the ornament bookshelf
Esther Juhasz. (Editor) 2012. The Jewish Wardrobe from the Collection of The Israel Museum, Jerusalem. 5 Continents Editions: 352 pp., hardbound $75.00, available at the Jewish Museum.
Accompanying the current “Veiled Meanings” exhibition at the Jewish Museum in New York City, The Jewish Wardrobe is not a catalog produced for the show, but an independent work from the Israel Museum, Jerusalem, highlighting its important and extensive collection of material culture through its Jewish textiles and clothing. The volume is extraordinarily fine in the curatorial research and academic rigor that Esther Juhasz brings in the presentation of this collection and in the very beautiful photographs by Mauro Magliani, transmitting in a warm and personal way the vibrancy and diversity of Jewish life. Historical photographs illuminate the wearing of the garments, identifying them through religious proscriptions, ceremonial attire, or that of daily life where one can more readily see and appreciate the extent of influences of Christian and Muslim rule, for example.
Because Jewish minority status was governed by other dominant world cultures, its clothing and textiles are perfect for studying how countries, like Afghanistan, Egypt, Germany, Greece, Iraq, and others the world over, influenced what Jews wore in these cultures. In many cases their clothes were similar or identical to those of non-Jews.
Historical, geographical, social, and symbolic interpretations are explored, in addition to rites of passage and stages of life. Important to the discussion of Jewish dress is the degree to which it was not only a form of acculturation and integration into a culture but separation and segregation from it as well.
Other important chapters concentrate on the beliefs and traditions that revolve around birth and childhood, written by Ester Muchawsky-Schnapper; wedding celebrations by No’am Bar’am-Ben Yossef; and that on death and mourning by
Alia Ben-Ami and Esther Juhasz. It is difficult to leave this book, as it is a fascinating and haunting reminder of what it
means to be human, and the passages that every person’s life undergoes, no matter the culture, no matter the society.
Carolyn L. E. Benesh
Madhuvanti Ghose. (Editor) 2016. Vanishing Beauty: Asian Jewelry and Ritual Objects from the Barbara and David Kipper Collection. Art Institute of Chicago and Yale University Press: 272 pp., hardbound $65.00.
It is impossible to move quickly through the amazing collection of Asian ethnographica portrayed in Vanishing Beauty. The jewelry and ritual objects are superb examples of works primarily from the Himalayan region, but also include China, India, Indonesia, and other Asian countries. Acquired by the Kippers over many decades, the pieces are breathtaking in
their craftsmanship and of the highest quality, whether crowns, neckpieces, cuffs, earrings, or sacred crowns and amulet cases (gau). They are meant to be savored, lingered over and appreciated for their uniqueness, but also as representative of specimens that have maintained their traditional design, color and shape over many centuries, as the works are greatly symbolic in meaning and offer amuletic powers to the people who wore them.
The volume goes beyond being just a very beautiful coffee table book, due to five first-rate essays by international scholars Jane Casey, Usha Balakrishnan, Li Qianbin, Anne Richter, and Maria Zagitova. Balakrishnan discusses jewelry that spans Afghanistan and Pakistan to the deserts and plains of India, going from Gujarat to Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Odisha. Here she can more clearly illustrate how in the various ethnic groups that reside there, jewelry is an important signifier of region, religion, marital status, and tribal affiliation. Li Qianbin draws from the Chinese minority tribes of the Dong, Miao, Yi and Yao from Guizhou, Yunnan and Guangxi Provinces. The Miao are especially devoted to silver jewelry and a daughter
being married can be gifted with up to twenty pounds of it
by her family, which Li estimates is about a year’s earnings. Zagitova shares her knowledge of jewelry from Central Asia where there are beautiful works in cloisonné, granulation and semiprecious stones on gilt silver (Bukhara) or jewelry festooned with coral, turquoise, glass, and filigreed work (Khiva).
The Kippers have gifted the Art Institute of Chicago with their collection, numbered in the many hundreds, and for which its Asian department must be extraordinarily delighted and gratified. To see them on display is a gift we will all receive over time.
Anne Britt Ylvisaker and Cecilie Skeide. 2017. Liv Blåvarp. Smykker: Strukturer i tre. Jewellery: Structures in Wood. Lillehammer Kunstmuseum and Arnoldsche Art Publishers: 144 pp., hardbound $42.00.
Liv Blåvarp, a Norwegian, is perhaps the leading jeweler working in wood. Her father and grandfather were both carpenters, giving her access to a wood workshop from an early age. A number of Scandinavians make personal adornment in this medium; I remember viewing and reviewing such an exhibition in the 1990s, and being awed by the quality. Blåvarp was trained in metal but returned to wood later in her studies. Scythian or Altaic art and the nailless construction of Russian churches were important early influences on her work.
This book is primarily a pictorial retrospective on Blåvarp’s long career, interspersed with four bilingual essays. Two are by her countrymen, the others by well-known jewelry author/dealer Helen Drutt English and Charon Kransen, a vital link between foreign jewelers and the U.S. market.
