The TRC recently received a collection of Nepalese textiles, which were donated on behalf of the late Susi Dunsmore by her executor. The textiles were collected in Nepal from the 1980's to 2013. On Thursday morning (27th February 2019) the textiles and related items, including several looms, arrived at the TRC. A team from the TRC will spend the next month working on a basic catalogue and photographing all the items, and getting all the items online. A more detailed catalogue and an online exhibition will be coming in due course.
There are over 600 items in the collection, including raw fibres, spinning and weaving equipment, and samples of dyed, woven, embroidered and knitted textiles, as well as complete garments and headgear for men and women. There is, for example, a wide range of Himalayan nettle textiles in a variety of different weaves (including leno) and embroidered textiles carried out with orchid stem threads.
But who was Susi Dunsmore and why is this collection of Nepalese textiles so significant? The following bibliography was provided by the Dunsmore Trust:
Susi Dunsmore (1926 – 2017)
Susi was an authority on Nepalese textile traditions which she first recorded in two booklets, published in her handwritten text, with her own line drawings and photographs, namely: Weaving in Nepal (1983), which is mainly about Dhaka weaving and The Nettle in Nepal (2006).
She was born in Charlottenburg, Berlin to Margarete (née Hickman), a telephone operator and Julius Heinze, a bank clerk. After attending art school in Düsseldorf, in 1958 she was invited to teach at a teachers’ training college in Kuching, Borneo (Kalimantan) where she wrote handbooks on art education. There she met her future husband, John Dunsmore, who was working in the department of agriculture who developed her appreciation of indigenous cultures.
This interest grew as she accompanied John to Belize and The Gambia (1973), culminating in their work on sustainable development in Nepal. In eastern Nepal they encountered strong weaving traditions. In Dhankuta, women produce a colourful fabric, Dhaka cloth, and in Sankhuwasabha they spin and weave allo (the Himalayan giant nettle, Giardinia diversifolia).
Susi worked with the local women to develop their skills and to introduce money-making products. She is remembered for her assistance and friendship, as Allo Didi, meaning ‘Nettle Sister’.
On John’s retirement in 1987 they moved to Great Bookham, Surrey where Susi became a mainstay to the United Reform Church. Her book Nepalese Textiles was published by the British Museum in 1993. At the age of 72 she was invited to lead a workshop in Qinghai province, China.
After John’s death in 2001, Susi continued to help Nepalese craftswomen. As a member of the London Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers, she organised a competition to produce new designs for nettle fibre. This led to several guild members going to Kathmandu in 2004 to run a workshop for women from Sankhuwasabha.
To continue this work and in memory of her husband, Susi set up a charity, the John Dunsmore Nepalese Textile Trust. The Trust had links with students at the Royal College of Art, for which Susi set up a travel scholarship. Susi also supported the Nepal Leprosy Trust, arranging fundraising exhibitions/sales and concerts at the United Reform Church featuring students from the Yehudi Menuhin school in Surrey.
Other church activities included commissioning a window from glass artist Sabrina Can’t and wall hangings from Angus Williams, which Susi wove with Ang Diku Sherpa, a friend since 1984, members of the congregation and her sister Gisela Horsnell.
Susi’s final book, Notes on Nepal’s Creative Basketry (2016 ), was written again in her own handwriting and with her own diagrams.