Date of this Version
Published in Hidden Stories/Human Lives: Proceedings of the Textile Society of America 17th Biennial Symposium, October 15-17, 2020. https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/tsaconf/
Tribal carpets and textiles have been enthusiastically collected by connoisseurs and ordinary people in Europe and the United States for years. Along with a number of publications on tribal carpets and textiles, several recent exhibitions such as Portable Storage: Tribal Weavings from the Collection of William and Inger Ginsberg at the Metropolitan Museum of Art indicate a keen academic interest in the West. In contrast, tribal carpets and textiles did not gain the attention of the majority of Japanese. However, some Japanese, especially Yanagi Muneyoshi and his friends in the Mingei circle, notably Hamada Shoji, Serizawa Keisuke, and Tonomura Kichinosuke, have been collecting tribal carpets and textiles since the mid-twentieth century. This paper focuses on this little-known fact and explores how and in what circumstances these textiles were collected.
As discussed elsewhere by the author, Indian and Persian carpets were brought to Edo-period Japan by the Dutch East India Company and used for special occasions such as festivals. Then, from the early twentieth century, a privileged few, such as aristocrats, scholars, and businessmen, had the chance to visit Europe and the United States and became exposed to carpets as daily furnishings. Some took tribal carpets and textiles back to Japan. While several Japanese handbooks on the use of carpet as interior decoration were published in the 1920s, most Japanese were unfamiliar with carpets. It was in this context that Yanagi Muneyoshi found beauty in carpet designs and came to regard carpets and tribal textiles as idealized artifacts. In the 1950s, Yanagi actually used a saddle bag made by a Persian nomad as a cushion in his library. Using his work as source material, this paper examines why carpets and tribal textiles were highly valued by the Mingei circle and compares their view with William Morris’s attitude toward Oriental carpets.