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Textile Museum: Change Looms

By Linda Hales
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 20, 2005; Page C05

The Textile Museum has chosen Daniel Walker, head of the Islamic art department at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, to become its new director.

Walker, 59, will take the post May 1. The museum, at 2320 S St. NW, has been without a director since June 30, when Ursula McCracken resigned after 18 years to pursue other interests, according to a spokeswoman.

The Textile Museum has chosen Daniel Walker to be its next director.

Bruce P. Baganz, president of the board of trustees, praised Walker as someone who "knows how to make an exhibition hum." He recruited Walker, a textile scholar with decades of experience at fine art museums, as the one person who could bring the Textile Museum "to its next level," Baganz said by phone yesterday from Houston.

From 1975 to 1988, Walker was a curator of ancient, Near Eastern and Far Eastern art at the Cincinnati Art Museum. Since 1988 he has presided over the Metropolitan's collection of 12,000 Islamic treasures. He curated the highly regarded 1997 exhibition "Flowers Underfoot: Indian Carpets of the Mughal Era."

The Metropolitan's Web site describes the Islamic collection as "perhaps the most comprehensive permanent installation of Islamic art on view anywhere." By phone from London, Walker added that the Textile Museum has "one of the choicest textile collections in the world." Because his scholarly interest is textiles, especially carpets, he said, the offer to lead the museum was irresistible.

"It appeals to me to go to a place and lead a place whose mission focuses on those materials," he said, "as opposed to a larger general museum for whom textiles will never be a high priority."

The Textile Museum was founded in 1925 by George Hewitt Myers with a few hundred rugs and pieces of cloth. Now, 17,000 items fill the S Street mansion beyond capacity. The board is grappling with how much longer the institution can remain "tucked away in Kalorama," Baganz said.

In addition to cramped space, flat attendance and a limited operating budget of $3 million are among the challenges ahead.

Despite international renown and four to six shows a year, annual attendance has remained at about 30,000 visitors since the late 1990s. Walker, who holds degrees from Bowdoin College and Harvard University, and learned Farsi on military duty in Iran, hopes to broaden the museum's appeal.

"The highest priority is to open the place up a bit," he said.

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