Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Opening of the Patricia Harris Gallery of Textiles and Costume

High up in the rafters, under the eaves, (so to speak) there is a small jewellery box, quilts, coverlets, some old clothes, weaving equipment and a scrap or two of cloth not to mention some home movies. You might think I am talking about my grandparents’ house and in a way I am, but not just my grandparents. It’s more everybody’s grand, great grand and much further back toward the beginning of history. With over 50,000 specimens in its collection the Royal Ontario Museum is a treasure trove; a researcher’s delight; and an old fashioned burlesque artist (with a face lift) doing a striptease, removing a glove, showing a shoulder then leaving you wanting more.

2. Woman's corset called Sapho H by Manufacture Royale Waist measurement 24 inches (978.28)
This week sees the opening of the Patricia Harris Gallery of Textiles and Costume located on Level 4 of the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal, it is in some oddly appropriate way “in the attic”. In their opening remarks at the media preview both Mark Douglas Engstrom, the Deputy Director, Collections and Research; and Alexandra Palmer, the Nora E. Vaughan Fashion Costume Curator World Cultures, Textiles and Costume spoke of the size of the collection versus the size of the exhibition and its six month rotation schedule, the necessity of maintaining, conserving and storing these artifacts while making more available in public view.

3. Tapestry square from a curtain or cover
Linen and wool tapestry in a linen tabby ground
Egypt, Late Antique, 4th - 5th century

This inaugural exhibition in this new space consists of 200 pieces from the museums collection and presents a survey drawn from Household Textiles: upholstery, bedding and decorative accessories and Clothing: male and female, formal, ceremonial and everyday. These specimens are representative of the many cultural holdings in the collection and displayed sculpturally in display cases / quasi diorama “sets” and hung or lain in cabinets and Vitrines in a way that completely ignores the architecture of the space. Perhaps ignores is the wrong word, the exhibition layout seemingly has no relation to the Michael Lee- Chin Crystal with its jutting triangular spaces, other then the quaintness of the attic reference, but that’s not it either. The footprint of this layout provides easy traffic flow through the space, it provides points of observation allowing the architecture to simply disappear rather then distract the viewer from the objects.

4.Man’s ceremonial mantle or hip cloth called hinggi kombu
Warp ikat cotton tabby, fringe, Indonesia (Eastern Sumba Island)
1900 – 1925 (956.63.17)

In some ways this is a small jewel box of a space, yet vast and open with future possibilities that both curators and installation designers will learn to take advantage of. As it stands now this current exhibition is completely transferable to any open space which in terms of design is useful. This may seem an arbitrary statement of little importance, but having recently seen the Emily Carr touring exhibition at both the AGO in Toronto and the Glenn Bow Museum in Calgary I was shocked by the shift in impact a different floor plan can have, had on the work in this exhibition. It will be interesting to watch how the ROM adjusts to its new and perhaps controversial space and the influence it has on exhibition design throughout the museum. The architecture is a fait accompli but now the learning curve begins.

5. Empress' surcoat, Silk tabby with inserted tapestry in silk and gold-wrapped
thread. China, 1875 – 1900 (919.6.148)

This is our introduction to the Patricia Harris Gallery of Textiles and Costumes at the Royal Ontario Museum. a review of this exhibition will be in the next issue of fibreQUARTERLY.
About Patricia Harris: She was the first women elected to the ROM Board of Trustees, serving from 1969-1973 and now serves as Heritage Governor. She has volunteered at the ROM for 50 years with a particular interest in Textiles and Costumes, a passion that led her to become first chair of the former Textile Endowment Fund Committee (1975-1990). She initiated the Textile and Costume Committee (TEX-CO) in 1996, and served as its Chair for several years. She currently heads the subcommittee for the Friends of Textiles and Costumes (FTC). Throughout her associations with the ROM, Harris has lectured extensively about textiles and costumes on its behalf.
Her interest in sewing and needlework goes back to her childhood, she has also learned to weave needlepoint and to quilt. Following schooling in Ottawa and Bellville she attended the University of Toronto, following which she married Torontonian Bill Harris.
William Harris is now a retired financial services executive, is past Chairman of the Board of Governors of the University of Toronto and ex-officio member of the ROM Board of Trustees

