ELLEN AVRIL: Good afternoon. My name is Ellen Avril. I'm the Co-Interim Director, Chief Curator, and Curator of Asian Art here at the Johnson Museum. Welcome to the keynote lecturer for our symposium about Indian textile trade in conjunction with the exhibition "Traded Treasure-- Indian Textiles for Global Markets." This exhibition on view at the Johnson Museum until June 9 is drawn from the important private collection formed by Banoo and Jeevak Parpia.
Cornell Professor of Physics Jeevak Parpia and his wife Banoo, who is Director of Asia and Middle East International Major Gifts for Cornell Alumni Affairs and Development, have been collecting Indian textiles for several decades. Since 2000, they have generously lent textiles to the Johnson Museum for six varied exhibitions. And the privilege of working with them to curate these exhibitions has taught me so much and been a highlight of my career.
We are deeply grateful to the Parpias for their generous support of and contributions to the current "Traded Treasure" exhibition and accompanying catalog. The symposium events today and tomorrow are a tribute to them and to the special connections we, at the Johnson Museum, the symposium presenters, and many in today's audience have had with them over the years sharing in their passion for and dedication to the study of Indian textiles.
I'd like to thank our campus partners Cornell's South Asia Program, Southeast Asia Program, and Department of History of Art and Visual Studies for their co-sponsorship of this symposium. Major financial support was also provided by the Stoikov Asian Art Lecture Fund established at the Johnson Museum by Judith Stoikov, Cornell Class of 1963.
To kick off the symposium, it's my pleasure to introduce Susan Bean, our keynote speaker. Susan Bean curates, writes, and consults on the visual arts and culture of modern South Asia. She is Chair of the Art and Archeology Center of the American Institute of Indian studies and an Associate of the Peabody Museum at Harvard University. A Senior Curator for South Asian and Korean Art at the Peabody Essex Museum until her retirement in 2012, she established the museum's first galleries for South Asian and Korean art. Previously, she taught anthropology at Yale University. She holds a BA from Brown University and earned her PhD in anthropology at Columbia.
Doctor Bean's talk tonight entitled "The American Moment" stems from extensive research she has conducted on the early history of American trade with India published in her book Yankee India-- American Commercial and Cultural Encounters with India in the Age of Sail, and in her essay "Bengal Goods for America-- The 19th Century" for the book Textiles From India-- The Global Trade edited by Rosemary Crill. Please give a warm welcome to Susan Bean.
SUSAN S. BEAN: She's taller than I am. First of all, I want to say what a delight it is to be here and to be looking forward to a 24-hour plus just festival of wonderful cloth and ideas about it. It's rare that you get both the cloth to enjoy and the ideas to play around with. So we hope to start that off this evening. And I want to thank Ellen Avril and the Johnson Museum for cooking up this event and Banoo and Jeevak Parpia for making it all possible over the past several decades with the collection that they've been building that gives us a platform to do what we will be doing for the next day or so.
The exhibition "Traded Treasure" is a stunning testimony to the achievements of India's pre-industrial textile manufacturers. Drawn from Banoo and Jeevak Parpia's collection, the works displayed, and the essays in the catalog draw our attention to the complex global situation of Indian textiles in an era of expanding trade and to the prominence of India's spinners, weavers, and dyers, and their textiles, in shaping modernity. As the catalog adeptly demonstrates, these magnificent objects were deeply situated in the cultural histories of their era serving as conduits for intercultural exchange and drivers of technical innovation.
And the slide on the screen is just one of my favorites in the show. And there will be a number of works that are in the show that are in my PowerPoint presentation. They are marked with the purple star because I won't always remember to point that out.
Looking back on these works of art from our position in a high tech, interconnected world accentuates the irony that the materials and processes central to their creation, as well as the know-how required to produce them, stimulated and facilitated the economic and political transformations that made these genres of textile art obsolete. In a very real sense, victims of their own success. Here's another fave.
The exhibition highlights the robustness of regional Indian Ocean trade from the 14th century and into the European expansion in the 1600s led by the Portuguese, British, Dutch, and French. Americans were late entrants, able to trade directly with India only after independence from Great Britain in the 1780s. The American moment in the trade when fabrics, colors, and designs from India were esteemed extended well into the middle of the 19th century, coinciding with the onset of the revolution in textile production.
Considering this juncture of commerce, art, and technology brings the powers of India's pre-industrial textiles into sharper focus and the ways that the global preeminence of Indian textiles seemed to have conspired with the inherent capacities of cotton to stimulate innovations upending India's paramount position and permanently transforming the making of cloth. Cotton predominates in "Traded Treasures" exemplars of Indian textile production, like the two magnificent cloths in my first slides. These works of art, however, were the cream floating atop an ocean of simple, mostly plain-weave cottons, white and colored, striped and checked, that were the bulk of the trade. Cotton textiles can be beautiful but they are almost always serviceable, comfortable to wear, and easy to wash.
