Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Not Fade Away: Sharing Quilt Stories in the Digital Age

I'll be giving the keynote address at the Quilt Alliance's "Not Fade Away: Quilt Stories in the Digital Age" conference in a couple of weeks. I'm pretty excited about this opportunity to share the One Hundred Good Wishes story with a new audience!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Wu Du, or "Five Poisons"

I haven't posted anything in ages (this needs to change), so I thought I'd put up a short video we shot while we were in China last May of quiltmaker Pan Kai Li making some of the little stuffed creatures that go on her Bai Jai Bei. These little creatures (scorpion, lizard, spider, centipede, and snake) are the wu du, or "five poisons," that are intended to protect the child owner from evil spirits.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

"Cross-Cultural Commemoration"

My presentation on One Hundred Good Wishes Quilts at the Textile Society of America's symposium last September is now published in their proceedings. Go to the University of Nebraska' Digital Commons to read it.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Interviews and Travels in China

I know that 7 months is a ridiculously long silence in the blog world. Life (and work) do seem to throw off my momentum from time to time. But I'm back. And I'd like to talk about two *huge* things that happened during the last half-year.

First, I completed 18 interviews with One Hundred Good Wishes Quilt makers and/or parents. I am so indebted to these 18 people for sharing their stories with me. I'm a long way off from completing this dissertation (heck -- I'm not even a quarter done transcribing the interviews!), but I already know that there is so much great material in the conversations I've had. I hope that when I'm done I will have fully and adequately explained what these quilts mean to individual makers and families as well as to what they mean in our larger society and culture. My heartfelt thanks to everyone who has contributed to my project so far.

Second, in May, I led a team from our museum to Xi'an, China to do research on patchwork traditions from that region. You can read all about that adventure here. But most relevant to this blog, we met with quiltmakers who call the pieces they make for the tourist market, bai jia bei (百家被)or "One Hundred Families Quilts"! This is the first time I've had a strong confirmation of this tradition occurring in northern China. Here is one of the quiltmakers showing off her handiwork:

And here she is holding up a One Hundred Families Quilt that we ended up acquiring for our museum collection (she is hidden behind the quilt and standing next to it is our colleague, Jack Zhang from the Xi'an Jiaotong University Art Museum, who was instrumental in coordinating our research trip):

Even more exciting, our hosts from the Xi'an Jiaotong University Art Museum donated to us a thirty-year-old example of a bai jia bei! It was made by a woman from Gansu Province (also in northwestern China) for her son. I was so excited when they presented it to us that all I could do was sit and stare at it for several minutes (that's me in the center with the *giant* grin; Professor Li of XJTU Art Museum is on the left, and Dr. Patricia Crews, director of the International Quilt Study Center & Museum is on the right).

Friday, October 26, 2012

Chinese Patchwork (Part Two)

Two weeks ago, the American Quilt Study Group held their annual seminar right here in Lincoln, Nebraska. My colleagues and I at the IQSCM had a great time giving behind-the-scenes tours of our facilities to 180+ of the seminar participants. In addition to giving a tour of the "Indigo Gives America the Blues" exhibition, I showed our special visitors a number of new acquisitions -- including this beautiful patchwork robe from China. It's a ceremonial robe -- a longpo yi, or "dragon wife's robe" -- from the Yi people of Malipo County in Yunnan Province. It would have been worn during a funeral ceremony and was probably made around 1940. It features patchwork pinwheels made from a variety of brocaded and plain-weave silks as well as printed cottons; these pinwheels are all appliqued to an indigo-dyed ground fabric.

In this photo (sorry for the excessive cropping) you can see the cutout for the wearer's head. This is an image of the piece lying flat, so the portion at the top is the front of the garment, while the larger portion at the bottom is the back side (it's sort of like an enormous poncho).
Here's a close up of the garment with Xenia Cord, IQSCM acquisitions coordinator, myself, Robert James, IQSCM benefactor, and Carolyn Ducey, IQSCM curator of collections, standing behind it.

