BATIK IS SERIOUS business. The intricate and graceful patterns dyed in cloth are often symbolic. In Indonesia, the batik capital, batik is sometimes sacred cloth, flown as flags at funerals or wrapped around the head of the deceased.
But what the Textile Museum calls its "Buck Rogers Batik" is a playful exception from the 1930s. Spacemen battle space monsters. Curvilinear plants sprout faces. Rocket ships whiz around like flying cornhusks.
"It says comic book," notes Mattiebelle Gittinger, museum research associate. By putting out a notepad and pencil, the museum challenges visitors to guess which comic book was the source for this batik. "The person who gets the right answer wins a trip to Mars," says Gittinger.
Received as a gift last year, this batik hip- wrapper is part of the museum's curent exhibit of recent acquisitions, "From East to West: New Treasures for the Textile Museum." This and other Southeast Asian textiles share the stage with Bolivian textiles, Moroccan carpets and a selection of traditional robes and coats.
Recent collection of the earthy, dyed and woven textiles from the Charazani area of Bolivia has focused on modern items that are based on early prototypes. That is, where the Charazani use the same loom, the same weaves and the same designs as their pre- Columbian ancestors did. For some reason, the pre-Columbian influence persists more in women's wear -- in shawls and skirts and especially in multicolored headbands, finely woven with a horse design and edged with glass beads. The headband still goes by its Inca name, wincha.
Charazani men carry three kinds of handbag -- one, with a wide shoulder strap, for food and money; a highly decorated smaller bag with dangling coins, for the man's cache of cca leaves that he chews with lime as a stimulant; and a double bag, derived from Spanish saddlebags, for herbs and medicines.
Other Textile Museum acquisitions within the past decade show how traditional dress may vary not just from country to country but within a country. Like sun and earth, a sumptuous Noh robe in silk and gold leaf from Japan's Edo period contrasts with an Ainu robe from Hokkaido made of cotton and woven tree bark. But the cruder material makes for no less exquisite handwork.
Moroccan carpets are among the least known oriental carpets -- and the Textile Museum has the largest collection of them in this country. Here are a number of the long, custom-woven ones that fit the central hall of a wealthy family's home, and a few of the poorer version, shorter ones woven for export. And among the riches here is a goathair tent wall, as well as a rug for a woman, a rug for a man, and a rug for a horse.
FROM EAST TO WEST: NEW TREASURES FOR THE TEXTILE MUSEUM -- Through June 7.