I want to begin by focusing on what amazing stuff cotton is. And for those of you who can't quite make out-- the drawing on the right has the cotton bolls being little sheep. Its ripe bolls, white and fluffy, set off fantastic visions when Europeans first heard about the plant. The mysteries of cotton enchanted Europeans for centuries. A ready-to-harvest boll is filled with fine fibers. The fibers are relatively easy to extract, separate from each other, and from the seeds inside. And the fibers are strong, readily spun into yarn. Tools for cleaning and separating fibers and spinning yarn were long ago invented in India and used for millennia.
The simple technologies that sufficed and the usefulness and visual appeal of the products enabled cotton goods to become the world's most important manufacture, beginning about 1,000 AD. After the mid 1700s, powered machinery, and then laboratory science, transformed production processes and cotton manufacturers. Now an industry remains supreme well into the 1800s.
Today cotton is still the world's leading textile fiber. Each year, over 100 million bales of cotton are produced, enough to make 20 T-shirts for each living person. It seems that everyone has wanted cotton goods. And this is a hand bill from sale of cotton goods from the Brig Reaper in Boston in 1810.
Cotton textiles have been traded treasure, not only prized for their fineness, rich colors, and engaging design, like the works on display in the exhibition, but treasured for their usefulness, comfort, and convenience, like the ones listed in this hand bill. Such basic cotton cloth was the staple of American trade with India. Every day cloth used by rich and poor, plain fabrics commonly known as sheeting and shirting in white and indigo blues, stripes, and checks that were locally embellished, cut and sewn-- sometimes embroidered-- made into everyday garments and household furnishings. American merchants and mariners from the new United States pursued the India trade after independence, particularly this lower end of the market, both for domestic consumption and for re-export to West Indies and Africa.
And this is a couple of samples of what that very simple kind of cloth that was the staple of the trade were like. These dating from 1796.
At its height in the decade around 1800, US trade with India exceeded Indian trade with all other continental European nations combined. In 1804, the value of piece goods was three times the value of other Indian commodities, which then were chiefly sugar, indigo, ginger, spices, and drugs. So it was the main event of the trade.
At the same moment that American merchants and sea captains were vigorously pursuing this cotton centered-trade with India, industrial mechanization was taking hold in Britain, making its way across the Atlantic. Both endeavors-- mechanized production and long-distance trade-- were fueled by the capacities of cotton-- comfortable to wear, easy to clean, capable of color-fast dying, strong enough to be prepared, spun, and woven by machines, and capable of being widely grown. Here's our cotton boll again.
Cotton became the engine of the Industrial Revolution. In Great Britain, the manufacturer of cotton textiles was propelled by a succession of inventions meant to increase production and cut cost. John Kay's flying shuttle loom in the 1730s which gained real traction when Richard Arkwright's 1769 water-powered spinning machine radically increased the supply of yarns for weaving. A decade later, Samuel Crompton's spinning mule multiplied the number of spindles, not only ramping up yarn quantity, but expanding the range of qualities from very fine to coarse. Soon after in the 1780s, Edmund Cartwright's introduction of the power loom advanced production output still further. All of these developments depended on the capacities of cotton to produce strong, sturdy fibers amenable to processing by machine.
In America, even as East coast merchants and ship owners were doing a brisk business in Indian cottons, mechanized domestic production was starting to take hold. In 1789, a young British entrepreneur, Samuel Slater, having worked with Richard Arkwright developing the first commercially successful spinning machine, eluded port authorities in the UK, or then Great Britain, masquerading as an ordinary laborer and sailed to America to make his fortune, his head filled with proprietary designs. Slater's cotton spinning mill in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, was the nation's first water-powered factory. As in Britain, the new American mills increased output and kept costs down not only through mechanization, but by using a labor force largely of low-cost women and children.
In the Northeast, the mechanization of cotton production expanded rapidly, soon adding power looms to establish integrated mills that took in cotton fiber and delivered finished cloth. Ezra Cornell, the man who gave his name to this university, arrived in Ithaca in 1828 and took a job at Otis Eddy's cotton mill as a mechanic. Cornell's skills with the new industrial machinery became his pathway to fortune.
As cotton was facilitating the first wave of the Industrial Revolution in America, as it had in Britain, another dimension of the cotton complex burst forth in response to the growth in mechanization. Cotton's capacity to grow in a wide range of subtropical environments made it amenable to flourishing in large swaths of the American South. Even the earliest European settlers at Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607 cultivated some cotton for domestic use, trying out cotton varieties native to Central and South America. One of these, American Upland Cotton, with a larger boll, longer fibers, and resistance to rot rose to dominate industrial production internationally.
When Eli Whitney in the 1790s designed a cotton gin with metal screens and wires that much more quickly and efficiently separated seed from fiber, the slow work of preparing cotton for market dramatically decreased, removing a major production bottleneck in harvesting and preparing cotton crops for sale. Soon the US military and southern planters were collaborating to remove Native Americans from large parcels of fertile land which could be profitably cultivated by African slaves. Cotton cultivation and slavery spread steadily West from the Mississippi to Arizona.
