bee’s wax resist was used in combination with natural dyes, including indigo, and synthetic dyes. While initially self-taught in resist patterning, Swift eventually went to Java to study the batik tra-ditions of that island.
In 2013 the museum plans to feature Swift’s work in an exhibition that will explore how four contemporary artists are inspired by traditional Southeast Asian textiles. We look forward to sharing more of the works of this artist, who is a truly gifted storyteller.
- Mattiebelle Gittinger, Research Associate, Southeast Asian Textiles
Wrapper, Ivory Coast, 1950s-1960s. TM 1968.9.3. Gift of Morton D. May.
Created in the mid 20th century in the Ivory Coast, this wrap cloth’s extraordinary rich patterns suggests it was worn by someone of high rank, probably a chief, and for special occasions.
The Guro use heddles to create the supplementary weft float patterns on long narrow strip looms. Within the wrapper, there are 19 bands of geometric patterns incorporating triangles, bars, diamonds, chevrons, dots, checks, rectangles, diagonal lines and stripes. The sections between them are created using a plan weave. The intense color was achieved by repeatedly dipping the threads in indigo dye, as was common in West Africa. The red strip would have been worn towards the bottom, while the rest was wrapped around the body and passed over the left shoulder.
It really takes a team effort to safely pack some of the largest and most fragile objects in The Textile Museum’s collections. The Paracas mantle is one of these special pieces. Due to its delicate nature, it needed to travel flat (without being folded or rolled), which posed challenges for moving it through tight doorways.
Ely, Inc. art handler Chris Kirages addressed these challenges by creating a special crate which uses foam padding and gentle compression to protect the piece and prevent it from shifting, while allowing the crate to tilt through doorways when needed.
In the photos above, you can see art handlers and the museum’s conservation and collections staff removing the piece from an over-sized storage drawer and placing it on padding inside the crate. Art handlers removed the board by slowly pulling it away as others gently held the mantle in place. Once the piece was off of its storage board and inside the crate, it was covered in soft tissue sheets, and another board was placed on top. The crate was sealed by screwing slats across the top, thus creating the gentle compression that kept this Peruvian treasure safe in transit.
Mantle, Peru, South Coast, Paracas style, ca. 600 BCE. Camelid fiber, 85 x 47 in. TM 91.192. Acquired by George Hewitt Myers in 1940.
Just in time for the Washington, D.C. area’s first cold snap of 2015, museum staff have turned on the walk-through freezer at the conservation and collections resource center for an inaugural object freezing!
Here Chief Conservator Esther Méthé and Associate Registrar Tessa Lummis wheel in sixty-three objects that are part of a travelling exhibition, and therefore were not frozen as part of the collections move.
Freezing textiles at a temperature of -30 degrees Celsius or below is an important element of the museum’s integrated pest management protocol. After a week of freezing, these objects will be brought to room temperature before they are unwrapped, inspected, and put away in storage.
Visiting conservation scholar Anna Keruzec is creating trays for three-dimensional Pre-Columbian dolls.
She begins by laying the dolls on a tray-sized piece of paper and tracing them. Then, she cuts out tray-sized sheets of thin Ethafoam and a thicker piece of Volara. Anna uses the template she created to carve away the space of the dolls from the Volara, making a void for them to sit in. Next,, she glues the Ethafoam, then the Volara, to the blue board tray, and places the dolls in their niches and secures them with twill tape. Bumpers around the exterior of the trays allow multiple trays to stack in a box.
Associate Conservator Angela Duckwall had an unusual task this week: to stabilize and pack a Ecuadorian bark cloth apron, complete with a toucan head (yes, that’s a real head, folks!) and macaw and parrot feathers! Can you believe this apron is just one piece of an equally impressive ensemble?
First, Duckwall created a muslin pillow for the apron to rest on. Next, she cut an archival base board to fit the internal dimensions of the box. She glued Ethafoam posts to the board that are slightly taller than the box. When the lid is placed on the box, it will place pressure on the Ethafoam, keeping the base board and object from shifting.
Stay tuned for our next steps in packing this gorgeous toucan apron!
Apron, Ecuador, early 20th century. Bark cloth, feathers, beak, beads.TM 1966.23.1A. Museum Purchase.
The Chilkat “blanket” is a ceremonial shoulder mantle worn by chiefs and other wealthy men and women of the Tlingit, Tsimshian, and Haida tribes of the Northwest Coast of North America. The mantles were worn or displayed on various ceremonial occasions, including the potlatch, which included speeches, feasting and dances and ended with the host’s presentation of the privileges he claimed—validated by gift-giving. Mantles were often given to distinguished guests, and were sometimes cut into strips for this purpose. The recipient would then sew the strips into smaller items such as aprons, leggings, tunics, or caps. This vest, with its cut curves and collar, follows a European example and its maker carefully matched the design across the front opening.
Designs derived from the male woodcarving style, which depicted animal crests, came into use in Chilkat weaving during the 1820s. The imagery was painted by men onto a wooden board for women (who typically wove) to copy using a tapestry technique with weft yarns turning back at the edges of each color area, but in weft twining rather than interlacing. Although very abstract, the design of this example may be a killer whale. In contrast, designs created by women for use on baskets and earlier mantles were primarily geometric.
The technical features of this cloth indicate it is a relatively early example of the style, dating perhaps to the second quarter of the 19th century. The use of green (made from a copper and urine bath overdyed with tree lichen yielding a yellow hue) rather than blue indicates the vest was made before the introduction of blue trade cloth in the mid-19th century. The yarns are all handspun mountain goat hair with yellow cedar bark fiber in the warp. The twining is finely done with up to 25 rows per centimeter and in the white relief forms it is worked around single warp yarns instead of on alternate pairs as in the rest of the work. Though cut and remade, the fine workmanship still shines through.
- Ann Pollard Rowe, Research Associate, Western Hemisphere Textiles
Essay originally printed in our Winter 2011 Member’s Magazine.