Saturday, February 22, 2014

Washington and Friends Crossing the Delaware

George Washington and Friends

February 22 is the birthday of our first president, George Washington.  There are many textiles depicting patriotic themes. 

This textile is a panel measuring 43x23 inches depicting George Washington crossing the Delaware River. The colors are startling with vivid reds, blues and gold.  The fabric is textured reminiscent of “bark cloth”(the fabric your gramma used to cover her patio furniture or perhaps used as draperies).  This textile was produced by the Reliable Textile Company of NY under the trademark Wesco-Reltex. 

Wesco-Reltex selvedge

  Other subjects for similar textiles were patriotic motifs such as the bald eagle and, in quite a different vein, depictions of puppies and other cute animals.  Supposedly, these panels were meant to be hung or framed.

Reliable Textile Company, NY was incorporated in 1926

In researching this textile I came upon 5 identical panels being offered on Ebay.  They must have made quite a few of these panels in the 1970’s. My fabrics (I have 2 panels) are unused. Actually, I cannot imagine a use for them.  Maybe someone might want to add them to their collection of patriotic memorabilia.

The Winter Olympics will end this weekend.  I wish to congratulate all the athletes who participated.  You are all winners and inspirations to us all.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

William Morris - Textiles and Interior Design

William Morris

William Morris  Decor and Design, Elizabeth Wilhide, Abrams, Inc., NY, 1991

One of the greatest influences of interior design in the 19th C was the work of William Morris.  Born in 1834 in the village of Walthamstow, Northeast of London, Morris was brought up in a prosperous family with eight siblings.  He entered Exeter College, Oxford  to ready theology , intent on entering the clergy but while there began a friendship with Edward Burne-Jones and Charles Faulkner.  These, and other friends began to explore literature of the medieval period particularly poetry.  Inspired by medieval history and architecture Morris and Burne-Jones decided upon a life of design (Morris did finish Oxford with a degree in Theology).  Burne-Jones became a painter and Morris studied as an architect, apprenticing under G.E. Street, a leader in the Gothic Revival Movement of that time.

Street had a unique view which was to greatly influence Morris, that of the architect being influential not only in the design of a building but also in its interior elements, i.e textile and glass design. When Morris met Dante Rosetti he decided to abandon architecture in favor of painting.  It is fortunate for Morris that he had favorable financial security so that he could pursue these various interests.  In1860 Morris married Jane Burden whom he had engaged as a model and they moved into Red House, designed by Philip Webb.  It was Red House that would serve to begin Morris’s new career in the decorative arts.

William Morris Textiles, Linda Parry, Weideenfireld and Nicolson, Londan, 1983

It is Morris’s textile designs that I speak of today.  One of the reasons for Morris’s success was, basically he was a “process” artist.  By that I mean he was adamant about learning technique (whether modern or classic) before starting a design.  His knowledge of history served him well as well as his love of nature.  When designing natural elements he designed in mass, using a profusion of flowers, leaves and vines.

In 1861 Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. was founded, with Burne-Jones, Rosetti, Webb and Ford Maddox Brown  as founding members, each with an area of specialization.  The firm designed handpainted tiles, stained glass, embroidery and furniture.  In 1875 the firm was dissolved and Morris & Co. was formed.  From this time the emphasis was interior, domestic design.  Morris designed wallpaper, printed and woven textiles, carpets and tapestries as well as his famous embroideries. 

Due to his rigid standards, Morris & Co was not hugely profitable and it was to Morris’s dismay that only the wealthy were able to purchase his expensive fabrics and wall coverings.  His workshops did produce, however, kits for embroidery and a range of affordable accessories. Morris died in 1896.  His younger daughter, May, continued his tradition until her death in 1938.

Further Reading
Textiles of the Arts and Crafts Movement, Linda Parry,Thames and Hudson,  London, 1988

Sunday, February 9, 2014


The Great Controversy- “Hand-made or Machine-Made”

Last week I began to write my blog on the question of hand versus machine made products.  I then got distracted by writing a review of Mary Schoeser’s book, “Textiles”.  I promised to return to the original subject this week.

Before I begin my thoughts on the subject, I wish to correct a fundamental error, that is, the notion that products labeled “hand- made” are made entirely by hand.  Such labels lead us to assume this to be true, but I assure you this has never been the case.  Since the appearance of our very distant cousin, “Homo habilis” or “handy man”, man has used simple tools to assist with tasks. These tools gradually became more complex and man began employing simple machines such as the pulley, lever and screw to complete his work.  Webster’s dictionary describes simple machines as those “devices that transmit or change the application of energy, such as the lever, the wheel and screw…”.

