From excavations at 310 Cypress Street.
The piece is made up of many wrapped strips. Each strip is made up of two thin pieces of wood which are wrapped with plant fibers. Tiny cowry shells are attached to the front of the strips via a plant fiber thread in a running stitch.
TU66.3-11, carved horn spoon, Northwest Coast, North America, 15″ long, University of Pennsylvania Collection. The horn was shaped and thinned using hot water and was likely made for the tourist trade in the early 20th century.
Illustration by Muriel Kirkpatrick.
Before recently leaving Temple, Heather Veneziano visited Muriel and me in the Lab to look at a few artifacts made of fiber under a USB 200x microscope.
Heather spent nearly 5 years as the Technical Assistant in the Tyler Fiber Lab where her work was invaluable. She has since moved to New Orleans where she is helping build sustainable housing. She is also an artist specializing in fibers, with a background both in crafts and in fine arts. Heather received a MFA in Tapestry from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. She works with historical textiles and is presenting a paper with Temple graduate student Mara Katkins at a symposium of the Textile Society of America this week in Washington, DC. (Congratulations Heather and Mara!)
With Heather’s expertise we were able to learn more about two bags from the Friedlaender Collection. Both bags are similar in size, were collected in the Eastern Highlands of New Guinea, and incorporate animal hair into their textile design. Heather examined and explained, in fascinating detail, how the animal hair and other commercially made materials were used.
In the first bag (bilum), shown above, the cuscus hair is woven on the inside in order to produce the “tufted” effect on the outside. The inside of the shoulder strap, however, has a flattened surface where the hair was spun around black commercial fiber. Heather noted that this was a deliberate design choice, likely done because the inside strap is visible and the maker wanted to conceal the fiber underneath. In the picture below, the spun hair covers the fibers except in an area that has been worn with use.
The second bilum, below, features a striped chevron design in which the maker alternated colors, including gray bands of spun cuscus hair (again wrapped around a commercial strand). Both bags are netted, not woven. This provides strength and flexibility and allows the bilum to expand for everyday use.
A closer look at the workmanship shows the hair wrapped over the purple strands.
Heather Veneziano, of the Fibers Department at Temple’s Tyler School of Art, recently visited the Anthropology Lab with her class, Intro to Fibers (see her blog post here).
During the class period we looked at many fiber-based artifacts in the collection and Heather very kindly pointed out various weaving techniques. Here are a few of the highlights of traditional weaving from the Anthropology Lab’s ethnographic collections.
In plain weave, the warp and weft are aligned to form a basic criss-cross pattern.
In coiled basketry, bundles of plant fibers are wrapped around in layers and held in place with interlocking stitches.
Plaiting is an over-under pattern that can be done on the diagonal. The plaiting below gives strength and flexibility to the body of the costume and is decorated with painted stripes.
In the 1960s, the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology donated a collection of more than 200 assorted objects from around the world, many with unknown or limited provenience, to the Temple Anthropology Lab for use as an ethnographic study collection. Some of these artifacts are examples of Native North American beadwork.
The knotted string body armor, shown below, is made from the inner bark of a tree. It was collected in Papua New Guinea (Irian Jaya), Indonesia by Denise O’Brien.
“The knotting uses variations on a continuous figure-8 technique. The string is twisted as the work progresses. The bands of different colors on the upper part of the vest are created from orchid vine wrapped around the central core of tree bark string” (from Art-Pacific.com).