WASHINGTON, DC.- Seldom Seen: Directors Choice from the Museums Collections presents a group of 28 rarely exhibited textiles selected by The Textile Museums new director, Daniel Walker. Working in consultation with the Museums curators, Mr. Walker chose each object based on some compelling visual quality or aspect. The textiles included in the exhibition are varied in terms of culture and function, and represent the major geographic areas traditionally collected by the Museum. Included are textiles from South America, Africa, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and Japan. It is a tribute to the richness of the Museums collections, which number more than 17,000 objects, that an exhibition featuring such first-rate but rarely seen textiles could be presented many times over, noted Mr. Walker.
The exhibition features many special pieces, including a stunning Persian kilim acquired by Museum founder George Hewitt Myers in 1926, the year after The Textile Museum was officially established. While widely published, the kilim has not been exhibited since 1987. It was a favorite of Myers, who used the design for his personal bookplate. Like many other classical Persian rugs, the pattern, adapted from designs conceived for manuscript bindings and illumination, features a central medallion, corner medallions, and a cartouche border. Birds and animals, real and imaginary, writhe and romp across a field of vines and blossoms. The kilim is in breathtakingly pristine condition, with luscious colors and shimmering metal-wrapped thread.
Also included is a Coptic tapestry which has not been exhibited since 1982. The tapestry, representing an architectural assemblage of two columns and a triangular gable, would have been used as a curtain or hanging. Another treasure, to be exhibited for the first time, is an embroidered Paracas-style alpaca mantle from the Museums extraordinary pre-Columbian Peruvian holdings. The mantle features free-falling ghoul-like figures with leering smiles and streaming hair.
The exhibition also includes a group of little-known early textiles from the Middle East with inscriptions or animals in roundels. African textiles include a cluster of objects from Cameroon three Bamum sculptural hats, which have never been exhibited, and a Hausa tie-dyed wrapped dress of extraordinary vitality. South Asian material includes a sari from the Coromandel Coast of India with inlaid silver-wrapped threads and a skirt from Laos, on view for the first time ever, embellished with prismatic geometric patterns. From Japan there is an Ainu elm-bark coat with brilliant abstract embroidered patterns and a suo costume for the Nô theater with rippling surface ornament suggesting constant motion.
Daniel Walker was appointed director of The Textile Museum in May 2005. Prior to that he was the Patti Cadby Birch Curator in Charge, Department of Islamic Art at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, a position he held for more than 17 years. He has published and lectured extensively on diverse topics related to Islamic art, particularly carpets and textiles. At The Metropolitan Museum of Art Mr. Walker curated the landmark exhibition Flowers Underfoot: Indian Carpets of the Mughal Era, which is accompanied by a book of the same title.