Cincinnati Art Museum’s new exhibition, The Fabric of India, includes a stunning range of historic dress, heirloom fabrics, and cutting-edge fashion. We asked community members and those directly involved with the exhibition to select a not-to-miss object. Here are their favorites.
Rosemary Crill, Senior Curator in the South and South-East Asian Department, Victoria and Albert Museum, London
While Rosemary was hesitant to pick a favorite in the exhibition, she’s confident that visitors will love the Map Shawl for its “color, wit, wackiness, and humor.” The shawl was originally intended as a presentation piece for the Prince of Wales but was likely not finished in time to offer as a gift. Every detail on the shawl is hand embroidered—including endless blue threads representing water—and they capture images of everyday life in Srinagar, India. Look for a charming blue dog among the many scenes.
Padma Sriniketh, Chair, Cincinnati Art Museum’s Gala Committee
In walking through the exhibit, Padma was taken with something simple but so crucial to the Indian textile tradition—cotton bolls. These cotton bolls brought back memories of her childhood in Delhi, India. They would float in the air, and she would catch and release them back to the sky. The cotton also reminded her of the soft, cotton towels that she first used to swaddle her children. More memories surfaced when she saw a large wall hanging that could have been used as a tent interior.
This piece—found on a sidewalk in New York City and then donated to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London – reminded her of tents that would pop up between apartment buildings in her neighborhood. The tents would be used for celebrations such as weddings. As Padma noted: “(In India) fabric is interlinked with tradition, culture and religion.”
Cynthia Amneus, Chief Curator and Curator of Fashion Arts and Textiles, Cincinnati Art Museum
Cynthia’s pick is an English jacket and petticoat (dated from 1720-1750) made of chintz fabric imported from India. As Cynthia noted, this ensemble captures “the cross cultural exchange that the Indians mastered.” Brightly patterned, dyed cotton became popular in Britain and the Netherlands from the 1660s, reaching its peak in the early eighteenth century. Garments made of Indian chintz were available to a wide range of classes, upsetting some who complained that they “could no longer tell a servant from her mistress.”
Jill Dunne, Director of Marketing and Communications, Cincinnati Art Museum
Among the rich tapestries and fashions, Jill found a stunning discovery.
“The dress border decorated with beetle wing cases took my breath away. They are this vibrant, iridescent blue/green. It catches your eye and draws you in. It’s so fascinating to realize that hundreds of actual jewel beetles were used to create the decoration close to 170 years ago.”
Cincinnati Art Museum, 953 Eden Park Dr., Eden Park, cincinnatiartmuseum.org/fabricofindia