Reviewed May 2014
by Beverly Gordon. Thames & Hudson, February 2014. 304 p. ill. ISBN 9780500291139 (pbk.), $34.95.
ed. by Amelia Peck. Metropolitan Museum of Art, dist. by Yale University Press, September 2013. 360 p. ill. ISBN 9780300196986 (cl.), $65.00.
In Textiles: The Whole Story, Beverly Gordon, former president of the Textile Society of America, surveys the production, use, and understanding of textiles in cultures throughout the world and across time. Her approach is holistic and “…integrates the fields of art, science, history, and anthropology” (14). The scope is broad, sweeping, and rich in ideas and insight. The arrangement is topical and includes textiles as speech and metaphor in human consciousness; as signifiers of power, especially magnificent dress and décor; as communication, ranging from ancient Andean knotting systems to fiber optics; and as manifestations of the spirit and religious practice. The author’s examples range across the world and throughout history. The book is, however, a survey, and its strength is also its limitation with most artifacts and ideas described or discussed very briefly. As Gordon points out, it is her book’s breadth and scope that distinguishes it from other large-scale studies of textiles, such as Annette Weiner and Jane Schneider’s, Cloth and Human Experience, which examines in depth the use of textiles in selected societies (13). The author is both an expert in textile studies (the works cited include fifteen of her own publications) as well as a textile artist. The ample documentation—nine pages of closely printed notes and 400 works cited—show a breadth of reading and will be particularly useful to students and other researchers who will wish to expand on the ideas and examples she presents. The documentation includes an extensive array of “further reading and resources,” illustration and quotation credits, acknowledgements, and a detailed index. There are abundant full-color illustrations, most mentioned in the text. It is well made: sturdy perfect binding, good-quality coated paper, attractive, spacious layout. This publication should have wide appeal in art and general libraries.
The Interwoven Globe is the catalog of an exhibition held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, of textiles, clothing, and related artworks drawn mostly from the museum’s own collections. The authors of all but one essay are Metropolitan Museum curatorial and research staff. All are experts in their fields and fluent, elegant writers. The essays include historical and economic background as well as discussions of technique, materials, and motif. Together they provide coherent and complete coverage of the textile trade during the period of European expansion and colonization and include many cross references to other essays in the collection. Each essay is documented by many notes, both bibliographic and expansive. 121 detailed catalog entries, with full-color photographs of the objects and many with photos of details follow the essays. The bibliography runs thirteen pages; there is a detailed index and short glossary of textile terminology. Some of the topics covered in-depth—the trade in cochineal and indigo, European and American taste for Indian bed hangings, printed cottons, and gentlemen’s banyans or day robes—are only treated briefly in more general studies of textile history, including Gordon’s above. Other aspects of textile history and trade during the period of 1500-1800 are covered in more specialized studies such as Giorgio Rielle’s How India Clothed the World (2009) and John Guy’s Woven Cargoes: Indian Textiles in the East (1998). However, there seems to be no publication that covers the broad range of this catalog in comparable detail and depth. The book is beautiful: sewn, hardbound and opening flat, the cloth cover made of a reproduction of an eighteenth-century indigo resist cotton fabric, with thick coated paper and wide margins. It would be a great addition to any collection interested in the history of textiles, art, or history.