i+D - July/August 2021 - 53

The Textile Museum is located on
the campus of George Washington
University in Washington, D.C.
(Image: Courtesy of William Atkins for
The George Washington University)
Rich Resource:
The Textile Museum
When textiles designers need to find inspiration in the past,
there's one place they repeatedly turn: The Textile Museum,
a component of the George Washington University Museum.
Celebrating the textile achievements of local and global cultures
throughout the ages-from international textile art to artifacts
close to Washington, D.C.'s history-exhibits focus on everything
from Asian Ikat designs to waste and consumerism in the fashion
industry to textiles as a form of expression. This museum is an
invaluable resource to textiles designers, interior designers, and
historians alike.
" We are often approached by designers, artists, students,
and enthusiasts who seek to ground their work with a firsthand
understanding of precedent as a springboard for their inspiration, "
notes John Wetenhall, Ph.D., director of the George Washington
University Museum and the Textile Museum.
Because of its affiliation with George Washington University,
the Textile Museum strives to incorporate academic teaching
and research into its exhibitions and programs: Faculty members
can feature collection research in course assignments, students are
involved in developing exhibits, and the academic community
is invited to attend academic programs. The Textile Museum
Journal, an internationally juried publication, also furthers the
museum's commitment to academics. And the University plans
to launch a graduate certificate in textiles studies soon.
When the museum had to close its doors during the COVID-19
pandemic, it quickly became an online resource accessible to
more than just those visiting the nation's capital. When forced
to work from home, the museum staff began digitizing collections
and conservation records, enhancing the museum's online search
capabilities, and accelerating high-resolution photography of
items in the museum's collection. In March 2020, the museum's
collection website offered access to just over 2,000 textiles.
Today, there are more than 11,000 textiles in the online database,
and the museum is in the process of updating its software to
expedite searches and to examine images close-up.
Similarly, the Textile Museum's educational programs, which
would attract perhaps 25 or 50 guests when they were in-person,
suddenly found an audience of hundreds when they were
available online. And the museum was able to line up scholars,
artists, curators, and collectors across time zones and even
oceans to lead programs from their homes. Wetenhall notes that
today 75 percent of new museum members live beyond driving
distance to the museum.
" Our academic community has transformed the DNA of our
museum into an outward-facing, teaching-focused laboratory
for art, cultural studies, and preparation for careers in museums, "
says Wetenhall. " Public programming online has broadened our
audience reach from local to national and international, supported
by partnerships with museums, scholarly and professional
associations, NGOs, embassies, and academic departments
across our campus and with other universities. "
" Binding the Clouds: The Art of
Central Asian Ikat, " a 2018 exhibition.
(Image: Courtesy of William Atkins for
The George Washington University)
Wetenhall notes initiatives that are particularly relevant to textile
designers: His own personal favorite is the Cotsen Textile Traces
Study Center, which houses what he calls the world's finest
collection of textile fragments, representing cultures from around
the world spanning more than 2,500 years of design history; the
collection is viewable online, or students and scholars can
see them in person by appointment. And virtual and in-person
programs are available supporting contemporary textile art and
artists. Wetenhall says there are also plans in the works to feature
contemporary practicing textile artists.
The museum is planning a post-COVID reopening in August
with a new exhibition: a tribute to collector Lloyd Cotsen.
Another new exhibition will focus on women's textile collectives.
And in 2022, exhibitions are planned focusing on Indian textiles
and Korean fashion.
But those who enjoyed being able to access the Textile Museum
via their computer need not worry that the virtual program will
end as the museum reopens its doors for in-person visitors.
" Letters and emails overwhelmingly ask us to maintain virtual
programming even after the pandemic, " says Wetenhall.
" Of course, we will! " In-person programming will focus on
object-based experiences and community building activities like
its monthly " Ask a Curator " or " Ask a Conservator " programs.
But, says Wetenhall, " We will not abandon the many people who
cannot access our facilities and who now rely upon us to bring
virtual programming to their homes-wherever they may be. "
i+D - July/August 2021
53

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