SJ Quilt Museum Covers the World

'Geographical Journey: The Paul J. Smith Textile Collection' features textiles from around the globe
This polychromatic panel from Tunisia, North Africa, features silk-embroidered images of doves, fish and flowers. Photo by James Dewrance

Like so many Americans in the '60s, Paul J. Smith yearned to see a world outside of his own.

Luckily for him, traveling was a part of his trade. When he became the director of New York's Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) in 1963, Smith embarked on a series of journeys around the globe, amassing a range of ethnographic textiles from Asia, Africa and Central and South America. It's all been tucked away in in storage for years—until now.

For the first time in his career, Smith will be sharing a portion of his personal collection at the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles (SJMQT). The exhibit—titled "A Geographical Journey"—offers a panorama of the various places that Smith visited during his travels abroad. Whether it be a tie-dyed kimono from Japan or a brightly beaded bag from Mexico, each of the works stands as a vivid document of the culture from which it originated.

The collection covers a wide swath of centuries-old traditions in fiber arts, like weaving and appliqué, which continue to inspire artists and artisans today. Likewise, some of the traditional textiles feature modern graphics. Smith notes a set of garments made by the Kuna Indians in the San Blas Islands of Panama, which have images of Mickey Mouse and Superman embroidered into them.

"What is interesting is how contemporary culture sometimes enters into the context," he says.

Other notable pieces in the collection include two phulkari shawls from India. Phulkari, which literally translates to "flower work," is a labor-intensive embroidery technique from the Punjab region that consists of vibrant silk patterns on plain-woven cotton cloth. These are often worn by women on special occasions. There will also be a stunning pair of sequin-embellished Vodou flags on display.

"These beautiful cloth pieces give us insight into how other cultures live, think and create," says Amy DiPlacido, curator of exhibitions at the SJMQT.

Located in the Turner and Gilliland galleries, "A Geographical Journey: The Paul J. Smith Textile Collection" opens Jan. 19 and runs through April 15.

Smith, who is currently the director emeritus of the MAD, has organized more than 200 exhibitions within the past 50 years and is best known for his innovative curatorial works in the American studio craft movement. On Jan. 28, he will give a lecture on the last 100 years of fiber art history in America at the SJMQT. Tickets are available on the museum's website.

"A Geographical Journey"
Thru April 15, $6.50+
SJMQT, San Jose

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