Sunday, November 22, 2015

Fast-Disappearing Chinese Minority Traditions to Be Preserved Through GWU Museum and the Textile Museum Acquisitions

Wall hanging, Central Asia, Uzbekistan, mid-19th century. The Textile Museum 2015.11.4. Gift of Guido Goldman

From our friends at the George Washington University Museum and The Textile Museum...

Gifts Representing China’s Ethnic Diversity and Silk Road Fabrics Elevate D.C. Museum to Top Collector of Central Asian and Chinese Minority Textiles

The George Washington University Museum and The Textile Museum is the Recipient of Brightly Colored and Intricately Woven Ikats, Ornate Jewelry and Multi-Part Festival Costumes from the Mid- to Late-20th Century

The George Washington University Museum and The Textile Museum have acquired two major collections comprised of Central Asian ikats with links to the Silk Road, as well as textiles reflecting traditions of Chinese ethnic minorities. The gifts will support the museum in its efforts to document and highlight the region’s diverse culture.

With the gift from collector Guido Goldman, the museum now holds one of the largest collections of Central Asian ikats in the United States. The gift from Bea Roberts highlights textiles from Chinese minority - Miao, Dong, Shui, Yao and Bouyei - peoples. Both gifts come at a time when the museum is seeing a 50 percent increase in attendance and is hosting four times as many programs as in the past. 

“These transformative gifts are extraordinary in their aesthetic quality, cultural breadth and historical relevance,” said John Wetenhall, director of the George Washington University Museum and The Textile Museum. “Just as our partnership with GW has brought The Textile Museum to a new operational level, these collections elevate our work for the widespread benefit of students and scholars.”

Dr. Goldman’s Exquisite Collection of Central Asian Textiles:
Dr. Goldman, a political scientist and longtime collector, gave the museum 100 textiles, including 76 ikat panels and yardages and 23 embroidered covers, bags and belts from Central Asia. The gift also includes one late antique textile fragment and three East and Southeast Asian textiles. The Arthur M. Sackler Museum at the Smithsonian, the de Young Museum in San Francisco, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts hold other parts of Dr. Goldman’s collection.

The collection represents the great history and artistry of ikat textiles, which are distinguished by their bright colors and bold patterns, and are seen as a critical 19th century link in a long chain of sumptuous luxury fabrics produced along the Silk Road over several thousand years. Ikat textiles have a connection to modern garments - they are experiencing a revival in Uzbekistan and have inspired many leading fashion designers around the world. A majority of the textiles in Dr. Goldman’s collection date back to the early to mid-19th century.

“The Textile Museum is honored to be the recipient of this incredibly generous gift,” said Sumru Belger Krody, senior curator at the museum. “The artworks in Dr. Goldman’s collection represent the highest in artistic and technical achievement in their respected groups and complement the museum’s existing Central Asian holdings.”

A highlight of Dr. Goldman’s gift is a large panel that was on the cover of the groundbreaking book “Ikat - Splendid Silks of Central Asia: The Guido Goldman Collection,” written by Kate Fitz Gibbon and Andrew Hale, which highlighted Dr. Goldman’s collection. The book won the prize for the best art book of the year in 1997 awarded by the Art Librarians Association of North America. This panel epitomizes where the appeal of ikat fabric lays, in the imaginativeness, complexity and the superb execution of its design and its color juxtapositions.

“Combining my collection with The Textile Museum’s creates an excellent synergy, both for scholars who want to study a large and diverse collection in depth and for textile enthusiasts who enjoy seeing and learning about extraordinarily beautiful objects,” said Dr. Goldman, director of the Program for the Study of Germany at the Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies at Harvard. “The museum’s new, custom-built conservation and collections resource center on GW’s Virginia Science and Technology Campus ensures the conservation of these artworks for future generations.”

Dr. Goldman, in addition to being the founding director of the Center for European Studies, is a on the advisory board of Christie’s and a National Parkinson Foundation board member. He is also founder and co-chairman of the board of the German Marshall Fund in the US.

Dr. Goldman said he donated his collection to the museum to honor The Textile Museum’s board president Bruce P. Baganz for his leadership in transforming the museum and in acknowledgement of the museum’s commitment to caring for its collections through two new buildings at GW.

Ms. Roberts’ Collection of Chinese Minority Textiles Reveal Traditions at Risk of Vanishing:
Ms. Roberts’ collection of 284 Chinese minority textiles from Southwest China constitutes especially important additions to the museum. The collection is focused on highly embellished festival costumes - a single costume can comprise as many as 10 to 15 textiles, such as a jacket, skirt, apron, baby carrier, belt and more than a dozen pieces of jewelry. Ms. Roberts’ collection also includes textiles and tools that illustrate embellishment techniques, including a set of batik panels before they were dyed. 

Many ethnic minorities in Southwest China don’t have a written language, and group history is passed on through textile design. Due to urbanization and machine production, textile traditions like those represented in Ms. Roberts’ collection are at risk of vanishing. 

A highlight from the collection is a woman’s jacket, which was made for her to wear during the Guzhang Festival, celebrated every 13 years by the Miao people. Finely embroidered in silk on a calendared cotton base fabric, the jacket depicts dramatically posed figures from Miao mythology. The collection was acquired during Ms. Roberts’ trips to Southwest China in the 1990s and early 2000s. 

The museum’s current collection encompasses more than 700 textiles from China, however only a small number are Chinese minority skirts, jackets and aprons, which are representations from the Miao people. 

“We are delighted that Bea Roberts has chosen the museum as the beneficiary for her outstanding collection,” said curator Lee Talbot. “It is significant for its high quality, thorough documentation and emphasis on assembling complete outfits, from headgear to footwear.” 

Ms. Roberts is a jewelry and fiber artist from Del Mar, California. As she was collecting the pieces, she grew fascinated by the unique - and fast disappearing - cultures and costume traditions she encountered. Today, the hand production of textiles in the region has largely ceased. Ms. Roberts’ Chinese minority collection represents one of the last of its significance acquired in the field. 

“The Textile Museum is the ideal home for my collection,” said Ms. Roberts. “I look forward to how the museum uses the pieces in upcoming exhibitions and to educate individuals interested in learning about the history of Chinese minority peoples through art.”

Ms. Roberts’ collection has been shown at several university museums in California in the exhibition “Vanishing Traditions: Textiles and Treasures from Southwest China.” The George Washington University Museum and The Textile Museum plans to exhibit an expanded version of “Vanishing Traditions” in the next few years to celebrate this generous gift.

About the George Washington University Museum and The Textile Museum:
The George Washington University Museum and The Textile Museum opened on March 21 on GW’s Foggy Bottom Campus. The custom-built museum displays The Textile Museum’s globally recognized collections of nearly 20,000 textiles and related objects, and pieces owned by the university, including the Albert H. Small Washingtoniana Collection of 1,000 artifacts documenting the history of Washington, DC.

Admission is free for museum members, children and current GW students, faculty and staff. A suggested donation of $8 for non-members will support the museum’s exhibitions, collections and educational programs. The museum is open Monday, Wednesday-Friday 11:30 AM - 6:30 PM, Saturday 10 AM - 5 PM and Sunday 1-5 PM. For more information visit