Clearly the competition between small-scale cotton manufacture, as in India, with basic tools and large-scale production with modern machinery was no simple contest. The rise of Western ambition to control production and markets placed a heavy hand on the scale. European governments in the 1700s had responded to domestic textile producers' protests by prohibiting the purchase and use of many classes of Indian cloth. By the early 1800s, the British controlled most of the Indian subcontinent and, in some regions, began to exert control over textile production.
The United States responding to its own nascent textile industry in 1816 levied tariffs on most cloth imported from India. In America, a seasoned India trader foresaw the enormous changes coming. Boston merchant Henry Lee, after the enactment of the 1816 tariff, assessed the effectiveness of the new taxes. He wrote, "We have given up the Calcutta trade. Except for raw cotton, manufacturers will not do. The duty on coarse cloths under new tariffs is from 60%-70%. The domestics now undersell them and are extending in all directions." Tariffs on imported textiles and the increasing output of northern mills spelled an end to large-scale imports of Indian cottons.
A century later, Mahatma Gandhi, leading India's struggle for freedom, recognized the imperial power of cotton. Gandhi elevated khadi simple homespun cottons, much like the Indian sheeting and shirting so sought after-- that I showed you in those two little swatches in the new independent, new United States. Gandhi made khadi the center of his campaign for a self-sufficient and free India.
What remains so intriguing is that neither industrial production nor imperial power finished off Indian handmade textiles. The allure of Indian textiles survived in America. In a very real way, the exhibition "Traded Treasure" and the symposium we're a part of are products of that persisting attraction.
Just as Europeans had been willing to flout laws and spend more for distinctive Indian cloths, Americans continued to seek out Indian textiles and their imitations. So here we are with the mill owner Amos Lawrence in the middle of the 19th century. And he's one of the ones developing the mill production in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.
And he's dressed in something that appears to be a paisley banyan, a reinterpretation of the hand-painted Cora Mendel coast example in the slide and a Velvet cap styled a bit like an oriental turban. So there was something still fashionable about Indian things even in this changing climate. In the first half of the 19th century, even as heavy taxes on low-end imports of Indian cottons and the modest prices of new mill made cloth pushed ordinary Indian cottons from the American market, a more narrow market for Indian cloth persisted.
Besides being relatively easy to grow, prepare, spin, and weave, cotton is also amenable to dying and can be coaxed into a subtle range of colors that endure through repeated use and many washes. "Traded Treasure" eloquently evokes this capacity of cotton fiber to accept and hold color in masterpieces like the hand-painted and resist dyed cotton on the screen. But the finesse of these results belies the complexity of the processes involved. Over many centuries, lineage-based workshops in India developed the knowledge and skills to achieve these subtle colors and manipulate them to embed a myriad of patterns on cloth, refining the processes to be capable of creating works of art.
India's caste-based social order fostered the development of hereditary specializations. Dyers imbibe skills from childhood living among clusters of workshops, gradually mastering their craft, and passing their skills on to the next generation.
Two dyes of paramount importance stand out in trade and treasure-- madder reds and indigo blues. In both instances, the dyes can be extracted from several varieties of plants, especially the leaves of the indigofera genus, bearing concentrations of the blue dye stuff indigotin. The roots of the plants in the Morinda genus and the most prominent of which is madder yielding a red dye.
Both substances are complicated to use. Yet both are capable of producing an astonishing range of rich and subtle colors. The challenge with indigo is in processing the leaves to extract the dye and then coaxing the extract into a form with which the fiber and dye can bond. The leaves must be fermented and then mixed with a strong base to precipitate the dye for use in a dye bath. When the cloth is exposed to air, the dye oxidizes, turning blue. Controlled cycles of dying yield shades of blue from lightest to near black.
The madder reds present a very different set of challenges. Matter and cotton do not easily bond. A mordant, a caustic substance, must be introduced to serve as a chemical bridge between the dye and the fiber. Skilled dyers can create shades of reds, oranges, pinks, purples, and browns according to the mordant used in the concentrations of mordant and dye, and many other variables, including water, bleaching mediums, additional ingredients such as flowers and seeds, and supplementary dye stuffs.
India's dyers develop the technologies and processes as well as the artistry to produce finely designed and dyed textiles on a scale that remained unmatched for centuries making India's cotton textiles sought after around the world, and also, at times, prohibited by governments to impede competition with their own countries' lesser quality products. It is no wonder that Europeans flouted prohibitions, purchased smuggled goods, and paid prices inflated by taxes to own Indian cottons.
Near the end of the 19th century, the situation changed radically when new developments in European industrial chemistry succeeded in extracting madder red from anthrocene and coal tar and synthesizing indigotin in the laboratory. These new dyes, compatible with mechanized printing processes invented decades earlier, produced quantities of dyed and patterned cloth at much lower cost. In an astonishingly short period of time, the ascendant position of Indian dying came to an end, exchanged for efficiency and economy.
