A $3 million gift from Avenir Foundation, announced in January 2012, has transformed the department of textile art. The donation endowed the department, funding its staff and program in perpetuity. It also supported the relocation and significant expansion of the textile art gallery, which opened on May 19, 2013, with its inaugural exhibition, Cover Story. In the adjacent innovative and interactive Nancy Lake Benson Thread Studio, visitors can learn about many aspects of textile art and also try their hand at different techniques, while the PreVIEW space, funded with help from the William H. Donner Foundation, provides a glimpse into the behind-the-scenes work that fuels our textile art exhibitions. The new textile art complex—these three areas plus storage for the majority of the department’s more than 5,000 objects—occupies more than 8,000 square feet on the 6th floor of the North Building. Spun: Adventures in Textile Art, a museum-wide series of textile-related exhibitions joins in the celebration.
Textile Art Gallery, Level 6, North Building
A $3 million gift from the Avenir Foundation, announced in January 2012, is transforming the department of textile art. The donation from the foundation will support the expansion of the gallery, slated to open in the summer 2013, and form an endowment that will fund staff and its program in perpetuity.
The new textile art gallery space will occupy more than six times its current square footage, allowing the department to show a greater portion of its collection as well as host larger and more frequent loan exhibitions. Also planned are scientific and educational spaces, a staging area for exhibition preparation, and storage for the more than 5,000 textile objects in the DAM’s collection. An additional gift from trustee Nancy Lake Benson will underwrite an innovative and interactive educational area. Support from Mary Ellen Anderson will enable the hiring of a full-time textile conservator.
The origins of the department date to 1927, with the gift to the museum of a Kashmir shawl—the museum’s first recorded non-American Indian textile. In 1955, Lydia Roberts Dunham was appointed the first curator of textiles, succeeded by Imelda G. DeGraw in 1965, who held that position until her retirement in 1992. During the tenure of these curators, the collection grew dramatically, assisted by the creation of the Neusteter Fashion, Costume and Textile Institute in 1962, which for 10 years helped support acquisitions and promote artistic appreciation of the collection.
In 1996, Alice Zrebiec, formerly a textile curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, was charged as consulting curator to display the collections—among the most popular with museum visitors—after several years of exhibition hiatus. Changing the focus of the department to reflect its position within a museum of fine art and design required assessing and refining the collections and their presentation. This also prompted renaming the department, which was originally known as textiles and costumes, to textile art. With the announcement of the Avenir Foundation gift, Dr. Zrebiec has transitioned from consulting curator to the full-time position of the Avenir Foundation Curator of Textile Art.
Perhaps the two best known areas of the textile art department are its internationally exhibited and widely published American quilt collection and its extensive holdings of late Qing Dynasty Chinese costumes and textiles. This diverse department, however, contains many more riches. Its wide-ranging scope extends from pre-Columbian and Coptic archeological textiles to contemporary works of art in fiber and overlaps culturally and/or chronologically with the departments of Asian art, pre-Columbian art, Spanish colonial art, painting and sculpture, western art, and modern and contemporary art. Objects under its curatorial charge include all textiles in the Denver Art Museum except American Indian, African and Oceanic textiles, which are collected by the Native Arts Department, and the textiles and rugs in the Herbert Bayer collection.
Notable aspects of the textile art collection include:
- An internationally recognized collection of more than 300 American quilts. These include examples made by and donated by Charlotte Jane Whitehill (1866-1964), a well-known appliqué quilt maker who was a member of an extremely talented group of quilters in Emporia, Kansas, before moving to Denver. Whitehill’s Indiana Wreath quilt and The Matterhorn quilt by Myrtle M. Fortner (1880-1966), were honored by a jury drawn from four major American quilt societies in 1999 as being among the 100 best quilts of the 1900s. Also notable are the mid-19th century quilts, including the extraordinary broderie perse album quilt given to Anna Eliza Pratt; crazy quilts; and Amish and Mennonite quilts. In 2008, Dr. Guido Goldman donated 15 exceptional quilts and 5 coverlets to the collection.
