July 9, 2022

Haste Ye Back - Batiks and more in Edinburgh

Lisa Mason & Emily Taylor unpacking a Batik Sarong in the depot

Reflecting in the Paisley display at National Museum of Scotland

End of May I was in Edinburgh in Scotland. It was my first time in Scotland and first flight since 2019. Don't want to stand to long still at the drama at the airport, but it was challenging and it left a strange cloud over my visit. My visit was absolutely wonderful, so time for a post! 
I was happily surprised be in such a warm hearted welcoming city. I managed somehow to be indoors every time rain came pouring down, which was lucky since I arrived without my luggage, to continue my route in sunshine.
I was not just visiting Edinburgh, I was invited to be part of the The Association of Dress Historians Annual New Research Conference 2022 for their New Research in Dress History Conference held at National Museum of Scotland. Before my visit, I reached out to multiple people, hoping I could maybe get a paid gig somewhere to pay for my travels. As an independent researcher I found out it seems to be impossible to get any funding, either you need to be a (PhD) student or the instituut/museum you work at pays for it....My father actually sponsored this trip, thank you so much!, making it possible for me to give my talk in person, yeah, next to exploring the city and visiting the depot.  

Visit to the National Museums Collection Centre

Through my reaching out to people, I learned the National Museum of Scotland (NMS) actually has a Batik collection. I knew through the amazing project ‘Colouring the Nation’ {look up this projectsblog, it is amazing} that the museum hold many samplebooks from the flourish cottonprinting days. One of the researchers of this project informed me  that some of the samplebooks kept at NMS also contained pieces of Batik. Informing about this at the museum, I got told there were also Batiks, fragments and full cloths. I was invited to come and take a lot. Because the Batik collection hadn't been explored much and current privacy restrictions prevent from sharing names of donators, I had to make a selection from a Excel sheet with just a very short description, a location, sometimes a region/city, dates and inventory numbers of which I figured out they corresponded with the data of entering the collection. From the Assistant Curator Southeast Asia I also received any photos they had of the Batiks, which was mostly partial details. I decided to select the batiks that seemed the oldest, had no photographs and sounded useful for my research. Everyone was super busy at the museum, so eventually I got a planned in for two hours on Wednesday morning. 

I arrived on Monday, late, happy I had the Tuesday to find my way in the city and to buy a new wardrobe { welcome to provide you with a personal rant hehehe}. So the next day, I was ready to go to the depot. I took the bus to the depot of NMS, a little outside of the city. I arrived at a kind of industry plot and realised how interesting it is we keep these pieces at such ugly locations in a way when they are not on display. But they are probably the safest. Welcomed by Emily Taylor, Assistant Curator European Decorative Arts and organiser of the Dress Historian Conference, and Lisa Mason, Assistant Curator Modern & Contemporary Design, I felt honoured they freed up time in their very full schedules just so I could see these Batiks and have a glimpse at the samplebooks. 
I really saw the Batiks fast and was glad I got some extra time after with the samplebooks, but couldn't see all the Batiks I had on my list. Happy with the ones I did get to see and exciting to learn more about them on a later moment in time since there is still some info I hope to get about collectors and donators. As I mentioned, I made the selection based on limited data, but it were great pieces we got to see. On some I found a signature which will make it easier to get more info on the pieces later, but most were unsigned, even the newer, very fine, synthetic coloured ones, like the one below, inventory number A.1982.105. This one has such a beautiful design of a buketan motif repeating with fighting birds. The colours and very fine isen-isen are stunning. A design that if you make this today will surely be very populair. 

Sarong inventory number A.1982.105

Taking the Prada covered Kain panjang in

Another piece I would like to highlight in this post is a stunning Sogan coloured Batik decorated with Prada, inventory number A.1984.319. I never saw a Batik like this before and it made me really curious. 
When unrolling the Batik it turned out one side was completly complimented with gold decorations, what is called Prada. Prada can be found more commonly on Batik Pesisir, Northcoast Batiks either with Laseman or more Indian inspired motifs. This Batik is in a sense Indian inspired in motif, the repeating motifs refer to woven patterns, but the colour is classic Batik Keraton from Yogya. The very finely made Kain Panjang is covered fully with gold. Normally an edge on-top will be left uncovered, since the gold will get damaged there easily when wearing. The Batik was however designed to be worn since the other side of the Batik has a gold part too. This part is just big enough to pleat the fabric, 'diwru', at the front when wearing it, the royal way. A fascinating piece that maybe reveals its story in the future!

Detail of inventory number A.1984.319

Back side of inventory number A.1984.319 with gold decorated part for 'wiron'