Beautiful full-page photographs depict her necklaces and bracelets, impeccably crafted of various wood, often stained, painted or gilded, and sometimes combined with the stunning white of sperm whale teeth. Using serial imagery and rhythm, her neckpieces are striking, sensual and fit the body well, as seen by the few photographs of jewelry being worn. Closeup images reveal the monumental aspect of her jewelry, while demonstrating her attention to flawless technique. Her clasps are a delight in ingenuity. Unfortunately, there are very few images of her workshop or tools but Skeide’s interview with her does provide insight into how Blåvarp works.
Blåvarp’s medium and the scale of her work immediately contrasts this book from those on metal jewelry. The large number of American woodworkers might find inspiration, as well as those who use polymer clay as their medium. I would think that polymer jewelry could increase in scale and volume using similar design concepts, yet retain a reasonable and wearable weight. The low cost of this book makes it an attractive addition to a craftsperson’s library.
Robert K. Liu
Augusto Panini. 2017. The World in a Bead: The Murano Glass Museum’s Collection. Antiga Edizioni: 376 pp., softbound $64.95.
Augusto Panini is an avid Italian bead researcher who knows and loves the glass beads of Venice/Murano. He previously wrote Middle Eastern and Venetian Glass Beads, which was also reviewed in Ornament. Panini spent the last five years working pro bono on this collection, doing most of the photography and all the research.
The current publication is the catalog of the extant bead sample card collection of the Murano Glass Museum, gathered between 1831 and 1883. Besides the cards, there are individual beads, hanks and bunches of beads. Unfortunately, in the 1930s the collection was taken out of their display cases and placed in a warehouse, where the attribution was lost.
The book’s large format shows the beautiful and well-photographed sample cards, strands and individual beads to advantage. As with a number of current bead and jewelry books, the captions are placed at the back of the book, so it is an exercise in visual enjoyment, unless one seeks the relevant information. Dimensions of the sample cards are given, but only a range of sizes for the beads. Even for those with extensive knowledge of glass trade beads, there are surprises, like the numerous glass hair (?) pins made by the firm De Prà Bortolo. Also, we in the bead community are not used to seeing glass trade beads in near pristine condition (except for deterioration of the glass), as most that come to North America and reproduced in publications here are used trade beads, often much abraded by wear.
Perhaps one of the most useful features of this catalog is the segregation of the sample cards into those for the European market and the African, Asian and Americas markets, as well as possible producers or marketing houses, although for the non-European markets there is not information on which sample cards were sent to which markets. Even with such a large sample of beads, some beads found in the trade are missing.
This is certainly a book that should be in libraries and among individuals who are collectors of glass trade beads.
Ferdinand Aichhorn. 2016. The Aichhorn Collection: Ikat, Batik, Needlework. Verlag Anton Pustet: Three volumes, 168 pp., 228 pp., 300 pp., softbound $28.00, $30.00, $32.00. Available at www.sammlung-aichhorn.at or on Amazon.
In September 2016, my wife Peggy and I traveled to Salzburg for a medical conference. During our four-day stay, we explored this vibrant and historically-rich Austrian city built around a lovely stretch of the Salzach River.
One day, on the suggestion of Carolyn Benesh, this magazine’s coeditor, we went to look up Ferdinand Aichhorn, a collector of textiles, who lives on Steingasse Street in one of the oldest parts of the city. We found his gallery, textile kunst galerie, but it was closed. Noticing his name on the list by a doorway to the right of the gallery, I buzzed it in the hopes he might be in. He was.
After showing us the “Textile and Mathematics” show in the gallery, Aichhorn led us up the stairs to his apartment, which doubles as a showcase for his collection. He made us an espresso, then sat down, pipe in hand, to talk about his collection and the three books he has published.
The genial eighty-two-year-old architect-turned-collector and former professor (he taught at the University of Stuttgart) regaled us with stories of his travels in Asia, how he went about tracking down certain pieces. He also expressed the pleasure he has taken in his many adventures, and the honor he has felt interacting with some of the greatest fabric creators of Asia who sustain their artforms in the face of twenty-first-century technology.
Aichhorn gave us a tour of his apartment, a veritable treasure trove of textiles, but also featuring puppets, masks and other objects from distant countries. In addition to sharing his collection through his gallery and books, he has arranged with the Department of Textile Design at the Mozarteum University in Salzburg to have students be able to study the textiles. He also has made his collection available to researchers in the field, quite the gift to the world.
Ferdinand Aichhorn’s passion for Asian textiles began in 1977 when he attended an exhibition of batik in Jakarta, Indonesia. The Salzburg-born architect was especially fascinated by geringsing, a fabric produced through a double ikat weaving technique. The Indonesian painter Kartika Affandi encouraged him to visit Tengagen, an ancient Aga village in East Bali, where the double ikat textiles are spun, dyed and woven.
Since that time, Aichhorn has traveled extensively in Indonesia, India, Burma, Thailand, Pakistan, Iran, Cambodia, Laos, and China, collecting textiles. For many years he scheduled his urban planning work to allow him to backpack through Asia for several weeks every winter. One discovery led to another, and the Aichhorn collection took shape.
