Stitches in Time – Exhibition from The Dominic Orr Collection

Central Asian Khirgiz Felt ‘Ok Bash’ – tent pole cover. Wool with horse hair tassels. Cotton lined. Ex Mary Burkett Collection
Age: Circa 1900

Stitches in Time’, is an exhibition of Tribal carpets, rugs, textiles and ethnic clothing that was held at South Brent Old School Community Centre and The Gallery Birdwood House, Totnes, South Devon, UK. These shows took place over two weeks between February and March, 2018.

The aims of showing a variety of items from The Dominic Orr Collection were as follows:
1. To stimulate interest in the various cultures that produced these artefacts, ranging from China and Indonesia, Persia and Anatolia, Europe and Africa, as well as Central and South America.
2. To sell some of these rare and special items, often woven solely for use rather than re-sale.
3. To show friends and family, in the area where I originally grew up and started trading in antiques, exactly what Dominic Orr is doing today and explain what my collection is and how it has come about.

Kente cloth Ghana West Africa

‘Kente’ Cloth, Ghana, Cotton Age: Early 20th Century (detail)

1. Why is it so important to give a detailed analysis of these artefacts to those people who attended this exhibition?

So much love and care was taken during their creation because these things often represented the pinnacle of the cultures from whence they came: the crafts and animal husbandry that were required to produce this objects are unique to the various different ethnic groups from across the globe. Many of these things displayed as part of this exhibition were originally created only for occasional use as part of ceremonial or ritualistic functions such as marriages or other prestigious events.

Left: a woven silk turban, India (detail) Right: an ‘Iban Kalambi’ bird jacket, Borneo (detail) woven ‘ikat’ cotton And ‘slitweave’ tapestry – used by shaman or for hunting.

The procedure for production of such items can only be guessed at because they are often hundreds years old and such knowledge was passed down through generations without formal instruction and invariably only aurally and orally. So, as a mother spins and dyes, weaves and sews, items are produced from the family’s own animals, her daughter on her lap and her son helps the father in the fields. So the sheep, goats and camels are tended and their wool becomes artefacts, their stylised animal forms as symbols adorning rugs, carpets and bags, totems representing wealth and prosperity for years to come.

Baluch Camel ground rug

Persian ‘Baluchtribe rug with camel hair field (detail). 19th Century.

By looking at diverse cultures and how they have lived and survived over centuries and generations surely we can enhance an appreciation of our own ‘ethnic’ crafts produced from material such as wool which was a source of wealth right across the UK and Ireland for thousands of years.

Welsh Blanket, Mid 20th Century, Wool (detail).

2. Many of the items displayed from this collection are now being used in the homes of those who purchased them.

South Brent Old School Community Centre, Aune Room. South Devon

Some purchases represent a modest investment which may result in daily use as a rug, carpet or blanket around the home.

South Brent Old School Community Centre, Aune Room. South Devon

Other purchases might be seen a more significant investments and, as such, could become wall hangings equivalent to art pieces which, in their extremely beautiful vegetal colours and exquisite forms, rival modern arts and crafts available from contemporary High Street galleries.

Tribal bag faces

South Brent Old School Community Centre, Aune Room. South Devon

Possibly due to the extreme weather conditions that took place during the exhibition in Totnes,

when snow and blizzards made the High Street impassable prompting local businesses to lock their doors,

‘Stitches in Time’ at The Gallery Birdwood House saw good attendances as it was one of the few doorways open to families and intrepid folk,

Totnes High Street Beast from the East

a place to warm up amongst the woollens in the face of the ‘Beast from the East’.

3. Both venues received visitors from local people in South Brent and Totnes, some of whom may have had a vague notion about the Dominic Orr Collection.

The Gallery Birdwood House Totnes Stitches in Time

The Gallery Birdwood House Totnes, Devon, UK.

It was satisfying when people returned to the exhibitions with their own tribal textiles, some of which had been inherited from family members long since departed.

The Gallery Birdwood House Totnes Stitches in Time

The Gallery Birdwood House Totnes, Devon, UK

In fact it was clear as soon as people entered either exhibition that they were not expecting such a joyous riot of colour and quality. More people came, having been recommended to do so from other friends who had enjoyed the exhibition. Others looked in as repeat buyers looking for something more to take home with them or as gifts for future occasions.

The Gallery Birdwood House Stitches in Time

The Gallery Birdwood House Totnes, Devon, UK

I look forward to the next Dominic Orr Collection exhibition. Many thanks to all who came and supported the show. Special thanks to Anthea Tuckey, Artistic Director, The Gallery Birdwood House, Totnes, Devon UK.

The Gallery Birdwood House Totnes Devon, UK.

The Gallery Birdwood House Totnes, Devon, UK

Also Special thanks to Glyn Richards, Centre Manager, Old School Community Centre, South Brent, Devon, UK.