Today, I realized I am not living up to my capabilities, that I have become a slacker. How did I arrive at this conclusion? I attended the Josephine Powell "Giving Back the Colors" exhibit today at the Yildiz Saray here in Istanbul.
It made me realize that there are too many textiles I have not bought.
Seriously, stunning is the best word to describe the content, the design and the woman behind the exhibits.
First, a little background (shamefully, like my father, she has no wikipedia page). Josephine Powell left the US right after World War II to work in refugee camps and pretty much never went back for any length of time. She moved to Istanbul in the early 70s, after traveling through Afghanistan, North Africa, Iran and Pakistan photographing and studying nomadic life. Throughout the 70s and 80s, she explored the deepest pockets of eastern Anatolia, ending up with 30,000 photos and countless textiles and tools used by nomads as well as copious field notes. She was particularly interested in the weaving done by women, and as a result of her work, there is wonderful documentation of the contributions made by nomadic women that otherwise would never have been known.
Powell died sitting at her desk at age 87, in January, right after I got here. I know some people who knew her well and she was universally described as a cantankerous, borderline obsessive personality. Her apartment in Cihangir was filled to the top with her collections -- indeed, there are pictures of it in the exhibit. Not only did she keep her collection of kilims, storage bags, photos and weaving tools in it, she had spinning wheels, yurt frames and countless other treasures. From now on I will point to her when some oppressor asks "what are you going to do with that carpet/kilim/random textile?"
Powell wanted her collection to stay in Turkey, and she bequeathed it to the Koc foundation, which is trying to find a permanent home for it. She died before the cataloging was finished.
Exceptional pieces of it was exhibited this weekend as part of the International Conference on Oriental Carpets. Dealers from all over the world attended (more on that) and I don't see how any rug-freak could not be blown over by her exhibit. Some kilims were over a hundred years old and badly in need of restoration, but looking at the natural greens and purples and golds in those kilims made me swear off chemical dyes for good. My favorite carpets are the ones that seem to be breathing and these practically jumped off the walls and slapped you.
Not only that, the exhibit showed all the different tools that women used to make kilims Her photographs and notes brilliantly illustrated the techniques and gave texture. That's the important thing about textiles for me. Who made them? Why? What did they do with them? You don't get that in a lot of museums, mostly because the answers aren't known, because, well, the artists were neither known nor valued.
And you might think that is all, but it's not. The Carpet Conference had a dealer's hall with dealers in antique carpets and textiles from all over the world. I stood in front of an 1840 Ensi -- a pattern I haven't got and want terribly. It was only $18,000. It was like being in a carpet museum, only better, because you could touch the carpets and talk to the dealers and ask as many questions as you wanted about colors and restorations and dating. I can't really think of many better ways to spend an afternoon
My father-in-law tells me I need to set goals. I'm still young-ish. I am going to be Josephine Powell. Powell kept exploring and collecting and filling up her apartment with cool things into her 70's.
No more slackerdom for me! I'd better get busy.