The R. L. Shep Memorial Book Award is now in its twenty-third year and the number of nominated books has grown substantially in recent award cycles. The guidelines for the award define the category of studies and task the judges with selecting books that excel equally in field-advancing scholarship and in broad popular appeal. These requirements were set out deliberately with the goal of bringing the broadest possible public attention not only to the books themselves but also to the work and the interests of TSA. In 2020, the award committee began announcing a “shortlist” to bring well-deserved recognition to multiple leading contenders for the award in addition to the eventual winner. This year the cohort of nominated books was quite diverse, with each book manifesting qualities of interest to our textile community.
The judges serving on TSA’s R. L. Shep Memorial Book Award Committee have selected a shortlist of three titles for this year’s R. L. Shep Award, for books published in 2022. The three were chosen from a list of thirteen books nominated by TSA members, publishers, and the general public earlier this year.
The shortlisted books (listed below in alphabetical order, by title) share a number of features in common. All represent thoughtful engagements with their varied subjects and are beautifully produced and illustrated. Focusing on different particulars relating to India, Latin America, Asia and Northern Europe, from various perspectives, they explore the history of each subject while addressing issues of textiles and dress in relation to social and artistic identities, materials and materiality, politics and trade, as well as discussions of the current concerns in globalized heritage and Indigenous knowledge.
The shortlisted books are:
Cannabis Textiles: In Hemp Garden Cultures. Git Skoglund
Cannabis Textiles examines the wide distribution of this particular plant that produces hemp fibers, especially from Europe and Asia, its traditional methods of production and its use in textiles and clothing in various cultures. The botanical elements of the hemp and related bast fiber plants are explained and identified, along with in-depth discussion of the history of its cultivation, fiber extraction and spinning traditions. The cultural context of the fibers used in various regions of the world are notable, and the author explains some new methods for differentiation between fibers from related plants—something which has long been an issue in museum cataloging due to the high similarity even when under the microscope. Field photography of the plants and the related activities to process the fibers are very informative of this special and ancient textile resource.
Consuelo Jimenez Underwood: Art, Weaving, Vision. Laura E. Perez and Ann Marie Leimer, editors.
This book, in a series of sixteen short essays, examines and contextualizes the work of the contemporary California artist of Mexican heritage, Consuelo Jimenez Underwood. Jimenez Underwood’s commitment to the artistic exploration of ideas of borderlands (both physical and intellectual), crossing cultures, immigration, Indigenous identities and value systems engages in the realm of personal and political action. Drawing from her multi-ethnic experience, her weavings and constructions are provocative and forthright in bringing issues of her Chicana feminism and respect for Indigenous textile traditions into the art world dialogue.
The Art of Cloth in Mughal India. Sylvia Houghteling
This book documents the great arts of making and using textiles immersed in a culture of beauty and art in the Mughal period of India. The author draws from little-known archival materials as well as a long history of the textile production in India to engage in a sensitive and nuanced presentation. In what she refers to as ‘landscapes of cloth’ Houghteling describes, in incredible detail, the ways in which the making, using, gifting, and wearing of special textiles clothe the body, forming an aesthetic and sensory experience, while integrally forming part of the body politic of the Mughal court. Literally covering the floors, walls and ceilings, the textiles represent an astounding feat, integrating architecture, dress and fashion as value systems at the core of the empire.
In an additional note, the committee would like to acknowledge one book which brought an exceptional perspective, but could not be considered for the Award. The review criteria established when the Shep Award was created, defined that awardees could not be a member of the TSA Board. As the author/editor is a current member of the TSA Board, it could not be considered for the Award process. However, the committee thought it warranted attention.
Africa Fashion. Christine Checinska, editor.
The beautifully illustrated book which serves as a document from the exhibition developed in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, foregrounds work by African heritage creatives in and around the world of textiles. Poetic and political, the book highlights the integral nature of Africa as a source and a hub of the creative process in design and making of textiles throughout history and particularly now. It is global in scope and local in character, focusing through the lens of fashion and culture.
Winner Will Be Announced Soon
The winning book to be chosen from this year’s shortlist of three titles will be announced soon. The current award committee members are Dr. Elena Phipps (chair), Dr. Sarah Fee, and Dr. Nina Capistrano Baker. Sarah Fee will be next year’s Chair and nominations for books published in 2023 will be due in the Spring. (TSA’s website will provide details after the New Year.)