Beinecke show examines how text and textiles ‘ask us to remember’

“Text and Textile,” on view at the Beinecke Library through Aug. 12, explores the intersections of text and textile in literature and politics.

Text and Textile,” on view at Beinecke Library from May 3 through Aug. 12, explores the intersections of text and textile in literature and politics, from images of Eve spinning in a 13th-century manuscript to the mill girls of New England in the 19th century. 

The exhibition features works in a wide variety of formats drawn from throughout each of the Beinecke library’s curatorial areas, as well as items from the Yale Center for British Art, the Yale University Art Gallery, and the Manuscripts and Archives Department of the Yale University Library.

Particular highlights include: Gertrude Stein’s waistcoat; manuscript patterns and loom cards from French Jacquard mills; the first folio edition of William Shakespeare’s plays; the “Souper” paper dress by Andy Warhol; American samplers; Renaissance embroidered bindings; Christa Wolf’s “Quilt Memories; Zelda Fitzgerald’s paper dolls for her daughter; Edith Wharton’s manuscript drafts of “The House of Mirth; an Incan quipu; poetry by Langston Hughes, Emily Dickinson, Susan Howe, and Walt Whitman; and “The Kelmscott Chaucer” by William Morris.

The exhibition was conceived by Kathryn James, curator of Early Modern Books and Manuscripts and the Osborn Collection at the Beinecke Library, and Katie Trumpener, the Emily Sanford Professor of Comparative Literature and English. It is co-curated by James, Trumpener, and Melina Moe, research affiliate at the library.

In the introduction to a series of essays for the exhibition, James frames the show in contexts both literary and historical:

In the myth of the Fates, three sisters oversee each thread of life. Clotho spins the thread, Lachesis measures, Atropos cuts. … Through the Fates, the thread of a life becomes its story.

Text and Textile” traces the weave and entanglement of these threads of myth, labor, self, and memory. From the Fates through Walt Whitman, textile gives us mythologies of self or nation. The spindle of necessity spins for Eve, exiled from Eden, as it did for the workers at the Lowell textile mills or the New Haven corset factory or for ‘Sleeping Beauty.’ The exhibition draws these threads together, allowing us to glimpse their owners: a 17th-century girl embroiders her Bible in silver thread; Gertrude Stein wears the vest sewn by her lover; a widow in 18th-century America fashions a mourning band to mark her loss. …

In holding the imprint of the body, textiles ask us to remember. In the wake of the unification of Germany, writer Christa Wolf constructed an artist’s book from a fragile antique quilt she encountered, stitching it into a codex, binding petals, leaves, poems, newspaper clippings into an archive of decay. How, and does, this differ from the paper scraps of fan patterns that Jonathan Edwards uses to write his sermons, or the threadlike coils of hair kept in an envelope, wrapped in a first edition of Emily Dickinson’s ‘Poems’? ‘Text and Textile’ invites its viewers to examine the ways in which textile call us to a remembered or imagined body, childhood, past.

Beinecke Library exhibitions are free and open to the public daily. Visit the library’s website for more information about hours.

There are several special events planned in conjunction with the exhibition, Valerie Steele, director and chief curator of The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, will give a keynote address, “Pink: The History of a Color,” on Wednesday, May 23, at 5 p.m.

This Beinecke Library show is accompanied by an exhibition Text & Textile in Arts Library Special Collections at the Robert B. Haas Arts Library at Yale, and by a thematic wall display of works in the Long Gallery at the Yale Center for British Art.

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