In the case of indigo, in 1897, an estimated 19,000 tons of indigo was being produced worldwide from plant sources. By 1914, the quantity had dropped to 1,000 tons and continued to decline. But indigo blue remains a popular color, as we all know. In 2011, the world consumed 50,000 tons of synthetic indigo.
In the United States, while industrial production and tariffs sidelined ordinary cotton goods, more upmarket, painted, and printed designs continued to attract admirers. Painted and printed cotton bed covers, known as palampore, remained coveted furnishings, especially those featuring a tree of life replete with colorful blooms filling the entire field. On the screen are images of three tree of life palampore. One's just a detail of the rocks at the bottom with a lovely figure in it. These all were brought to Salem, Massachusetts, two by the shipmaster and super cargo William Dean Waters around 1830. And a third one, acquired probably in Madras by Captain Gamaliel Hodges.
The tree of life design had evolved in the early 1700s combining plant forms in European crewel embroidery with Mogul motifs, floral motifs, and Chinese peonies, exotic birds and trees emerging from rocky crags. In America, many surviving examples belong to shipping families in the India trade who had access to the finer qualities on the market. Buyers, it seems, were attracted not only by the quality of the colors and the convenience of having readily washable bedclothes, but the designs that hybridized familiar and exotic, creating works that were both comfortable and tantalizingly mysterious.
In America-- and in this ad on the right, you can see chintz. I've got a couple of little red arrow is pointing to the chintz. And on the left, the muslins, we'll see this again in a few slides. In America, the palampores and other painted and printed cottons were known as chintz, a term derived from Hindustani for colored or spotted. Palampores became treasured heirlooms.
But the category of cloth designated as chintz moved in another direction expanding beyond its India produced reference to be applied to glazed floral prints used as dress fabrics, curtains, and upholstery regardless of where they were manufactured. With the advent of synthetic dyes and industrial printing in the late 19th century, chintz had spawned an adjective-- chintzy-- to describe things and people that were cheap and shoddy.
The palampores' hybridized tree of life followed a separate trajectory, further hybridizing as part of a globalized design vocabulary interconnecting sacred trees and cultures around the world and persisting as a design resource periodically reactivated well into the 20th century. As I can personally attest-- my college bedspread. During the revival of textile imports from India in the 1960s-- a subject about which I knew absolutely nothing at the time-- I chose this as my freshman year bedspread. This amazingly slapdash, seemingly screen printed tree of life from India, probably made in Gujarat, with hallmark of madder red and indigo blue palette birds, Indian squirrels, and Chinese peonies, my bedspread is a testimonial to the impacts of industrial production-- the dominating emphasis on quantity and low prices and the complex intermingling of machine and hand production.
As some of you-- a few of you-- may remember, during the 1960s, there was a surge of Indian textile imports, also including genuine, bleeding Madras worn as Bermuda shorts, bathing suits, shirts, and even dinner jackets. These were a marketing miracle created by a buyer at the Tony Men's Store, J Press, who discovered that the colors in the checked Indian cotton cloth he had purchased ran badly in the wash. Out of this disaster, he created a multi-year American fashion connecting with the 1960's trend in ethnic chic, also manifested in my tree of life bedspread. The bedspread with its hybridized design and this shirt in its somewhat gaudy colorful plaids of genuine Indian Madras combined familiar functional forms with design elements carrying auras of distant places and earlier times when things were made by hand.
In the late 18th century, another Indian cotton fabric, muslin or Malmal, with a storied past and a magical presence was on the market in America-- prominent in that same advertisement, the arrows on the left-- from 1791. Those arrows indicate the varieties of muslin available. There are [NON-ENGLISH], painted striped muslins, Juggernaut muslins imported as piece goods, and handkerchiefs, and book muslins folded like pages in a book. Indian muslins were sheer, plain weaved cottons made with the finest yarns and most often undyed. Long-esteemed in India and distant markets, muslins make an appearance in the epic Mahabharata as gifts to the King Yudhishthira, and as a textile prized in Rome in the first century CE. Muslins are discernible as court attire, decorated with birds and flowers, in sculpture from the 7th century reign of Emperor Harsha and in painted portraits of the 16th and 17th century Mogul emperors and courtiers.
In the 18th century, muslins came from Sin, Sri Lanka, Varanasi, Masulipatnam, and some other places. But the best were made in Dhaka in Bengal now Bangladesh. Dhaka's muslin special characteristics were produced by the local environment-- earth, air, and water-- which affected properties of the cotton that grew there. The sandy saline soils near the Brahmaputra River yielded the highest quality cotton, short, stapled, and very soft. Bengali spinners, women in hereditary communities of weavers, plying only dropped spindles were virtuosos spinning the finest yarn. They worked morning and evening when the air was damp. Men wove the cloth. William Ward, a British missionary, wrote in 1822 that the muslin was, quote, "So exceedingly fine that four months were required to weave one piece. When this muslin is laid on the grass," he wrote, "and the dew has fallen upon it, it is no longer discernible."
