Metallic Embroidery, 1960s, India, 5x8x1in.
By David Newell, Director of the Ruth Davis Design Gallery, and Marina Moskowitz, Lynn and Gary Mecklenburg Chair in Textiles, Material Culture, and Design
This elegant purse was one piece in the original bequest of Prof. Helen Louise Allen to form the textile collection that —50 years on— is such an integral part of the School of Human Ecology. This single piece of remarkable craftsmanship and beauty has become a talisman for the golden anniversary of the Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection that we are celebrating across 2019. Much as this elaborate purse evokes the value of whatever is carried within it, we will share the many treasures housed within the HLATC through exhibitions, class projects, research, and public programs.
This purse is an excellent example of the ancient art of zardozi, a distinctive metallic embroidery associated with India and the Middle East. Known for its textural “springy” appearance, zardozi is usually formed around natural motifs wrought in silver, gold, and copper wire or metallic threads accented with sequins, beads, pearls, semi-precious stones, and jewels.
The art form originated centuries ago in Persia prior to migrating –and flourishing– in India. The word zardozi comes from the Persian terms zar meaning gold and dozi meaning embroidery. Working with a hooked needle called an aari, the artist creates the elaborate metalwork patterns on fabric stretched on an embroidery frame – an adda. Using these tools allows the artist to manipulate threads on both the surface and underside of the textile simultaneously. The expense of the materials and the time -intensive hand skills have made zardozi a luxury craft that has ceremonial connotations.
This article is one in a yearlong series celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection.
In 2019, the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Human Ecology launches 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 begins 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.