Quality as an Indicator of "Ethnographic"

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Posted by R. John Howe on December 02, 1998 at 05:56:47:

In Reply to: Definition of ethnographic posted by Fred Mushkat on December 02, 1998 at 01:01:31:

Dear folks -

I want to join Fred on this point. Helfgott, whom I'm still reading, makes a pretty good case for suggesting that the best candidates for truly "ethnographic" textiles, in the sense of those actually most frequently "made for use" by "nomadic pastoralists" would be felts rather than carpets. They took less time and they were far more flexibly functional. One speaker at the TM convention, the anthropologist from Indiana University, was, if I'm not mistaken fairly scornful of the notion of much weaving by most nomadic pastoralists. He said that there isn't time. And to go back to Helfgott, he acknowledges that many travels report seeing rugs, bags, etc. in tribal tents but also reports that some tribal chiefs who were visited had no rugs at all and only a few old worn felts on the floor. So it's hard to decide what we're collecting. Perhaps weavings owned mostly by the more prosperous nomads that were in fact fairly infrequent in the modal nomad household.


John Howe

: This discussion of what makes a textile ethnographic is very intruiging, and the sweater and eagle kazak arguments are no doubt true. The only exception I have with the discussion is the belief that a textile has to be "relatively high quality." Many ethnographic textiles were no doubt made by weavers who made nothing but textiles for indiginous use. I believe that it is safe to assume that these weavers did not begin making relatively high quality textiles, but learned through practice. It is the higher quality pieces that survive, simply because they were better cared for during their useful life, and selectively collected thereafter. We should be cautious in assuming that ethnographic textiles are necessarily more beautiful or of higher quality than their commercial counterparts. Nearly all collectors have seen hideous textiles that one wonders if anyone would buy...surely not all such textiles were made for the commercial markets!

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