While Indian muslin was sought after for window and bed curtains at the beginning of the 19th century, it became a centerpiece of the neoclassical style originated by Napoleon's empress, Josephine, which made liberal use of muslin for its soft drapery and form-revealing transparency. The new Grecian neoclassical style swept across Europe and America. Women dressed in high waisted empire gowns which, at the same time, stimulated a market for another iconic Indian trade cloth, the cashmere shawl, to provide a functional cloak for the flimsy gowns. In the United States, muslin gowns and cashmere shawls speedily became high fashion for the social elite, including Charlotte Forrester, who chose this attire to sit for her portrait by Gilbert Stuart.
Muslins could be plain or ornamented with extra weft brocade motifs, known as Jamdani, simply embellished as in Sally Nichols' gown on the left, or elaborately in the shawl at right that's on view in "Traded Treasure." Similarly, muslins could also be embroidered, as are the two shawls in this slide. Sometimes embroidery was added in Europe or America. And it can be difficult to tell.
In Europe, muslin's popularity waned after a few decades, perhaps a victim of the end of the French empire. And muslin was certainly debased in value by the fine qualities of cotton yarns facilitated by Crompton's 1779 spinning mule used in British and European textile mills to make muslins at much lower prices. The British East India Company hastened muslin's declined by pressuring spinners and weavers in Bengal to compete with mill maid versions by increasing production yet keeping compensation low. While the mill made muslins could never achieve the fineness of the best from Bengal, machine-made muslin was sheer enough and priced well enough to outsell the Indian imports.
Ultimately, as with the case with chintz which devolved into cheaply made flowered, chintzy cloth, so too in 20th century America, muslin came to designate plain weaves, smooth, undyed cloth for patterns and linings. Today, at Jo-Ann Fabrics, a chain of stores familiar to many of us, you will find muslin used to designate undyed, sturdy cotton included along with burlap, canvas, felt, and interfacing under the heading of utility fabrics.
While cotton led India textile imports to America, woolen shawls and silk piece goods, especially bandanna handkerchiefs, were prominent in the mix. In this slide, you see Elijah Boardman in his shop with his cabinet open filled with the wonders of textiles available from the world just then. And I've taken a detailed, blown it up, and put a little red arrow to show you where there's something that looks a lot like tie-dyed bandanna pieces. And on the right is James Fogg Langdon who's wearing a bandanna neckerchief.
Around 1800, the bandanna was the most popular Indian handkerchief. Like the word chintz, the term was originally borrowed from Hindustani along with the textile, a version of [NON-ENGLISH] any meaning tie-dyed. While Americans purchased bandannas in Calcutta, the silk weaving center where they were made was at Murshidabad about 100 miles to the north. Bandannas were made from Cora cloth. And you can see in this slide on the left-- get a sense of how softly it drapes. It's very thin and drapes beautifully.
Usually, it's a plain weave cloth. Sometimes it's twilled. And in its basic state, it's off-white to gold in hue. And it comes in lengths of about a yard wide. The Cora pieces comprising seven to 10 handkerchiefs squares were either tie-dyed in simple geometric patterns or block printed in floral motifs to be cut and hand hemmed into individual handkerchiefs by the buyers, like the bandanna at the right.
The market in the West for bandannas originated in the early 18th century with the Dutch East India Company exports. Bandanna handkerchiefs were among the piece goods that continued to be imported to America well into the 19th century. Handkerchiefs, usually large squares, were put to many different uses as wipers, neckerchiefs, head wraps, and bundle wraps. They were made in an enormous variety of techniques, fabrics, colors, and designs and imported not only from India, but from England, China, and Europe, as well as made domestically.
A fashionable gentleman's wardrobe around 1800 is described as including six pocket handkerchiefs. The only one given special mention was a bandanna. The same gentleman also owned a chintz dressing gown, similar to the banyan that we saw in an earlier slide.
In 1810, our friend Henry Lee, the merchant in Boston, instructed his agent to buy freely of silk handkerchiefs, including those produced under East India Company direction. Lee and other Boston merchants particularly asked for East India Company rejects indicating their persisting focus on the low end of the market for laborers, farmers, plantation slaves in the South, and for re-export to the West Indies and South America. Lee also purchased undyed silk Cora cloth from which bandannas were made, presumably to sell to printing and dyeing establishments at home. For the next two decades, he continued to import bandannas, lots of them, adjusting the quantities to reflect shifts in the popularity of colors and patterns, whether tie-dyed in scarlet, chocolate, blue, or yellow, or printed.
John Stark, another Boston merchant, estimated in 1810 that 250,000 silk bandanna handkerchiefs were imported to the US from Calcutta. Although many of these may have been intended for re-export a large quantity remained, enough to make them widely available. Considering that individual handkerchiefs could be had for $0.50 to $1.00 each, they would have been affordable luxury within the means of most Americans in 1810.
