Since many of you may be within driving distance of our farm, I thought it would be fun to preview the people involved in our Open House/Open Studio. First off is Deborah Garner - a super smart textile collector, jewelry designer, and artist with a fantastic southern accent. I met Deborah not long after I moved here. I couldn't believe that in this tiny little town, there was a woman who had more textiles than me and the incredible knowledge about where the textiles actually came from and the people who made them. (Me? I collect textiles by color and what I am attracted to.)
For those of you who cannot come to the Open House because of distance, you can luckily shop virtually via Deborah's (Jewelry) Etsy Shop HERE or her website HERE for her exquisite textiles.
KN: What are the different products you will be having for sale at the Open House?
DG: I have been gathering a colorful and eclectic grouping of worldly goods, consisting of collectible textiles, “Art to Wear” pieces, and natural fiber scarves and shawls. I’ll also be offering my one of a kind, original jewelry designs as well as vintage tribal adornment.
KN: What are the price points?
DG: For this event I am focusing on attractive gift-giving prices from under $30. up to several hundred for more collectible material…
KN: Deborah, I know you to have an immaculate eye and sense of style… Tell us a little bit about your background…
DG: As an artist, I have always been inspired by folk-art and the expressive, multi-cultural symbolism found in textiles and ceremonial objects of non-Western traditional peoples.
I have been researching and dealing in “ethnographic material”, items that cultural groups make for their own use, for over 35 years.
I moved to Boston from the Deep South in 1980 to study art.
As much as that was a dream come true, I missed sourcing interesting treasure for a little shop my best-friend and I created in South Carolina. People were always stopping me on the sidewalks to compliment something I was wearing, saying “Where did you get that, the Peabody Museum Shop?”
I’d never heard of the fabulous, treasure trove, of a shop at Harvard’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, but eventually sought it out. It was love at first sight…Authentic 19th C cabinets filled with charming curiosities, folk-art, and jewelry. The buyer was amazed that I recognized many of her sources as I was buying from them in Atlanta. She was soon leaving and recommended me for the job. I was there for most of that decade, immersing myself in cultural anthropology and studying the historic collections as I lovingly tended that shop.
I only left to travel and to eventually do independent research on costumes of tribal groups in Burma, financed by collecting interesting material to sell to museum shops and permanent collections around the country. There were many wonderful relationships formed in the museum world but my favorites were the MFA in Boston, RISD Art Museum, and The Textile Museum in Washington. It was wonderful to help the grand old Boston MFA broaden their non-Western material, to share objects with RISD that may inspire future designers and the Textile Museum because of the beacon of textile scholarship that institution is internationally known to be. A great honor came in 2000 when the research my partner and I had been collecting for years in Burma was published in the Textile Museum Journal.
A decade later, I am still passionate about all of the above, but rediscovering myself as an artist, happily designing jewelry with organic materials and odds and ends from former travels, and peacefully residing in the hills of central New England. The circle is now complete.
KN: Tell my readers why purchasing antique ethnographic textiles is a great investment.
DG: Monetarily, prices have naturally gone up, as supply has evaporated.
The 20th and early 21st C has impacted the traditional cultures through constant marginalization and the un-escapable influence of Western commercialization in the dominant culture which the young people find desirable and irresistible. Many of the textile skills are simply not being taught or learned, as the traditions fall away and ready-made garments are preferred.
Old textiles are truly artifacts now. When available, they are many times collected by the originating group, as keepsakes to collectively teach younger women the skills their great grandmothers knew at a young age. Global cooperatives are formed worldwide that help women provide for their families and produce charming and whimsical work that is mostly geared toward the Western market.
The older pieces are imbued with a certain quality that approaches soul-fullness. They are snapshots of another world. The symbolism used in the embroidery and weaving has deep meaning, value and protection. It tells the social/spiritual status of the person it was made for. It is many times embellished with exotic materials from outside the culture such as coins, zippers, buttons etc. that suggest local and foreign histories. Antique ethnographic textiles are literally documents of a particular culture with their ancestral timelines woven into the warp and weft.
The “investment” is more interactive than monetary, it requires a broadening of appreciation for humanity and our need to create meaning and beauty, to celebrate rituals of the passage of life, and to adorn the ones we love with something that takes time and heart to create. I’m sure your readers can find resonance there. The reward is an enrichment of one’s life and home environment.
KN: How do you suggest decorating with ethnographic textiles?
DG: People could certainly take inspiration from your playfully bold layering of pattern and color from the wonderful textiles you mix throughout your house, Kristin! It is always a visual feast.
For more information on traditional framing, mounting, or hanging options some wonderful books have come out over the years. One of the first and best was Living with Decorative Textiles by Barnard and Merrell, 1989, Thames and Hudson Press. There have been lots of Style books published like Ethnic Interiors, and those focusing on different parts of the world. All of them easy to find online…
DG: I personally can’t imagine living without textiles as constant companions! Can You Kristin?
KN: No way. Textiles are part of the beauty of life and home. I am so happy to share my passion with you Deborah and so many others.