DMA Insight

Textiles at the Dallas Museum of Art

The following excerpt was written in 2003 by Carol Robbins, the former Ellen and Harry S. Parker III Curator of the Arts of Americas and the Pacific, for the publication Dallas Museum of Art, 100 Years.

Additions to the Dallas Museum of Art's permanent collection in 1931 included two embroidered pictures attributed to Italian artists, gifts from Mrs. S. I. Munger, and a European embroidered floral panel, gift of an anonymous donor. These were the Museum's first textiles. For the next forty years, textile acquisitions were occasional yet culturally diverse: samples of European and American furnishings fabrics, European ecclesiastical vestments, the first ancient textiles from Peru, a piece of tapa cloth, and an American coverlet. In addition, the Craft Guild of Dallas gave examples of contemporary handweaving and needlework. Mark Adams' tapestry Queen of Heaven was purchased through The Art Museum League Fund in 1958, the same year that Susan Brown's embroidered hanging entitled Mutation entered the collections as winner of the Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence S. Pollock Purchase Prize in the 10th Annual Texas Crafts Exhibition.

Textile collecting shifted from casual to serious during the 1970s. Among several ancient Peruvian textiles purchased through The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc. was the Paracas mantle, which became the centerpiece of the South American collection in 1972. The Museum also acquired its first textiles from Guatemala, twenty pieces funded by Mr. and Mrs. Donald Squibb in honor of Jerry Bywaters; its first Navajo blankets; and its first colonial period textile from Peru, a tapestry poncho given by the Leland Fikes Foundation. The arrival in 1976 of The Nora and John Wise Collection of ancient American art, which included over 600 textiles, ensured the importance of ancient American textiles at the Dallas Museum of Art.

The significant growth and the potential for gifts from local collections suggested to the staff that textiles, especially those of the Americas, could become an area of considerable strength. Plans for the downtown building included a study-storage area and an adjacent gallery devoted to textiles. The Museum purchased its first textiles from Indonesia in 1981. Carolyn C. and Dan C. Williams gave their collection of 135 Guatemalan textiles and objects in 1982. Two major collections were accepted in 1983: the Steven G. Alpert Collection of Indonesian Textiles, gift of The Eugene McDermott Foundation (seventy-six pieces); and the Patsy R. and Raymond D. Nasher Collection of Maya Textiles from Guatemala (416 pieces).

Subsequent textile acquisitions have augmented these areas of strength, including Guatemalan textiles given by Carolyn C. and Dan C. Williams, the Nashers, John Lunsford, and Mary Kirk and Peruvian additions given by Mr. and Mrs. Duncan Boeckman and by Silas R. Mountsier III from the estate of Nora Wise. The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Fund, Inc. and The Eugene McDermott Foundation have generously supported the purchase of textiles from the Americas and Indonesia. Steven G. Alpert has regularly given textiles from Indonesia as well.

In 1985, the textile holdings experienced remarkable growth in new directions with the addition of two extensive decorative arts collections. The Wendy and Emery Reves Collection includes European vestments, bed coverings, velvets, silk fabrics, and laces, as well as carpets from Spain, Turkey, Egypt, and India. Among the textiles in the Faith P. and Charles L. Bybee Collection are one hundred textiles of the Landes Dowry, made by three generations of Landes family women in Ephrata, Pennsylvania, between 1830 and 1880.

During the 1990s, Curator of Decorative Arts, Charles Venable, added a number of significant European textiles and established a collection of 20th-century design textiles containing work by Gustav Stickley, Maria Kipp, and Jack Lenor Larsen. An anonymous gift of ten very fine American quilts in 1998 included the impressive Baltimore album quilt.

An essential part of this story is the success of the endowment fund for the acquisition of textiles. In December 1982, Nora Wise asked me which I would rather have as a Christmas present for the Museum, a fund for textile conservation or one for the purchase of textiles. I answered, "A purchase fund!" Marty McDermott Cook matched Wise's $5,000 contribution and the fund grew through their annual contributions. Richard Brooks Fabrics hosted an "East Meets West" fashion show benefit for the fund in 1984, and textile enthusiasts began sending commemorative contributions to honor friends and family. In 1986, The Eugene McDermott Foundation made the first of a number of significant grants, and the fund became an endowment. Another benefit in 1988 previewed the Asian textiles that Margaret McDermott had acquired for Zale Lipshy University Hospital. "Let's go for $500,000," Margaret McDermott said, "and then you're on your own." Not long after that goal was achieved, she suggested that we go for $1 million. The Textile Purchase Fund attained million-dollar status in 1999 and continues to grow. The fund has recently made the most significant purchase in its history, a panel with rectangles of iridescent blue and rich yellow featherwork from ancient Peru.

Excerpt from

Carol Robbins, “Textiles at the Dallas Museum of Art,” in Dallas Museum of Art 100 Years, eds. Dorothy Kosinski, et al. (Dallas, TX: Dallas Museum of Art, 2003), 30.