Henry Lee's correspondence for the same year contains a much higher estimate, more than a million handkerchiefs, enough for about one out of every seven Americans if all of them were consumed domestically. Lee referred to this high estimate again years later. So he must have considered it accurate.
At mid-century, so just 40 years or so later, the market for Indian tie-dyed and printed silk bandannas began a steep decline, pushed aside by the growth of imports from Europe and China, as well as local manufacturers. The change was dramatic. Henry Lee wrote to his buyer in Calcutta. "In India goods, some improvement. Handkerchiefs is the worst article. They have gone out of fashion to a great extent in consequence of the substitution of British-printed Coras and Spitalfield manufacture which come in free of duty and of [NON-ENGLISH]--" Chinese handkerchiefs-- "which are printed here. I consider India chopas and bandannas no longer a staple."
While the market for the genuine article had declined, the demand for imitations was strong. The imitation was on its way to becoming the real thing. American consumers were considering bandannas in a new light. Their identity as Indian was fading. The growing complexity in the textile market, the further expansion of global trade, increasing imitation in different centers for different markets, the reinterpretation of designs, the intermingling often indistinguishable to buyers of handmade, machine made, domestic imported products undermined the significance of the bandanna's Indian origins. Though only a small proportion of bandannas worn in the United States continued to come from India, patterns incorporating Indian design motifs, white dots, floral patterns, have survived to the present. Like chintz and muslin, the term bandanna has also persisted, but most people who use it are unaware that bandannas originated as tie-dyed silks from India.
So this is what you can get from Sears now. I thought they were dead, but they're not dead. I mean, Sears.
In my memory, American bandannas have been cotton squares usually of red or blue and ornamented with white spotted and floral motifs, sometimes incorporating Indian [NON-ENGLISH] or the Scottish interpretation we know as paisley. They are made in the USA, China, sometimes Japan, but rarely India. Americans tend to think of these like blue jeans as distinctively American. In our world, bandanna-style textiles can be seen worn as neckties, baseball caps, dresses, and bathing suits.
In the 20th century, bandannas have been most closely associated with the American West as cowboy attire. For at least a century, bandannas have stood for All-American qualities, rugged, hard-working, independent individualistic. Bandannas have become part of the fashion for work clothes worn by celebrities and laborers alike, even neck wear for dogs. Bandannas have also been enlisted to signal gang memberships, such as the Crypts and the Bloods in Los Angeles, drug dealing, and sexual orientation. Despite their heterogeneity, all these bandanna wearers partake of a past, a sort of down-to-earth classlessness connected with intrepid forebears who farmed and tamed the frontier.
In the late 18th century, bandannas were a distinctly foreign import. In the 19th century, they lost their exoticness and became completely domesticated. But they still retain the, visual memory of their 18th century origins in India. They do so because in the process of transformation, they have become icons of their own textile forebears. Manufacturers recognize what consumers expect in a bandanna. So contemporary bandannas preserve these even while experimenting with the repertoire by producing bandannas in pink, green, and yellow, and by varying the designs. But the perennial bestsellers, the classics, seem to be the ones that reproduce their history, and color, and design, like the Sears' one. The American moment in the Indian textile trade serves us well, I think, at the beginning of this symposium as a means of connecting our contemporary world to the long ago, pre-industrial trading world of the 14th to the 19th centuries brought to us in "Traded Treasure."
The powers of cotton come into sharp relief as we see how characteristics of cotton, and its cultivation, and production into cloth shaped the modern world by stimulating global markets and instigating technological, social, and economic transformations, including plantation slavery, proletarian workforces, and mechanized production. India's weavers and dyers led the way with cotton, and also silk and wool, demonstrating how cloth could be serviceable and beautiful and a sought after commodity.
The irony is striking that the powerful role of India's pre-industrial textiles in the expansion of global trade and industrial production ultimately sidelined the hand-spun, hand-woven, and vegetable-dyed cloth into niche markets in India and around the world. Yet we are also reminded that the handmade has not vanished and probably never will. The colors, textures, and artistry that people esteem cannot be matched by machines. In India today, small scale, high-quality manufacturers are having something of a Renaissance with the emergence of a substantial upper middle class and wealthy elite. There is more natural dying, refined block printing, complex loom weaving, and fine hand embroidery.
Finally, by following the American trajectories of palampores chintz muslin and bandannas we open vistas on processes of intercultural exchange as we explore what happens when textiles travel a question addressed by the exhibition "Traded Treasure," and fulsomely explored in the catalog essays by Ruth Barnes, Kaja McGowan, and Sylvia Houghteling. What are the impacts of fabrics, colors, and designs on the people who acquire them? How are these foreign objects integrated and reinterpreted? The complexity of the answers to such questions alerts us to the great powers of cloth to be all at once useful and meaningful, to be visually and sensuously appealing, to embody and express skills and artistry of their makers, to be redolent with cultural value, to be sought after commodities. Textiles, especially like those on view in "Traded Treasure," have wielded the power to transform the world, embodying and expressing all these assets and values simultaneously. Thanks.
