Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Textile Narratives & Conversions: Proceedings of the 10th Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America, October 11–14, Toronto, Ontario


Copyright 2006 by the author.


According to Ruth Phillips, we are poised to enter the second museum age. For many years now museums has been the object of serious criticism. First Nations have critiqued museums’ authority to represent and possess culturally significant objects. There has also been a shift away from object-based research—undermining the very foundation of museums. They have been forced to re-evaluate who they are, whom they are for, and what to do with all that stuff in the storerooms. Since the mid-1980’s there has been growing responsiveness to indigenous peoples concerns, efforts to share authority, and a re-envisioning of museums as places to enhance community relations and share different stories. The study of material culture has similarly been re-invigorated. Arjun Appadurai’s now classic The Social Life of Things set things in motion— literally and figuratively—encouraging an awareness of objects’ social lives, how they are produced, used, and exchanged. This in turn has contributed to the telling of many tales as objects intersect with different individuals and communities. Textile studies since the 80s have generally reflected these shifts and contributed to them. The specialized field of Carpet Studies…Well that is another story.

In 2005 I joined The Nickle Arts Museum at the University of Calgary as Curator of Decorative Arts. I am primarily responsible for the Jean and Marie Erikson Rug Collection. As a cultural anthropologist with expertise in the area of South Asian embroidery traditions, rugs pose a new challenge in terms of technique, geographic area, and culture. In fact, this paper is really a reflection on the culture of rugs. It examines some of the narratives that surround the Erikson Collection—the Collectors tales, Dr Erikson tales, some of my own, and some, I hope, that allude to the weavers.