With the publication of the three-volume The Aichhorn Collection, the collector is sharing a selection of his treasures with readers world-wide. Each of the heavily illustrated books shares a similar format: a preface followed by chapters arranged by place and/or technique. The text is provided in German with English translations by Gail Schamberger. Aichhorn’s wife Christa Musger helped with the photography. Each volume features a bibliography and glossary.
Brief introductions to each chapter offer context to the textiles, including cultural background, history and symbolic/religious significance. In the opening section of the ikat volume, for example, Aichhorn briefly describes Bali and Aga and then discusses the colors, textures and motifs of the double ikat fabrics and how these textiles are used in daily life. He explains that the geringsing cloths are believed to have “magic properties and to protect the villagers from dangers and harmful influences.”
Each volume is replete with examples of textiles along with close-up details. Photographs of individuals wearing the fabrics and of holy sites and street scenes give a sense of the places Aichhorn has visited in his wide-ranging travels, often to very remote spots. From the conical spirit houses of Luba to markets in Burma to communal handicraft gatherings in western India, the books double as textile travelogue.
The variety of patterns is amazing, as is the vast array of cloth items: jackets, scarves, shawls, saris, turbans, robes, belts, veils, wall hangings, sarongs, skirts, shoulder bags, baby slings, etc. One can foresee fabric artists around the world studying these images and being inspired to explore new designs. Aichhorn also explains various technical aspects of the fabrication of the different cloths, often accompanied by photographs of regional artisans in the act of production.
On more than one occasion Aichhorn notes that Western influence on design and technique is minimal. That observation underscores his mission: to discover and preserve craft practices before they are subsumed by a fast-moving civilization. At the same time, many of the designs have a contemporary look, be it geometric-abstract patterns or lively figural, anthropomorphic, floral and pictorial motifs (some fabrics have lines of poetry woven into them).
One exception, if you will, to Aichhorn’s mission is found in the batik volume where he includes examples of “batik pictures” by contemporary artists in Yogyakarta. These pieces would look at home in a New York City gallery.
Volume Three, the largest, is devoted to needlework. The range of embroidery is spectacular, from the baghs of Punjab, India, and the molas of Panama to the felt rugs of Mongolia. Some needlework pieces, such as a remarkable large Bengali kantha with flowers, recall the work of so-called outsider artists: simple, obsessive, enchanting. The complexity is also stunning—thousands of individual stitches going into a single object—as is the fact that they are entirely handmade.
These books represent a bounty of beauty. They also serve as a testimony to one individual’s commitment to preserving for posterity the remarkable creations of far-flung artists—and to sharing his wonder at this work with others.
Fahmida Suleman. 2017. Textiles of the Middle East and Central Asia: The Fabric of Life. Thames & Hudson: 232 pp., hardbound $40.00.
Fahmida Suleman’s journey through the Middle East and Central Asia reads like a visual encyclopedia of clothing, threading the fine line between necessary organization and aesthetic license. Covering a broad range of textiles from the British Museum’s collection, the subject should be overwhelming. However, Suleman uses each photograph to place the object within a larger cultural context, feeding the reader bite-sized examples that slowly lead into a tapestry of understanding. The book is further divided into six sections: Childhood, Marriage and Ceremony, Status and Identity, Religion and Belief, House and Homestead, and Politics and Conflict. With beautiful photography, one is exposed to intriguing details that provide a window into the cultures of the Middle East and Central Asia.
Cultural commonalities are made readily apparent as one continues from page to page, chapter to chapter. The importance of apotropaic elements is emphasized time and time again; cowrie shells, coins, mirrors, triangular patches, buttons and more are regularly found on children’s clothing to divert and distract the evil eye. Embroidered designs are left unfinished, as are hems, and this is found among peoples all over the region, from Tajiks in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan to Turkmens in northern Afghanistan. Such a fascinating concept, to propagate life’s energy flowing by keeping the visible story, told by the garment, open-ended.
If there is one flaw in this otherwise marvelous book, it is how flat the items of clothing are photographed. Where possible, blown-up details are shown, which help alleviate this problem, and occasionally the garments are shown worn, as is the case in a picture of Hamid Karzai wearing the stunning green and purple chapan that has since been donated to the museum. More interesting are archival photographs—a tinted glass lantern slide from the early 1900s depicting a group of Kyrgyz women and children is a fascinating glimpse into the past, made surreal by the archaic technique. A black and white image of a Tajik wedding ceremony puts the suzani (a dowry textile that served both as a cover for the nuptial bed, and used as a canopy during the wedding ceremony) into context.
Reading through Suleman’s informational odyssey drives home the importance of textiles and clothing in our lives. The book succeeds in introducing the reader to new cultures in an indepth manner, and more so it is engaging. Rather than being a dry overview, the author paints a lush picture of life in all sorts of places, a jigsaw puzzle that is put together piece by piece. If one is looking to have a comprehensive lesson on Middle Eastern culture through textiles, or perhaps be inspired by a style so different from the Western world, this is the book for you.
Patrick R. Benesh-Liu