ELLEN AVRIL: If the audience has any questions?
SUSAN S. BEAN: OK.
ELLEN AVRIL: If questions could be into the microphone.
SUSAN S. BEAN: Yeah. So anyone have any questions or comments? OK. Yes.
AUDIENCE: Thank you. Susan, I very much enjoyed your talk. I was curious about what kinds of silhouettes were being created by some of the textiles that you showed. You mentioned a little bit about the muslins and, of course, we saw the Empress Josephine. And to what extent does that also translate into fashion magazines? And a whole other set of illustrations by textiles are now being viewed by a bigger public, a larger public? Because the images you showed us of portraits were mainly oil paintings, but I was wondering how these also spilled over into more public domain. If you could talk to that a little bit?
SUSAN S. BEAN: That's an interesting question. In my reading on Empress Josephine, her fashion developments were very strategic, and very political, and meant to make a statement about the difference between the Napoleonic regime and the ancient regime that came before it. And she was considered by some rather scandalous, because you could see right through her dresses.
But it was a real change. And the question is-- along your lines-- who was the audience for that? Well, presumably, it was the ruling class and the politically powerful that she was making an impression on. And then portraits and costumes worn to events would be enough. You wouldn't need something more public than that.
The publicizing of other silhouettes and so on in magazines, I'm not real sure about how that might have worked.
AUDIENCE: That becomes very apparent in the late 19th-- in the mid to late 19th centuries there on. And especially with the rise of the department store culture, right? So there's a-- but we can talk about that later.
SUSAN S. BEAN: Mm-hm.
AUDIENCE: So I was curious if you could share anything that you know about how the prints were used in wallpapering and home furnishing? Because going back to your '60s example, although we all had those bedspreads, we also had those funky pillow covers with all the mirrors. And I sure wish you would have shared a copy of one of those with us.
SUSAN S. BEAN: So you're now talking about the 20th century thing.
AUDIENCE: It would have gone into other things other than just--
SUSAN S. BEAN: Oh, yeah. The chintz designs became quite popular even in the 18th century as wall coverings. So I think that at first they were using cloth. It wasn't wallpaper. It was just cloth that they were applying to the walls. And that the designs in chintz had a great appeal to Europeans and were transformed, many times-- because there was a whole production of roller printed cloths that were takeoffs on Indian chintz designs which helped with the devolution of what chintz was.
AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] cut into ball gowns or whatever, just like the bed curtains and so forth were.
SUSAN S. BEAN: Absolutely. Chintz was very popular for dresses.
AUDIENCE: Almost as yard goods, but tremendously splendid.
SUSAN S. BEAN: Yeah. But interestingly, those don't seem to have survived much in the US. They're just a few that I know about that are really-- came here in the colonial period.
AUDIENCE: That's what [INAUDIBLE] was were colonial.
SUSAN S. BEAN: Yeah, yeah.
AUDIENCE: Thank you so much, Susan. That was really wonderfully synthesizing. I just wonder if you could talk about trade routes a little bit? Obviously, the boats you're talking about are coming into Salem or going from Salem around the Cape of Good Hope. And the textiles you're talking about are coming from all different parts of the subcontinent. And so I'm just wondering where those boats are coming in and what those networks were.
SUSAN S. BEAN: The trade from the US in the late 18th and early 19th century to India, the British decided, for various reasons, to allow Americans to trade. But they tried to restrict their trade to the major British ports. So in the very first years, Americans would go to lots of different ports on the coast. And then more and more there were some treaties and so on. But they were Americans who violated the treaties. The British wanted them to trade in Calcutta, Madras, and Bombay probably because they could much better control for their own purposes what that trade involved.
And when they went, they often stopped-- they usually went around the Cape of Good Hope. And they sometimes stopped there. And they sometimes-- hmm?
SUSAN S. BEAN: Yes, yes. They stopped there. There were a couple of other spots along the way that they might stop. They were restricted, supposedly, from bringing things directly back to Europe, because, again, the British wanted to do that themselves. But they found ways to get around that as well by bringing it back to an eastern seaport port and then bringing it to Europe. So as in the prohibitions on Indian cloth in Europe, there were many ways to get around it. And there was lots of cloth available even when there were-- when it was made illegal by governments.
AUDIENCE: Thank you so much for that wonderful talk. I was just wondering about the language of the bandanna and the particular-- that the word comes from [NON-ENGLISH] and from tie-dying. But then you had this wonderful example of a block printed bandanna. And I hadn't really seen one so early. And so that would have also been known as a bandanna?
SUSAN S. BEAN: It was known as two things. It was known as a bandana or a chopa, which is from the-- yeah-- the block printing. And sometimes they were called chopa bandannas. So I think what kept them together was that they were both in the dying of Cora cloth-- the same thin silk was used in both. They were made in the same general region around Murshidabad. And they were made principally as squares to be exported.
