Fierce creatures with scales, beaks, huge jaws and/or horns stalk the leafy land in search of people to eat alive! The people, who are pretty funny looking themselves, clomp through the man-eating plants carrying cave-man clubs and wearing helmets, antennae, beards and coats of mail.
This curious land, portrayed in amazingly detailed batik, was tie-dyed in the 1930s in central Java, Indonesia. Curator Mattiebelle Gittinger thinks the artist was frightened by an American comic book or a science fiction marvel novel.
The Textile Museum acquired the cloth, a hip wrapper (kain panjang), at the end of 1985. Gittinger has installed paper and pencil beside the batik, just in case visitors have any better ideas about its inspiration.
The batik is one of the recent gifts and acquisitions in "From East to West: New Treasures for the Textile Museum," open (at 2320 S St. NW) through June 7. The exhibition is a sampler of textile techniques from all the world: Bolivian Indian weavings, rich Moroccan carpets, traditional embroidered costumes from the Far and Middle East and suzani embroideries from Tashkent, Buhkara and Samarkand in Central Asia (now part of the Soviet Union).
The show is divided geographically.
From the Western Hemisphere:
Rare Qollahuaya textiles come from the Charazani area, which climbs the Andes Mountains in Bolivia from 7,000 to 17,000 feet. There, the men carry the pocketbooks, two shown here in all their intricacies. The Qollahuaya are the herbal healers of South America, revered for their medicine and magic. The medicine bag, woven of wool in a warp-faced double cloth combined with a plain weave, is a scarf with pockets on two ends. Ann Rowe, Western Hemisphere curator, says the design was probably adapted from the horse saddlebags used by the Spanish invaders. The Qollahuaya men wear theirs over their own shoulders.
In another kind of bag, also in the exhibit, the men carry coca leaves and lime, chewed in rituals as well as for everyday stimulation. The bag has patterned pockets, decorated with a motley collection of glass beads and silver coins from Bolivia, Chile, Peru and France.
"The Pelican in Her Piety," a remarkable tapestry woven in Peru in the late 17th century, was, according to Rowe, probably copied in part from Ming Chinese badges. The designs use both Christian and Chinese allegories -- the pelican that fed her young with her blood, and the Hsieh-Chai, whose mission was to gore the wicked. The tapestry has been reproduced by the Textile Museum shop as a scarf.
From Southeast Asia:
Suzani (from the Persian word for "needle") embroideries from the Uzbeks of Central Asia were made by a bride and her women friends for her dowry. The women embroidered by the number, so to speak, to designs by the town artist. After the wedding (a suzani was part of the ritual), suzani were used as wall hangings or prayer mats (some have the temple shapes seen in prayer rugs). And finally they were used in burials, said Alexandra Vioets, assistant curator.
From the Eastern Hemisphere:
The appreciation of Moroccan rugs -- those vivid, free-designs that refuse to conform to rigid rules -- was sparked in this country by the Textile Museum's 1981 show. Now, from its recent gifts, Museum Director Patricia Fiske has chosen 12 spectacular rugs that dominate the principal gallery. A brilliant orange one, 17 feet 4 inches by 6 feet 3 inches, will knock your eyes out.
You can see how economically 19th-century costumes from the Near and Middle East are made in conservation assistant Abby Sue Fisher's drawings that accompany six elaborate costumes; the construction is planned to use the loom width to minimize cutting and waste.
From Japan's Edo period (1614-1868) comes a Noh robe (for a female character in the traditional drama), elaborately brocaded silk with gold leaf applied. From the 7,000-year-old culture of the Ainu, who live on Hokkaido, Japan's northern island, comes a robe woven of tree bark and cotton, then applique'd and embroidered. And from Ramallah, a Jordanian West Bank town, comes a practical costume. There a wife wears her dowry on her hat -- Ottoman coins sewn along the rim.
Dowry hats, bed carpets, monster skirts, pelican covers -- to see the Textile Museum show is like unpacking saddlebags of treasures from caravans beyond the horizon.