It might have been a wet, dark Wellington night, but inside Te Papa over 80 Friends were immersed in a world of rich, exotic colour. Textile collector Judy Turner told us of her journey as a collector, from the very first purchase which led her to agent John Gillow, the English textile dealer well-known to many Friends of Te Papa, and to an extensive collection of over 300 pieces. Te Papa has recently acquired some beautiful pieces from Judy’s collection.

Judy showed us some of the wonderful pieces collected on her travels through India, Pakistan, Russia and Indonesia, and during her time living in Singapore. We learnt about different techniques such as how the tie-dying process of badinage, whereby small dots of tie-dyed bright colour are achieved by tying off a fine running thread around nail after nail, dates back over the centuries to Roman times, when even then fake badinage was sold as a cheap imitation.

In the late 15th century European merchants discovered that India produced the finest quality cotton cloth in world. Its gorgeous colours and patterns quickly meant Indian ‘chintz’ was so hugely in demand, both throughout Europe and the East, that the merchants insisted the Indians dig up their wheat fields and plant cotton. The consequence was famine. Later, when the cotton industry was established in the southern USA, the Indians were told to stop producing cotton or face crippling tariffs.

In Russia during the Soviet era, the central Russian Ikat workshops were suppressed. The ancient tradition of this colourful dyed-thread weaving was almost lost, but today in Uzbekistan it is now being revived.

Judy explained how political troubles still affect the textile market. When countries are affected by civil war or other strife, often their only means of surviving is to make the hard decision to sell treasured family heirlooms. Such pieces eventually make their way into the hands of dealers. But as Judy pointed out, this can be a good thing and better than being trampled by tanks, as it means these treasures may survive and eventually even return to their place of origin, as is happening in China and Russia.

Judy’s collection is especially significant as she has always sought out pieces made in and for the community, rather than for commercial sale. Such pieces offer insights into the lives of people, reflecting local cultural history and carrying its own special human story and message.

Elizabeth Kay, President

Feature image: Claire Regnault, Senior Curator History, Katie Cooper, Curator History , Judy Turner, Collector and Stephanie Gibson, Curator History against a backdrop of the exquisite textiles.