AUDIENCE: And also sometimes as these whole sort of--
SUSAN S. BEAN: Yes. And this is how they often came. And so you can see where they were meant to be cut. Pointer. Right here.
AUDIENCE: And Then hemmed-- Do you think that they hemmed in the United States?
SUSAN S. BEAN: Yeah, it would have been hemmed wherever they ended up.
AUDIENCE: Hi, Susan. Thanks for the talk. I have two questions. One you alluded to the paisley motif coming to America by way of Scotland. I'd like to hear more about that. And then if you could speak to calico another Indian cloth that's associated with the American West.
SUSAN S. BEAN: Yes. Calico was in-- Calicut was the name of a seaport in southwest India that exported cottons. And the term calico got extended to all kinds of cotton. It's like all these other words. They move. And they move in different trajectories from the cloth sometimes and from the designs. So calicos in the US seemed to come to mean a basic, simple design with maybe a print on it or something like that, but in a basic cotton. And of course by mid or late 19th century, most of those would have been made in Lawrence, Massachusetts, or someplace like that.
So all of these-- you have to kind of watch it. There's some really interesting discussion in Henry Lee's correspondence-- his correspondence is fabulous-- about what to call textiles when you import them. And there was one textile called [NON-ENGLISH]. And Lee said don't call it [NON-ENGLISH]. Call it by any other name you want, but not-- people are sick of the sound of the word. So marketing was always an issue in the things that they brought in. They were trying to make them tempting. And calico like that seemed to acquire this aura of a kind of a homey, cotton print mostly, a small print design, small motifs, and expanded in its use in that way long after it had anything to do with southwest India.
Oh, paisley. OK. Paisley seems to have flourished in Scotland where it was a imitation reinterpretation of Indian motifs that were then put in, especially famously, the shawls that were made in imitation of cashmere shawls with a much more dense field of design. Sometimes just on the borders, but sometimes on the whole shawl. So that's, interestingly, the motif that often survives on the bandannas look more like something that was made in Great Britain than something that was made in India. So they're copying the reinterpretation which is copying the Indian. So again, the way these things move around, and how they take on significance, and sometimes remember themselves without consumers really understanding what's being remembered, to me, that's fascinating.
AUDIENCE: Do you mind if I add some--
SUSAN S. BEAN: Yeah, add, some sentences.
AUDIENCE: First of all, you have to know that Paisley is a town in Scotland. It's just outside of Glasgow. And they invented a system for making shawls more cheaply and with less handwork than they had done in Kashmir. But they copied the motifs. So in Kashmir, that motif would have been called a [NON-ENGLISH] or [NON-ENGLISH]. But when people started buying shawls from Paisley they just gave the name to the motif instead of to the technique that they were using to make them.
SUSAN S. BEAN: Yeah, because the original shawl was tapestry woven which is a very intricate and slow technique with lots of bobbins of different colors. And the paisley ones were probably made with that loom--
AUDIENCE: Jacquard loom.
SUSAN S. BEAN: Jacquard loom. Thank you-- with a Jacquard loom that has the cards at the top. So all those changes are done automatically and the threads just go shooting across the whole width of the fabric.
SUSAN S. BEAN: Yeah, yeah. One interesting thing I found out-- I'd never looked at my bedspread is as a historian before. But this time, I was looking at it and I was trying to figure out how it was made. And I finally decided it must have been silk screened. And I went online-- thank goodness for the internet-- and I found out that Gujarat, Ahmedabad, and someplace else, has a huge silk screening industry. And I wondered does anybody know how old that might be?
Have any of you ever encountered it? And they produce these complicated designs really inexpensively and sell them in all the cities. It's the same kind of cheap imitations that you're talking about. But I must say, personally, I feel quite heartened to see that, at least in some quarters in India today, there seems to be more support for making fine cloth instead of just cheap imitations. So.
ELLEN AVRIL: All done?
SUSAN S. BEAN: Yeah, I think we're all done. Thank you very much.
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When independence from Britain enabled American merchants to initiate direct trade with India, no one could have foreseen the impacts of the far-reaching revolution in textile production already underway at the end of the eighteenth century.
Susan S. Bean, chair of the Art & Archaeology Center of the American Institute of Indian Studies and associate of the Peabody Museum at Harvard University, gave the keynote lecture at an Indian textiles symposium held at Cornell on April 18-19, 2019. Bean's presentation explored the initial American experience in the textile trade with India and brings into focus the irony that India's preeminence in textile production stimulated the very innovations that would upend its paramount position and permanently transform the making of cloth.
In conjunction with the exhibition Traded Treasure: Indian Textiles for Global Markets, the symposium looked at India’s history of innovative textile traditions. It was cosponsored by Cornell’s South Asia Program, Southeast Asia Program, and Department of the History of Art and Visual Studies; and supported by the Stoikov Asian Art Lecture Fund at the Johnson, which was funded by a generous gift from Judith Stoikov ’63.