Collecting Vision of George Hewitt Myers – The Textile Museum

Category: Exhibitions

An upcoming exhibition at The Textile Museum traces the growth and interests of its founder, George Hewitt Myers, as a pioneering collector and connoisseur. Ahead of His Time: The Collecting Vision of George Hewitt Myers will be on view September 28, 2007 – February 17, 2008. Through 29 textiles from many non-Western cultures, the exhibition will explore Myers’ strategies for collecting as they developed over time and the factors that compelled him to collect textiles above alternate art media. The exhibition will also demonstrate how he utilized his collections during his lifetime.

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Myers as a Collector
For George Hewitt Myers (1875-1957), the attraction of the non-Western textiles that formed his collection was their high level of artistic sophistication, which he saw as inspiring and influencing the main traditions of art in the Western world. The guiding light for his collecting was a textile’s design. He believed that politics, religion, economics and geography all influenced design, and the energy, strength, life or decadence of a people is recorded in its art. Thus, he was convinced one can read the entire history of a society through the changes in its art and the development of design.

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The design and color of textiles, as well as the delicacy and complexity of their weaves, fascinated Myers. He was intrigued by the fact that textiles were most often products of anonymous artists, unassociated with a single artist’s signature. Impressed by the history and longevity of the textile arts, Myers found that the early weavings from non-Western sources were unmatched by textiles produced in European cultures, especially in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Myers collected his textiles through auctions he attended both in the U.S. and abroad and from dealers based in Paris, London, New York and Cairo. He always sought the assistance of scholars in his purchases and learned from them; he had a profound respect for scholarship and invariably treated it with humility, reserving to himself, however, the right to make his own decisions.

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When considering an acquisition, Myers looked first for the intrinsic beauty of the design, color and technique of the textile. Although he claimed to pay less attention to archaeological interest and rarity, in fact the collection reveals that these considerations also played an important role in his selections. Focusing on areas that were not in demand at the time, he avidly collected undervalued textiles such as 15th-century carpets, produced in Egypt during the Mamluk Dynasty, in the late 1920s and 1950s, and 17th – 18th century Greek Island embroidery in the 1920s. Beyond the personal pleasure he took in owning these textiles, Myers supported the use of his collections to educate and instill in people an appreciation of good design, workmanship, ingenuity and beauty through textiles. To increase the usefulness of the collections, he actively engaged specialists to study textiles in his collection and disseminate their knowledge through lectures, publications and exhibitions. Myers himself often selected textiles from the collection to take on tour, lecturing to school and civic groups around the country.

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Textiles on View
Objects in the exhibition include jewels of The Museum’s collections. A highlight is a stunning carpet from the Caucasus, a type often referred to as Dragon rug, which dates to the 17th – 18th century. Myers purchased this rug in 1923 from the American Art Galleries auction that sold the famous collection of Carl Robert Lamm (1856-1938) and his wife Dora, owners of Näsby Slott, near Stockholm in Sweden. The earliest collected textile in the exhibition is a Caucasian carpet Myers purchased in 1905. After purchasing a tunic identified as from the highland site of Chavin by the dealer, Myers sought the assistance of scholar Morris Crawford to correctly attribute the piece. A late 15th-century embroidered hanging from Spain bought in 1924 from a well-known, New York based dealer illustrates Myers’ interest in development and spread of textile designs. Ahead of His Time is curated by Sumru Belger Krody, Associate Curator of Eastern Hemisphere Collections, working in consultation with Ann Pollard Rowe, Curator of Western Hemisphere Collections.

The Textile Museum is located at 2320 ‘S’ Street, NW in Washington, DC. The Museum is open Monday – Saturday 10:00 am to 5:00 pm and Sunday 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm.

Source: Press release The Textile Museum

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