Looking at early textile history, we must consider the use of machines.  Webster again defines a machine as “ a structure consisting of a framework and various fixed and moving parts, for doing some kind of work”.
So how about a loom?  From the most simple device to  modern power looms, does this not apply?  Or take the spinning wheel, you get my point.  When a sweater is said to be entirely hand- made does that mean the wool was hand-sheered, hand-spun by drop spindle, hand-plied, hand-dyed ?  Of course not.  Even  the most creative craftsperson takes advantage of electric shears and a wheel, while most knitters rely on purchased fibers, whether they then do their own spinning and dyeing or purchase skeins of ready to use wool. And what of purchased synthetic yarns?  Another example is to refer to hand-made quilts.  I made many quilts, but I did not gin my own cotton fiber, spin and dye it, weave it into cloth. Some quilts I hand- pieced or appliqu├ęd, others I used a most useful device, my sewing machine.  Therefore, I plead my case that we must rethink our terminology.  Perhaps a more accurate term would be “hand-crafted” or “artisan –made” and instead of “machine-made” we could refer to those products as having been “commercially-manufactured”.

Now to our original question of comparing “hand-crafted” and “commercially-manufactured” products, specifically, textiles.  Can we agree that much depends upon quality?  I have encountered, as have you, many outstanding textiles created by the most skilled and imaginative artists with considerable talent.  On the other side of the spectrum, I have seen some poorly constructed attempts.  Modern technology has contributed so very much to the fields of design, weaving and printing.  Modern workshops and factories can produce aesthetically acceptable materials or, because the managers have not maintained their machinery nor properly trained their workers, produce poor-quality goods with mis-matched patterning and obvious defects.

I believe it comes done to the end-use of the textile.  In a perfect world, unique goods of the highest quality would be available to all at a reasonable price.   However, no one has ever implied we live in a perfect world.  I believe you should buy the best quality merchandise you can comfortably afford, whether it is textiles or pots and pans or a living room sofa.  Reason dictates that there is a difference between the purchase of a quilt which is to become a family heirloom and a comforter for your four year old’s bed.  Your tween daughter may think purple carpeting is rad this year and next year it is an entirely different story. 

But just because we do not always purchase museum-quality textiles for daily use does not mean we cannot appreciate their beauty and the complexity of their construction.  Today there are dozens of publications available to increase our knowledge of textiles, classes in design, museum lectures on their collections.  When I worked at a museum back east we were taught that information leads to understanding and with understanding we learn appreciation.  Developing an appreciation for textile-art (and I consider all textiles, art)  would be a very worthwhile resolution for this and every new year.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

A New Reference for My Library

A Coincidence?  Maybe

On Friday I was finishing my gym workout with a cool-down walk on the track.  Not the most exciting exercise but I use the time each morning to review my schedule, decide on a supermarket list and, on Fridays, I plan the subject for this blog.  I decided to revisit the subject of hand-made versus machine-created using as examples two very famous men: William Morris and Isaac Singer. And so I will in the following weeks.  But first to the coincidence.

Yesterday afternoon, Saturday, found me in front of a fire in our kiva (fireplace) with a drink and my latest reference book selected from a pile on the coffee table. The opening introduction page talks about “the continuum of creativity” from “the action of human hands” to “machine-minding”.  This is not an unusual discussion, it appears often in textile books.  However, I had not expected to find my upcoming subject in the first pages of this remarkable volume.

Textiles: The Art of Mankind, Mary Schoeser, Thames and Hudson, NY, 2012
Ms Schoeser is a well-known textile authority and author of several reference works including World Textiles, International Textiles and Silk

Textiles, by Mary Schoeser, is an ambitious undertaking of 568 pages including notes, resources and a list of further readings.  In this volume, Schoeser mingles ancient with contemporary, museum pieces with gallery offerings under chapters among which are entitled “Impact”, “Ingredients”, “Surface", “Structure”.  The text before each chapter includes many references and accounts by well-known artists and authorities.  This writing style becomes somewhat confusing with so many disparate examples and I find I need to slowly review what I have read.  Perhaps, as I am used to studying historical accounts which tend to proceed in a linear fashion, it is my limitation.  I prefer to think that I am distracted by the remarkable collection of color illustrations (over 1,000).  The photography is outstanding and I am constantly turning pages just to encounter examples  of ancient basketry and an installation by Rowland Ricketts ( 2009) of stones wrapped in indigo sheep wool fibers, as well as, an array of fabrics and apparel.  There appears to be a surprise  on every page and I know I will return to this reference often.