For the last week or so I have been in sunny Los Angeles, soaking up ..... textiles. I was asked by the Fowler Museum, UCLA, to comment on a collection of Syrian garments they are in the process of being given by a private collector. The garments are a spectacular group and all being well will feature in an exhibition at the Museum in about 18 months from now.
I left Leiden on the Thursday in order to get over jet lag in time for work on the following Monday and to see some friends. Friday saw a visit to the Getty Museum, and the chance to see four hundred years of European paintings. Including some, but not as many as I had hoped for, with embroidered garments. It was worth it though, just to experience the Getty and its architecture.
On Saturday afternoon, I gave a lecture about embroidery in the Arab world to the Textile Museum Associates of Southern California (TMA/SC) based in Los Angeles. Despite a change of venue and time there was a full house and extra chairs had to be sought. The lecture was called "1001 Embroidered Tales" and looked at the social and economic stories behind individual pieces and groups of embroideries in the Middle East. At the end of the meeting various members of the public displayed and talked about items they had brought with them. It was great fun. I also had the chance to talk about the work of the TRC and several people offered their help in obtaining pieces and thinking who might be willing to financially help the TRC. A special guest was Professor Olaf Kaper from Leiden, board member of the TRC, and presently in Los Angeles upon the invitation of the Getty.
We later also briefly discussed the possibility of setting up a non-profit society called "American Friends of the TRC." More about this in due course. One lady in particular, Marge Gajicki (The Folk Motif) went out of her way (literally as she lived in Long Beach about 50 km away) to get items of Hispanic and Western clothing, including a bolo tie that was given by her brother-in-law and several shirts of different styles, including Western, Hispanic and Hawaiian forms. Many thanks Marge! It means that I can face Shelley and Maria (two American volunteers at the TRC) with a calm heart when I get back as they want to build up the American dress collection at the TRC and I was given a shopping list, always an interesting moment.
Monday saw work start on the collection at the Fowler and the next few days were spent in photographing, cataloguing anddiscussing the collection, as well as talking with the exhibition and the publication committees. On Wednesday evening I gave a talk to the Fowler Textile Council at the Museum, with the chief curator of the Museum, Matthew Robb as my 'assistant'. One of the guests was Willeke Wendrich, now Professor of Egyptology in Los Angeles, who was one of the first Board members of the TRC in Leiden. She and her husband have been friends of long standing ! My talk was about the garments I was working on and the audience was given a sneak preview of an exhibition that does not (yet) exist. All I can say is that if and when the paper work is in order it will be a colourful and surprising display of Syrian garments, most of which date to the early 20th century.
While at the Fowler Museum it was mentioned that they had a series of books about textiles and clothing (well worth looking into). So on behalf of the TRC Library I went into begging mode and Marla Berns, the director of the Museum, very kindly agreed that the TRC could have any books on textiles and dress in their various series. This amount to 22 titles! Not only that, but the Museum paid for their postage to Leiden as they were far too heavy for me to take back in my (small) suitcase. This is a very generous gift and one which is greatly appreciated. The books will appear in the TRC Books Showcased over the next few months, we may even have a special issue dedicated to Fowler books.
The next few days prior to leaving were spent with friends, David and Elizabeth Reisbord, looking at their textile collection and dreaming of what the TRC could and should do in the future. They very kindly gave the TRC a group of Guatemalan textiles and garments and Indian embroideries. The latter will be used in the TRC's forthcoming encyclopaedia about embroideries from Iran, Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent. In addition, the TRC was given several textiles and a woman's coat from Uzbekistan, which can be seen in our forthcoming exhibition called "Dressing the Stans" that opens in September 2017 at the TRC Gallery.
Before signing off I would like to thank various people for making my trip to LA particularly memorable, notably David and Elizabeth Reisbord, Marla Berns (director of the Fowler Museum), Matthew Robb (senior curator of the Fowler Museum), the dedicated members of the TMA/SC and those of the Fowler Textile Council, many of whom belong to both groups. There is certainly a lot happening within the textile and dress field in the LA district and more is coming. Well worth keeping an eye on.
And the highlight of my trip to LA? Paddling in the Pacific Ocean with Elizabeth….
Gillian Vogelsang, 9th May 2017