Puppet Glove, Denmark, 1968, 8 in. x 8 in.
Alissa Donovan is a 3rd-year student in the School of Human Ecology, studying Textiles and Fashion Design.
Textiles enrich our daily lives in many ways, and have been doing so since the beginning of civilization. Textiles have served as protection, beauty, practicality, and art. Possibly the most important roles that textiles play in our lives are the ways that they can bring people together. This sense of togetherness builds another meaning to fabric, and gives voice and emotion to textile art.
The Scandinavian puppet gloves within the Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection showcase this concept of textiles functioning as a way to bring people together. These gloves are meant for a parent to put on a puppet show for a child, showing that the textile application is meant to bring two people together. This piece works not only as a textile, but as a form of entertainment to be enjoyed by a group. The purpose of the gloves is not to create beauty (as is the purpose of many other pieces in the collection) but instead to create joy. With the child-like pops of color and joyful characters portrayed on each finger of the gloves—with one hand depicting a family and the other depicting animals– the viewer cannot help but smile when presented with the work.
The construction of the gloves further proves the purpose of the piece. The gloves are constructed out of cotton material, not meant to be flashy or particularly beautiful. The stitches are simple, the hem rolled and stitched. The piece is not meant to turn heads with beauty, rather to be joyous and silly. When looking at the characters painted in bright, happy colors, the viewer cannot help but associate the textile with an image of laughter and happiness shared between two people.
Although textiles can be many things, what I find most fascinating is how they can effectively bring a group of people closer together. This sense of purpose within what is otherwise just a scrap of material is what drives civilization to grow, and is what gives designers and artists a deeper meaning to their work. So, although beautiful textiles are something to behold, the textiles that bring people and communities together connect us further to the people we love, and enrich our lives more than we thought possible from “just a scrap of material”.
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In 2019, the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Human Ecology launched a yearlong anniversary celebration of the Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection. Over the past half century, the collection has grown from an original 4,000-piece gift to more than 13,000 objects that have inspired and informed thousands of students, researchers, historians, and textile aficionados. The 50-year celebration began on January 27, 2019, with the opening of new Lynn Mecklenburg Textile Gallery, a space dedicated to year-round displays of the collections. Activities continue into 2019 with a calendar of public exhibitions, symposia, lectures, and public workshops.