6. Woman’s toga dress printed with Henri Matisse’s Femmes et singes.
Designed by Vivienne Westwood (b.1941)Silk-screened machine knit cotton,
England (London) 1982 – 1983 (2004.125.1)

The Royal Ontario Museum opened its doors to the public on March 19 1914. The Michael Lee- Chin Crystal received its Architectural Opening and Building Dedication on June 2 2007. Patricia Harris Gallery of Textiles and Costume opened its doors to the public on April 16 2008.

visit the website and watch a Podcast of Stavros: Master Tailor, April 11, 2008
Lights, camera, fashion. Explore the extensive transformations in textile design and technology throughout the past three millennia in the Patricia Harris Gallery of Textiles & Costume, opening April 16, 2008.
See the full Stavros: Master Tailor video and more in the gallery.

Photo Information:

1. collage of images taken in gallery at preview by Joe Lewis

all other images provided and copyrighted by the ROM and used by permission
2. Section: Exhibit of Clothing
Woman's corset called Sapho H by Manufacture Royale
Waist measurement 24 inches,Silk satin, whale bones, steel busk, trimmed with machine lace
Belgium.c. 1880 – 1885. 978.28 Gift of Mrs. Frances Howey
Before the mid-19th century, the fitting of corsets necessitated
intimate contact between the sexes – corset-making, which
required knowledge of measuring and tailoring, was a male
trade. This, along with the need for assistance to lace it closed
in the back, partially accounts for the erotic associations of this
garment. The introduction of industrially-produced a- shaped
steel busks with hooks and eyes sewn into the front enabled
women to more easily dress themselves.

3. Section: Oldest Surviving Textiles
Tapestry square from a curtain or cover
Linen and wool tapestry in a linen tabby ground, Egypt, Late Antique, 4th - 5th century
910.131.36 The Walter Massey Collection
A horseman hunting rabbits is framed by a vine springing from
a fluted urn in the centre of each side and forming corner
roundels with boys carrying baskets of fruit or birds. Hunting
motifs and inhabited plant scrolls are frequent in Late Antique
art, and were associated with prosperity. This largely
monochromatic tapestry square can be given an early date
because of its classical motifs, naturalistic proportions, lively
movement and 3/4 views.

4.. Section: Lynda Hamilton Exhibit of Printing
Man’s ceremonial mantle or hip cloth called hinggi kombu
Warp ikat cotton tabby, fringe, Indonesia (Eastern Sumba Island)
1900 – 1925, 956.63.17 Gift of Mr. J. Langewis
Hinggi are made and worn in pairs, one draped over the
shoulder, the other wrapped around the hips. Two identical
panels are dyed to create the design in mirror image, both
vertically and horizontally. They are then sewn together to
create a single symmetrical cloth. The traditional animal and
plant designs are inspired by nature. The repeated motif of the
andung (a skull tree found in a royal village) symbolizes victory
over enemies.

5. Section: Exhibit of Chinese Textiles and Costume

Empress' surcoat . Silk tabby with inserted tapestry in silk and gold-wrapped
thread China 1875 – 1900 919.6.148
The George Crofts Collection, gift of the Robert Simpson Company
The wardrobe of the emperor’s wife and high-ranking consorts
included garments that clearly signaled their status and rank like
any other courtier, although none was directly involved with
affairs of state. This padded and quilted winter coat with eight
roundels was worn over a dragon robe for semi-formal

Only the emperor and his immediate family could wear robes
with the five-clawed dragon called long. These outranked the
four-clawed dragons called mang, which were assigned to
princes of the third through the eighth rank. Front-facing
dragons outranked those shown in profile, and round badges
outranked square ones.

6. Section: Lynda Hamilton Exhibit of Printing
Woman’s toga dress printed with Henri Matisse’s Femmes et singes
Designed by Vivienne Westwood (b.1941)
Buffalo Collection, sold at Nostalgia of Mud, London
Silk-screened machine knit cotton
England (London) 1982 – 1983
2004.125.1 Gift of Lynda Latner
This simple T-shaped dress is from Westwood’s first collection
under her own name. The screen printing technique produced
in her artisanal setting and the single large image taken from a
1958 Matisse lithograph transformed a plain T-shirt material
into an art statement. It can be worn as a draped toga wrapped
in multiple ways around the body or left to fall in a train
revealing the full image. An example of this design was worn
by fashion illustrator Richard Grey in London nightclubs.

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