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To Dye For: A World Saturated in Color at the de Young
Felt rug, 15th - 17th century, Mongolia. Wool; felt, stencil-resist dyed. Gift of Peter Lyman.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA.- This season, fashion designers all over the world are presenting tie-dye inspired collections on the runway as something new and fresh. The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (FAMSF) investigates the trend by exploring its history, which has been honed for centuries by cultures spanning the globe. From pre-historic to modern times, the unique art of tie-dye is resurging. On July 31 the de Young presents To Dye For: A World Saturated in Color in the Lonna and Marshall Wais Gallery and Diana Dollar Knowles and Gorham B. Knowles Gallery for Textile Arts. To Dye For, which runs through January 9, 2011, features over 50 textiles and costumes that include a diverse array of resist-dye examples from the comprehensive collection of textiles from Africa, Asia and the Americas at FAMSF, as well as several Bay Area private collections.

Tie-dye is just one example of the resist-dye method, an inclusive term used for the process of dyeing textiles to form patterns by preventing dye from reaching specific areas of the cloth. Methods of resist dyeing include tie-dye, stitch-resist, batik or wax-resist dyeing, stencil-resist, mordant-resist, ikat (warp- or weft-resist dyeing), as well as other techniques. FAMSF textile curator Jill D’Alessandro explains, “To Dye For not only highlights the museum’s impressive permanent collection of textiles, but also shows how cultures across the world have used similar techniques for centuries—with results that are sometimes similar, and at other times startlingly different. The end result will be a stunning array of textures, patterns and color.”

A truly cross-cultural presentation, this exhibition showcases objects from a variety of diverse cultures and historical periods, including a tie-dyed tunic from the Wari-Nasca culture of pre-Hispanic Peru (A.D. 500–900), a paste-resist Mongolian felt rug from the 15th–17th century, and a group of stitch-resist dyed 20th-century kerchiefs from the Dida people of the Ivory Coast. These historical pieces are contrasted with artworks from contemporary Bay Area artists like Judith Content, Ana Lisa Hedstrom, Angelina DeAntonis and Yoshiko Wada.

Also included in the exhibition is an elegant tie-dye evening gown from Rodarte’s 2009 collection and an ikat trench coat from Oscar de La Renta’s 2005 collection. Both looks foreshadowed the current spring/summer trend of tribal-infused fashions such as Dries Van Noten’s and Gucci’s ikats and Proenza Schouler’s and Calvin Klein’s tie-dyes.

The exhibition highlights several important gifts to the museum including an early-20th-century ikat woven skirt from Iban people of Sarawak, Malaysia and two exquisite hand-painted and mordant-dyed Indian trade cloths used as heirloom textiles by the Toraja peoples of Sulawesi, Indonesia. The Textile Arts Council Endowment Fund has recently made additional acquisitions possible, such as a beautiful tie-dyed coat (sul-ma) worn by high-ranking woman of the Ladakh region of Western Himalayas, India and a batik sarong from the Lasem region of Java. Both works were acquired for the collection in 2004.

Over 50 percent of the FAMSF objects in the exhibition are on view for the first time, including a recently rediscovered ceremonial cloth (kumo) from the T’boli people of Mindanao, Philippines. Measuring 74 x 84 inches and woven in three panels sewn together, the cloth is made from abaca and dyed with a warp-resist (ikat). Characteristic of the T’boli ikat weaving, the cloth is dyed in a rich and sophisticated color scheme of black and red set off by intricate ikat patterns drawn in the natural abaca. This cloth is part of a larger collection of fine and rare textiles from the Philippines gifted to the museum in 1938 by Mrs. Gustave Brenner. Despite being in the collection for over 70 years, this will be the first time this exquisite cloth will be exhibited.

The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco | To Dye For: A World Saturated in Color | Jill D'Alessandro |

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