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There's a story in your shawl

Three questions with Curator cum scholar Frank Ames

Q. What led to your fascination with shawls?
A. My fascination with shawls came while dealing in other textiles and Oriental carpets. I was living in Paris and hanging out during the 70s at Paris’ most exciting auction house, Hotel Drouot. Soon enough, I was put on specialised sales the first of which, ironically, was of 19th century American patchwork quilts, hundreds of which I had brought in from the US. It was actually a celebration of America’s bi-centennial in 1976 and the French audience went on a buying frenzy. All the pieces had to be opened, studied and meticulously written up for the catalogue. That was the beginning of my interest. When I put together collections of European and Indian shawls, it led me to the point of an obsession.


Antique Kani Kashmir Moon Shawl, circa 1860.

Q. What are the exciting discoveries you have made of shawls during your study?
A. The history of the European and Jacquard shawl is tied in with almost the whole of England and France of the 19th century. The industry of loom engineering, dyeing, wool processing, etc, was enormous. Many of the fascinating bits of this story can be found among the archives and travel books of spy agents, renegades, mercenaries, and explorers. Others are to be found in the discoveries of various designs and flowers in Mughal art that can be directly traced back to the 15th and 16th century.

Q. What can the Mumbai audience look forward to during your talk?
A. The Mumbai audience can learn about the origins of the first Kashmir shawl designs and how early European herbal and florilegia (compilation) books, which were brought in by the Jesuits, influenced some. As my discussion moves into the first half of the 19th century, they will learn about how shawl patterns came under the influence of Sikh/Punjab culture, the Khalsa movement and Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Many people I’m sure, after my talk, will run home and re-open their shawls to see what they’ve been saving!

On Today, 7 pm
At Artisans’, 52-56, Dr VB Gandhi Marg, Kala Ghoda. call 22673040
email fames1@earthlink.net

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