Spotlight on Preservation: Textile Loft


2015-06-04 10.48.35by Katrina Fausnaugh, Arts Management Intern

At the end of my Collections internship at the Miami University Art Museum (MUAM) this past fall semester, Laura Stewart, Registrar / Collections Manager, broached the subject of a new project that I could work on related to collections at the museum. The museum has a very large collection of textile objects, many of which were donated by Elma Pratt from her vast collection of folk art, back around the time when the museum was first built. These objects are housed primarily on rolls, and in cabinets and boxes, in the storage area’s “Textile Loft.” Given the very large size of this collection and the fact that many items are kept by the museum for educational purposes rather than for display in exhibitions, it is an unfortunate reality that no one has yet been able to devote a lot of time to their cataloguing and preservation. At this point, there were still about a dozen or so old non-archival boxes full of textiles up in the loft, which is where I came in!

View of Textile Loft

Throughout this semester, I have been devoting two of my days at the museum each week to working on these boxes of textiles. My job includes bringing the boxes down from the loft to the work tables in the storage area and unpacking them one at a time. I then go on to inventory the contents – making sure everything that is supposed to be in the boxes is there, and tracking down information to account for any discrepancies between the contents as listed on the boxes, the contents as recorded in TMS (The Museum System, the database the museum uses to catalogue its collection), and what I actually find in the boxes. Other tasks I have been completing in the course of this project include making condition notes for any textiles with undocumented condition issues, taking photographs, measuring a lot of the objects and adding any information I could to TMS (such as dimensions and descriptions of any pieces that were lacking this information). I have then been re-packing the contents in new archival boxes (which are acid-free and lignin-free, meaning they do not contain any substances that will break down over time and potentially damage the textiles). Below are images of some interesting objects I found while going through the boxes.

Contents of Texbox 55, a collection of 20th century shirts and robes, primarily from Cote d’Ivoire, and other parts of West Africa.

One of the boxes I came across stored this collection of shirts and robes mostly from Cote d’Ivoire, and a few from other parts of West Africa. They are all woven, many of them very colorful and containing really interesting embroidered patterns.

“Traditional paper kites” 1940, Japan. Wood, paper and string, Gift of Margaret Meyers. (Left to Right): 1976.PA.1.9.b | 1976.PA.1.9.c | 1976.PA.1.9.a

These kites were an interesting find. I came across them while unpacking a box of paper cut-outs and bark paintings. Unfortunately, this was the one box I didn’t end up getting a chance to inventory and re-pack in archival boxes. There were just so many objects in the box, that there was no way I would have time to inventory them all by the end of the semester, and many of them were also too large for the new boxes ordered for this project. But I did find these paper kites, which were really cool to look at. They were also a little bit scary to handle, because they are old and rather fragile.

Contents of Texbox 65, a collection of 20th century hats, primarily from Pakistan and Afghanistan, and also Nepal and India.

This box of hats was also a really interesting find. I had no idea that the museum’s collection even included hats; most of the wearable textiles I’d come across so far had been things like shirts, robes, and even a few burqa. Most of these hats come from the mid-1900s, and since I have some interest in 20th century fashion, it was really neat to get to handle them. Many of them also had a lot of intricate details like embroidery and tiny beads sewn on.

I’m sorry to say that none of the above textiles are slated for display in any upcoming exhibitions, but there is one object from the very first box I inventoried, a wax-resist textile (often referred to as batik) from Cote d’Ivoire, currently on display in the Global Perspectives Gallery. Come check it out when you have the chance! In fact, since the Global Perspectives Gallery was just updated and re-installed this semester, definitely come check out the whole exhibit if you haven’t already!