Unrolling A.1883.65 

In my previous post I wrote about how batiks are stored differently on different locations. At NMS the Batik were kept on big roles together. A great way of storing multiple textiles, saving space while making sure they get no (extra) creases, but a more time consuming methode when you want to take a look. Some where already lead out, but at the end we couldn't see some because they were somewhere on a roll with many more. With my left over time, we choose to see the oldest ones. Based on the inventorynumber, A.1883.65 & A.1883.65 A, I figured this might be from 1883 and maybe would have a connection to the World colonial exhibition held in Amsterdam in that same year. They didn't, but were specifically bought for the museum. These very rough Batiks reminded me of samples I saw books of the Dutch cottonprinters. At first the colours look like those of Tanah Abang/Karet Batiks from the same time, but those Batik are much finer and more detailed. So maybe this unaware buyer got sold really rough pieces, or there were made elsewhere that didn't reach this fine quality yet...The colours however are still very bright. Both had an original old rond label with both the same info: 'Edinburgh Museum of Science & Art, 1883, Industrial Art, NO 65'. Both were also sown together as sarong with one fun difference, one being carefully hand sown while the other was machine stitch with multiple gabs in the thread. 
In the digital database was noted it was a gift from 'A.S. Cumming'. After some googeling I think it could be Admiral Sir Arthur Cumming KCB (1817 – 1893) who was an officer of the Royal Navy. Wiki provides the following info: 'Cumming achieved flag rank on 27 February 1870 when he was promoted to rear-admiral. He served for a while as a port admiral before becoming the Naval Commander-in-Chief of the East Indies in 1872. He remained in the East Indies until March 1875 and was promoted to vice-admiral on 22 March 1876. Cumming's promotion to admiral came on 9 January 1880 and he retired from the service on 6 April 1882. After retirement he lived mainly at Foston Hall, near Derby.'
So it could be possible these Batik were collected by this Cumming during his time in the 'Indies' and were donated when he retired and was back in England. But I also understood this name is very common, so maybe it is not him at all. But if he was, the Batiks date from before 1875...

Detail of A.1883.65 

Samples in Samplebook

Last I could check out during my depot visit were two sample books, one deconstructed factory sample book and one from the cotton printing company Alexandria that look more for the customer side of things. Just flipping through the pages and seeing next to the Turkey red samples, the cotton printing compagnies in Scotland got rich with, samples that look like Batik, Wax Print and copies very similar to the fakes from the Netherlands. Honestly I wish I could dive into these books and this interesting cotton printing history so much further. But it was great to have a little preview ;) and to discover more in the museum the following days.

Alexandria Samplebook

Samples in Samplebook

National Museum of Scotland

Thursday afternoon we got a curator tour at one of the museums, and I choose Dovecot studios since they had an exhibition on the Wallpapers by Morris & Co. So in the morning I headed first to NMS. When I entered I was so happy I didn't go the day before after my depot visit. This museum is HUGE! So huge, I missed an entire wing that I checked out in between talks the next day.
The museum is housed in an architectural marvel that also function as a time-portal wondering why visitors aren't wearing queue de Paris and high hats. Every flour of the 3 flours is divided in large rooms tackling different subjects displaying many objects. The building feels colonial and every room tries harder then the next to deal with this history. 
It was interesting again to see how museums abroad deal with it. While I appreciated it, it still felt very incomplete/one sided (why not add Europe if you display all continents in one room in single display cabinets and see why this isn't right) and it is just a lot. To not dwell on this too much for now, I wanted to share some highlights from what was on display.

'Shababik Birds 1' by Ibrahim Said, 2016

I spotted these plates 
and learned from the description these were being produced in Scotland 
for the Malay market. During the 19th century Scottish potteries exported huge quantities of
earthenware to Southeast Asia. J&MP Bell in Glasgow developed specific
designs with Malayan pattern names to cater for this export market.
They were given names like ‘Burung kupu’ & ‘Tarlulu bagus’. 
How fascinating!

'Summer' by Margaret Macdonald MackIntosh

Art Nouveau Cabinet from Oak, inlaid with marquetry, metal and mother of
pearl, ormolu mounts, designed by Louis Majorelle
Nancy, France, c1900

The wing I missed the first time was all about industry 
with much on the several textile industies

Paisley from Paisley
'From roughly 1800 to 1850, the weavers of the town of Paisley in Renfrewshire, Scotland, became the foremost producers of Paisley shawls. Unique additions to their hand-looms and Jacquard looms allowed them to work in five colours when most weavers were producing paisley using only two.[19] The design became known as the Paisley pattern. By 1860, Paisley could produce shawls with 15 colours, which was still only a quarter of the colors in the multicolour paisleys then still being imported from Kashmir.'

Display on Turkey Red

The Art of Wallpaper - Morris & Co. at Dovecot Studios

As I mentioned before as part of the conference program we could select a curator lead tour in one of the museums. I selected the tour through the exhibition 'The Art of Wallpaper - Morris & Co' because I love wallpaper and I love William Morris, but I honestly forgot how much I wallpaper & William Morris. The exhibition based, made after the briljant publication with the same title showcased original wallpaper pieces from Morris & Co, the first ones designed by William Morris himself, all other designers and earlier wallpaper that might have influenced Morris work. 
It brought me back to my early Artdays, making meters of hand-stamped patterns on wallpaper for installations. I enjoyed this exhibition so much and it was so great to get the tour by curator Jane Carey sharing all the great details and insights. I could write another blogpost just on this exhibition, but will just share some photos below and advice you to buy the book, it is a great publication with a lot of information and nice big prints of the wallpapers, a must have for any fan of Morris!

Curator Jane Carey pointing out a nice detail, a handwritten note on production

As I said, there is much more to share and tell about this adventure and inspiring trip, and of course I also gave a talk. I would like to turn my talk 'A Batik collection fit for a Lady' into an article for The Journal of Dress History, so in the near future more news on that.
For now, hope you enjoyed my post on Edinburgh, sampai jumpa!