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A TRIP THROUGH THE LOW COUNTRY

Having just returned from my first TSA study tour, it is an experience I highly recommend.  The tour brought together a lovely mix of participants with diverse backgrounds but a unifying passion for textiles – and the intimate size of the group (nine total) allowed us to have many stimulating conversations (coupled of course with a delicious array of southern meals!)

As a textile conservator, I found it fascinating (and luxurious), to delve deeper into the social and historical aspects of low-country textile traditions. Four, full and thoughtfully organized days provided an in-depth look at both historic textiles and the broader context in which they were being produced/used– as well as presenting contemporary local textile traditions and production.

We began the first day at the Charleston Museum of Art, looking at historic examples of chintz applique quilts. Later in the tour, we learned about a contemporary community quilting project in Savannah, as well as a quilting initiative to foster and preserve the rag quilting traditions of the Gullah people.

Examining a chintz applique quilt top at the Charleston Museum. (photo credit: P. Hickman)

The history of the low country is intertwined with the slave trade, and many of our site-visits touched on the history of slavery – both directly and obliquely. How this narrative was presented (or omitted) was a fascinating point of much discussion for the group. A tour of this area would not be complete without a long look at slavery and indeed it can be connected to every thing we saw.

I feel as though I could write a blog post for every site visit we made – but in the interest of brevity, I will focus on a few of the highlights.

Sweet grass baskets. Stemming from African fanner baskets designed to hull rice (the major crop of the low country region), the local baskets are made from bulrush, sweet grass and palmetto fronds; we saw not only historic but some lovely contemporary examples.

Contemporary sweet grass basket at the Avery Center, woven by Antwon Ford.

Indigo. It still grows wild on St. Helena Island, and is often used by local artists. However, the highlight for me was the compellingly beautiful remains of the haint blue ceiling in the slave quarters at the Owens Thomas House in Savannah. This was buttermilk and lime based paint, colored with indigo: the blue was believed to ward off evil spirits.

Contemporary artist studios/SCAD campus. It was a pleasure to visit and dialogue with some of the contemporary fiber artists and graduate students living and working in the region – and to see how the history and landscape of the region is influencing their art.

On a tour of the SCAD Museum of Art.

Overall the trip was an amazing and varied experience. We met an assortment of people, all of whom generously shared their enthusiasms and knowledge with us: as I near my word limit, all I can say is that I have barely scratched the surface of the many and varied topics we traversed!

By Anne Getts

Anne Getts is currently an Andrew W. Mellon fellow in textile conservation at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. She holds an M.S. in art conservation from Wintherthur/University of Delaware, where she focused on textile conservation with an additional concentration in preventive concentration. Additionally, she holds three B.A. degrees in Chemistry, Biochemistry, and Art History from the University of Colorado. contact information: agetts@lacma.org