- More than 100 American coverlets representing overshot, double cloth, and Biederwand techniques and including significant gifts from both Mrs. S. Effie Parkhill and Stewart and Carol Strickler. A coverlet made by Harry Tyler and dated 1835 is one of our most recent additions, a gift of Barbara Poytress Dallow and Earl F. Poytress.
- The Julia Wolf Glasser collection, given by Mr. and Mrs. Raymond L. Grimes, comprises more than 100 samplers, dating from the 18th and 19th centuries and made in Europe, North and South America.
- The Charlotte Hill Grant collection of more than 600 Chinese court costumes and accessories—primarily late Qing Dynasty—acquired by Mrs. Grant in China in the 1920s and 1930s, and subsequently gifted to the museum by her children, James P. Grant and Betty Austin Grant, in 1977.
- Ecclesiastical vestments and textiles from the Renaissance to the 1900s, particularly the gift of Rev. John Krenzke. Included in the latter is a tour de force set of 5 vestments: the Angel chasuble, maniple, stole, chalice veil and chalice cover designed by Gaspard Poncet (1820-1892) and woven by the firm of J. A. Henry in 1889 in Lyon, France.
- Textiles from India, made for local use as well as resist-dyed palampores created for export to Europe and Indonesia
- Indonesian batik
- European lace
- A growing collection of contemporary art in fiber. Recent additions include works by Carol Shinn, Lia Cook and Carol Eckert.
- Western costume and accessories, both ethnographic and fashion, illustrate specific textile techniques or design movements.
- There are smaller holdings of Asian carpets, European tapestries, pre-Columbian textiles, Coptic textile fragments, Islamic textiles, and historic European textiles
Working with other curatorial departments, textile art has lent objects for display in the Asian, pre-Columbian, and Spanish colonial art galleries, thus placing the textiles into a larger cultural context. In turn, objects from Asian art, modern and contemporary, and native arts have been installed in the textile gallery to illustrate cross-cultural influences and design parallels.
The latest special exhibition, Threads of Heaven: Silken Legacy of the China’s Last Dynasty, closed on January 29, 2012. It featured more than 90 objects from the DAM’s permanent collection of Chinese costumes and textiles that illustrate aspects of late Qing Dynasty court life and culture. Other large, major exhibitions such as Ikat: Splendid Silks of Central Asia from the Guido Goldman Collection, Kaleidoscope of Color: Amish Quilts from the Collection of Faith and Stephen Brown, and Gee’s Bend: The Architecture of the Quilt brought to the Denver public objects that are not available in our collections or that complement our collections.
Publications by and about the textile art department include:
- American Patchwork Quilt: The Denver Art Museum Collection. Tokyo: Kokusai Art, 1986.
- Secret Splendors of the Chinese Court: Qing Dynasty Textiles from the Charlotte Hill Grant Collection. Denver: Denver Art Museum, 1981. Available in the Museum Shop.
- 25 Years Couturiers. DeGraw, Imelda G. Denver: Denver Art Museum, 1975.
- The Denver Art Museum: Quilts and Coverlets. DeGraw, Imelda G. Denver: Denver Art Museum, 1974.
- Fibre Structures. DeGraw, Imelda G. Denver: Denver Art Museum, 1972.
- The Neusteter Institute of Fashion, Costume, and Textiles of the Denver Art Museum. Dunham, Lydia Roberts. Denver Art Museum Quarterly. Denver: Denver Art Museum, Winter 1965.
- Denver Art Museum Quilt Collection. Dunham, Lydia Roberts. Denver Art Museum Quarterly. Denver: Denver Art Museum, Winter 1963.
- Denver Art Museum Costume Collection. Dunham, Lydia Roberts. Denver Art Museum Quarterly. Denver: Denver Art Museum, Summer 1962.
- Clothes Make the Man. Bach, Cile M. Denver Art Museum Quarterly. Denver: Denver Art Museum, Spring 1956.
- Dr. Alice M. Zrebiec, Avenir Foundation Curator of Textile Art
- Carla Stansifer, Curatorial Assistant
- Stefania Van Dyke, Master Teacher
- Allison McCloskey, Textile Conservator
- Lydia Roberts Dunham, Curator, 1955-1962
- Imelda G. DeGraw, Curator, 1965-1992