The last few weeks we have been working hard on clearly understanding and projecting the future of the TRC, the approaches we want to take and which people we want to attract, and all of this should be based on the TRC principle that we want to be an inclusive centre, rather than exclusive!
The TRC is a textiles and dress institute. As for dress, we have already developed the idea of the language of dress: what do people wear in order to show who they are and want to be, and how others see them and interpret their clothing. This concept was broadly outlined in an article published in the July 2019 Newsletter of the International Institute for Asian Studies.
The other branch of the TRC, namely the textiles themselves, still needs to be further discussed. What does the TRC want to do with the study and presentation of textiles, which groups of people do we want to attract and support?
Not long ago I was talking with some visitors to the TRC. They suggested that we should focus on museum colleagues, academics doing research and students. They also wanted a few "hobbyists", but not too many.
So who or what are these ‘hobbyists’ who are apparently of little interest, and far ‘below’ the academically trained professionals? Basically, I think they are people who are not paid for what they produce (then they would be professionals). But here I have a problem: quite a few professionals I know have less knowledge and levels of skill than these ‘hobbyists’, many of whom have spent years learning and honing their skills.
Over the years the TRC has set up various exhibitions on technical themes, such as spinning, weaving, dyeing, lace making, knitting, and recently the American quilts. Each time I am amazed with the knowledge and experience of our visitors, and indeed of the people who helped and contributed to the exhibitions, or attended the many workshops linked to the exhibitions. They often have no formal training, never went to university or even enjoyed secondary education, but their skills in what they are doing with a simple thread are absolutely amazing. These skills may be old or modern, local or international. These same skills, and the end products, often are a fountain of knowledge for the study of regional, national or indeed international developments, be they cultural, economic or political (compare the pussyhat movement). I have therefore developed an enormous respect for these ‘simple’ knitters and embroiderers and others, who are often more interesting and certainly more ‘down to earth’ than academically trained experts who sometimes don’t know their cotton from their silk.
Last but not least, textiles are not solely an exclusively women’s world. We have noticed at the TRC that men, sometimes (admittedly) with a little pushing, are also interested in textiles, particularly in the history of the techniques that are used, the dyes, the weaving looms, and so much more, and some of them have acquired a deep understanding of particular skills. I only have to refer to Georg Stark in Germany, who became the world-renowned indigo-dyer recognised by UNESCO.
So perhaps the TRC should cultivate, celebrate, share with and learn from all those ‘amateurs’, those ‘simple’ hobbyists, who over the years have acquired so much knowledge and so diligently have developed their skills, but never climbed the high ivory towers of academia.
(Dr.!) Gillian Vogelsang, Wednesday, the 26th February 2020.