Museum of International Folk Art

Material World: Textiles and Dress from the Collection

January 11, 2010


Santa Fe, NM (August 20, 2009)—Material World: Textile and Dress from the Collection gives a tantalizing glimpse into the Museum of International Folk Art’s largest collection, textiles and costumes stored in 57 closets and numerous trunks and drawers. The 138 rarely-seen items in this exhibition, ranging from everyday household articles to elaborately detailed ceremonial wear, highlight the remarkable breadth and depth of this collection’s 20,000 objects. Material World opens at the Museum of International Folk Art on December 20, 2009 and runs through August 7, 2011.

Textiles and costumes take center stage among the Museum’s many collections because they represent the art of culture in a profound way. The astonishingly wide sleeves and exuberant embroidered apron worn by an unmarried man from Mesokovezd, Hungary, and displayed in the exhibit, were made by a young woman for her betrothed at the end of the turn of the 20th century. New found prosperity in the region was reflected in the use of commercially dyed silk thread in vivid colors, larger floral patterns, and rapidly changing decorative sleeve embellishments. A young woman’s skill in running a household was judged by the public display of her needlework worn to church on Sunday.

Shoes, from the comfortable and functional to ancient styles that continue to be worn are represented as well as headwear from all over the world as varied as a peyotera’s wide brimmed hat trimmed with turkey feathers to a leather headpiece from Oman embellished with coral and gilded silver. Quilts and coverlets, mats and curtains, coats and aprons all demonstrate the aesthetics of culture.

In the sacred and ceremonial dress section of Material World, pieces range from a talismanic vest covered with astrological charts and yantra symbols from Thailand to a brown, felted hat worn in Turkey. The felted wool sikke is given to a Mevlevi dervish when he has finished his 1001 days of training. It is the sign of his acceptance into the Sufi way. The hat is worn while performing the whirling prayer called sema and represents a gravestone and thus the death of the ego in the pursuit of truth and perfect love. A plain conical hat symbolizes a man’s search for meaning and spiritual truth.

Material World, and its accompanying illustrated catalogue authored by exhibition curator Dr. Bobbie Sumberg, divides the textile and costume collection into two categories, textiles and dress, and then into several subcategories: Textiles for the bed; for the dwelling; for the church, temple, or ceremony; and, decorative pieces such as samplers. Dress is divided into headwear, outerwear, footwear, accessories, ceremonial, and complete ensembles.

Material World is more than a revelation of the Museum’s vast holdings of bedding, samplers, headwear, footwear and more. Dr. Sumberg says, “Making and embellishing textiles can be a powerful tool of socialization and a reflection of cultural values. Through the production and use of textiles we can study numerous aspects of history and culture. Gender roles within a family and within a society or culture are usually played out when cloth is made and worn.”

For high-resolution images of the exhibition Material World: Textile and Dress from the Collection  please visit the media center at Information about the Museum of International Folk Art may be found at

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