Friday, 23 May 2014

Visit from the Oriental Rug and Textile Society

On the 16th May Joint Curator and Head of Collections, Julia Nicholson and I welcomed a group of 15 people from the the Oriental Rug and Textile Society. The group have a keen interest in rugs and textiles from Asia and the Middle East. Julia and I showed them a small selection from the vast array of textiles in the Pitt Rivers Museum collection from all over the world. I greeted the group and gave them a tour of the textiles on display. The wall cases along the North side of the Museum's Court displays and explores weaving and textile production from around the world. The display includes complete looms, weaving equipment such as combs, shuttles and spools and textiles and garments.

Unfortunately most of the Asian textiles on display in these cases have limited information associated with them so I highlighted textiles from the Americas, Africa and Oceania, which I knew more about. These included the wonderful Chilkat dance apron (1884.56.82) from North West coast USA/Canada. The apron is made from deer hide and woven with mountain goat hair yarn. The fringes of the apron are made from puffin beaks and deer hoofs. These would make a jingle noise when the apron was danced. Puffin beaks are more difficult to source then deer hooves but they make the same sound, so both are used in this example, with puffin at the front and deer at the back.

Chilkat dance apron: 1884.56.82 © Pitt Rivers Museum

Not all of the textiles in the collection have been loom woven and so I also highlighted an interesting finger-woven bag from the Great Lakes region of Eastern USA. It is finger-woven with bison hair and decorated with early European trade beads.

Bison hair bag decorated with human figures: 1884.69.15 © Pitt Rivers Museum

Both these objects are part of the founding collection and are considerably old, dating prior to 1884. Both have been investigated by visiting researchers as part of collaborative projects with source communities and the Museum. The blanket was viewed by a delegation of Haida from Haida Gwaii, British Columbia in 2009 and the bag as part of the Great Lakes Research Alliance for the Study of aboriginal Arts and Cultures (GRASAC) in 2007. Both visits greatly helped to enhance the Museum's knowledge of these objects.

We wanted to illustrate to the group the range of textiles we have in the collections so I showed them briefly a more recent acquisition of Miao textiles from South West China on display in the New Acquisitions case. The textiles were collected in the Guizhou province of South West China in the late 1980s and early 1990s at a time when the area was still mostly inaccessible to tourists.

Textiles from Nagaland, India make up a large proportion of the total number of textiles in the collection so I took the group to the Upper Gallery of the Museum to show them the Naga display there. The display includes jewellery and ornamentation as well as larger body cloths and textile pieces. The objects were largely collected by two people, John Henry Hutton and James Philip Mills, both political officers in the Indian Civil Service and assigned to work in Assam in the early 1900s. Mills and Hutton took a keen interest in the material culture of the Naga tribes and amassed significant collections during their time spent in Nagaland. Body cloths often indicated which tribe the wearer came from and their status in society. The Museum also has a small collection of more contemporary Naga body cloths collected by the anthropologist Dr. Vibha Joshi on behalf of the Museum in 2007. 

The group view textiles from the Museum stores in the visiting 
researchers room © Pitt Rivers Museum 

After a whistle stop tour of the galleries the group were welcomed into the research room by Julia Nicholson to view a selection of textiles we had chosen from the Museum stores. This included textiles from South America such as Guatemalan textiles from the Elsie McDougall collection, molas from Panama, and some pre-columbian Peruvian textiles. We also had a bigger cohort of Asian textiles including patola cloths from India and a wonderful patchwork gypsy child's dress from Syria. The dress, on closer inspection has been very thoughtfully constructed, with great care taken in arranging the patchwork pieces of cloth to make an aesthetically balanced garment, made with love and attention to detail. 

Girl's patchwork dress: 1967.28.55 © Pitt Rivers Museum

The visit was very well received and Julia and I will be repeating the morning for members of Hali Magazine and the Oxford Asian Textile group in coming months. 

Faye Belsey
Assistant Curator 

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Maori Carving Display

Carved door panel
PRM 1884.62.36 © Pitt Rivers Museum
We are busy preparing a new display to highlight the art of Maori carving (whakairo). The available space means we can showcase large objects, like panels from buildings, canoe carvings and paddles.

Objects like this are valuable treasures (taonga) featuring in the oral history and story telling, which is a strong part of Maori life. A Master Carver (Tohunga Whakairo) is an important person who has the ability to create in physical form the oral histories and stories of his tribe (iwi).

The preparations for this display involve researching the collection and I am eager to find out more about these interesting objects. When possible, I am taking photographs to make sure, even if you can't come to the Museum, you will be able to see these objects via the online Museum database.

I will keep you up to date on this display in future blogs.

Zena McGreevy
Senior Assistant Curator

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Caring for the Collections

Staff from the collections and conservation departments have been beavering away at the Museum stores for the past two years on a re-storage and cataloguing project for the arrows in the museum collections. The Museum has a large number of arrows from all over the world which up until very recently have been largely inaccessible to researchers. Conservation and collection staff have organised arrows by geographical region and collector and re-stored them in special custom made Correx trays in three sizes to accommodate the smallest arrows to the largest. The project is now complete and over 5000 arrows have been catalogued and boxed in a new arrows store.  

New custom made correx boxes for arrow storage each holding 16 or 18 arrows supported in plastazote foam. These trays then fit into custom made archival quality boxes with 4 trays to a box © Pitt Rivers Museum

Cataloguing and numbering arrows at store
 © Pitt Rivers Museum

Old arrow storage 
© Pitt Rivers Museum

New arrows store © Pitt Rivers Museum

Shallow drawer in which arrows used to be stored with cable ties © Pitt Rivers Museum

Faye Belsey
Assistant Curator