Thursday 8 August 2013

Detroit Institute of Art - A Worrying Time

We have all heard of the sorry financial troubles of the once-booming town of Detroit and I can only worry at the fate of the Detroit Institute of Art - one of the top six art museums which boasts Rodin's Thinker and works by Van Gogh, Velazquez, Breughel and many other luminaries. Not forgetting its textile collection which includes this Stuart panel of the Judgment of Paris. So we watch for the future of this museum with care and concern.
Yes, these were really quite bright works originally as we can see by this rare sneak view of the panel's reverse.

And let's not forget the wealth of Native American textiles also in the collection. This is a Sioux doll or around 1890 and is important because it is a visual record of a woman's ensemble.

This fabulous Cheyenne Man's Shirt was worked about 1860 from deerskin, buffalo, wool, glass beads, human hair, horse hair, ermine, porcupine quills and paint.

Above you can see a Potawatomi shoulder bag of about 1870 and intricately woven with glass beads. It would have been part of a formal dress ensemble with the strap worn bandolier fashion across the chest. These bags were valuable and this item could have been traded for a horse.

The technique of glass bead decoration was developed amongst women artists of the Great Lakes region in the 1840s. Produced on a box loom, the weft threads were strung with glass beads and positioned on the warp so that one bead fell between two warp threads. Once in position, the weft was passed back through the same row, but this time beneath the warps, so locking the whole row in place.

Here you can see Ojibwa Man's Leggings made in the 1890s from cotton velveteen and glass beads. Leggings such as these were reserved for ceremonial occasions. The floral patterns are very different to the abstract patterns on the bag above and the women said they learned the floral patterns from teachers a t Mission Schools when they were taught to embroider with silk threads on table linen, in an effort to train young Native American women to become good Christian wives. Instead the women adapted the patterns for use on special regalia such as these leggings, using the bead embroidery skills they had learned from their own female elders.


  1. What has happened in Detroit since the collapse of much of the automobile industry is very sad, and gives a warning to any part of the world that relies on one industry.

    (I am just as sad about what has happened to the potteries of England.)

    I certainly hope that the treasures of Detroit's museums might be kept together. As of now, it is very hard to imagine what might happen in the next two or three years, much less the next decade.

  2. You would have thought that with something as precious as the Detroit Institute, that central government would have stepped in, but perhaps that is not the American way.