The first time I visited the Textile Museum, my primary reason was that I had not been there before (it was Weekly Museum Visit Part I, Week 6). When I visited for a second time, it was to see a specific exhibit – Second Lives: The Age-Old Art of Recycling Textiles.
As an environmentalist, I perk up at the word recycling (I was on the Recycling Committee in college), and my taste in art is strongest in the direction of visionary and folk art that uses old materials to make new sculptures and structures. During graduate school, when I had an internship in an elementary school classroom and my major project was to take the group on a museum field trip, we focused on the theme of reinvention, including reinventing trash into art. The children made art out of bottle caps, and we looked at bottle cap folk art at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Public art in the DC area in recent years has reused materials: call boxes refurbished into art displays, and sculptures made out of bike parts.
It’s certainly a hot topic right now. While it might not (yet) be “cool” to be the person who always asks where the recycling bin is, gifts made out of seat belts and food wrappers have become “cool.” I own a necklace and a picture frame made of used paper, turned by artisans into something that looks nice. But as the Textile Museum’s exhibit name suggests, turning the old into something new is nothing new.
The exhibit displays examples from different places and times and explains the reasons for repurposing materials, including the value/scarcity of textiles, asceticism, and the desire to imbue a baby’s blanket with old family memories. I thought the most effective pieces were the ones that show a picture of the old next to the new artifact, giving a sense of Before and After. Unfortunately, I was a few weeks too late for the complementary exhibit, Green: The Color and the Cause, but I was able to explore it online.