So what does this robe have to do with One Hundred Good Wishes Quilts (OHGWQ)? Well, I think it's important to have a full understanding of Chinese patchwork in order to gauge what kind of an impact it had on the recent development of a quilt made for adopted Chinese children, the OHGWQ. Admittedly, these robes were made in relative isolation, in far southwestern China, but the concept of patchwork having spiritual power is clearly a strong theme across Asian textiles.

To read more about longpo yi ("dragon wife's robes") visit the site.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Patchwork in China (part One of Many)

In my last post, I wrote a bit about the Han Chinese tradition of making bai jia pao (白家袍), or "One Hundred Families Robes." These silk patchwork robes were made for hundreds of years as talismanic, or spiritually protective garments for young boys.

Other Chinese ethnic groups besides the Han, however, have used patchwork and applique in their domestic textiles. Here is a photo of me showing some VIP visitors a quilt top from the International Quilt Study Center & Museum's collection. The piece is attributed to the Maonan people of Guangxi province in southwest China.

Quilt top attributed to the Maonan people of SW China, 20th c., International Quilt Study Center & Museum, photo courtesy of Jonathan Holstein.

The piece consists of the top, decorative portion of what would have been a quilt cover (sort of like a duvet cover) -- the back has been removed. The individual blocks were constructed in what today's quiltmakers might call "potholder style," in that they were fully appliqued, embroidered and quilted on a foundation fabric before all of the completed blocks were then sewn together.

Here is another beautiful example of a Maonan quilt top from the IQSCM collection.

Quilt top attributed to the Maonan people of SW China, 20th c., International Quilt Study Center & Museum, 2011.026.0001

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Origins of One Hundred Good Wishes Quilts (Part One of Many)

I first encountered One Hundred Good Wishes Quilts (OHGWQ) as I was researching Chinese patchwork traditions.

As the curator responsible for building our museum's collection of non-Western quilts and related textiles, I was curious to find out what kinds of quilting and patchwork have traditionally taken place in China. One form of Chinese folk art that I quickly discovered was the bai jia pao(白家袍), or "One Hundred Families Robe." As I was researching the Chinese concept of one hundred families, I also found websites for one hundred good wishes quilts. In a later post, I will address more directly the possible relationships between the two.

Bai jia pao are silk patchwork robes that were made for hundreds of years as talismanic, or spiritually protective, garments for children. Because each patch was supposed to be donated by different families, the garment was believed to bestow the strength of these households on the young wearer, usually a boy. Auspicious symbols were also embroidered on the bai jia pao to give even more spiritual protection from malevolent spirits and ghosts.

I've discovered at least 10 of these bai jia pao in museums and private collections. Here is an excellent example that I had the opportunity to examine at the Saint Louis Art Museum (SLAM) in March, 2011. Many thanks to SLAM for allowing me to use these images.

Han Chinese Boy's Robe ("One Hundred Households Robe"), late 19th century

embroidered silk with silk and metallic threads

back: 27 5/8 in. (70.2 cm)
arm span: 39 9/16 in. (100.5 cm)

Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of Julius A. Gordon and Ilene Gordon Wittels in memory of Rose Gordon  112:1989

This bai jia pao is composed of approximately 155 roughly 1.75" (measured side to side) hexagons. The silks are in a range of colors, mostly in damask weaves. Each patch has a different embroidered motif on it, except for two patches with a rotund boy (likely a symbol of abundant, healthy sons) and two patches with a woman on it (perhaps symbolizing the mother or commissioner of the robe?).

A rotund boy, representing the hope for many healthy sons, an idea central to traditional, patriarchal Chinese society.

An elegant woman, perhaps representing the mother and/or female commissioner/maker of the garment.
Other auspicious motifs appear on this bai jia pao; for instance the shou longevity symbol on the right (on the red hexagon) and the qi lin, a mythical creature often depicted with a boy on its back, as here, to symbolize the wish for abundant sons.
Finally, here is a yin yang and ba gua (trigrams) symbol that is so integral to the Daoist idea of spiritual and cosmological balance. (For some reason, I find it so interesting to see an octagon inside a hexagon.)

In my next post, I will talk more about bai jia pao and other possible points of origin for the contemporary One Hundred Good Wishes Quilt.

I'm off to the Textile Society of America meeting in Washington, D.C. tomorrow to deliver a paper about OHGWQ -- wish me luck!