Ethnic Textile Traditions of Iowa Immigrant and Native Populations


September 16 – November 20, 2009

Curated by Janet Fitzpatrick, Sara J. Kadolph, and Sara B. Marcketti

When one thinks of cultural diversity, the state of Iowa may not quickly come to mind. Yet, Iowa has a rich history of welcoming cultural diversity from Norwegian settlers in the northeastern part of the state in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to the more recent reception of Sudanese from Africa and Tai Dam immigrants from Southeast Asia. With funding from Humanities Iowa and the Iowa State University Center for Excellence in the Arts and Humanities, the curators organized historians and artists from across the state to research, document, interpret, select and/or create historical and contemporary Iowa cultural traditions in fiber and fabric arts. The historians documented the fiber/fabric arts traditions of: African-American quilting; Amish quilting; Bosnian kilim rug weaving; Latin American guayaberas or wedding shirts, Native American Meskwaki ribbonwork regalia; Norwegian hardanger embroidery, Sudanese textiles, and Tai Dam and Laotian weaving and embroidery. The historians then approached fiber/fabric artists to create new pieces, or identified existing pieces to purchase. The garments and textiles selected for this exhibit reflect these cultural textile traditions in Iowa.

Fibers and fabrics are integral aspects of cultural identity and reflect the evolution of the society in which the culture exists. Within the scope of this project, the historians and the fiber/fabric arts represent the preservation of ethnic traditions and evolution of these traditions as they have been impacted by environment, technology, and neighboring cultures. A project of this nature helps to ensure the documentation of the ever-evolving textile traditions of these cultural groups in the state of Iowa. The collaborative approach of this project involves Iowans in documenting the state’s rich cultural history and represents the democratic land-grant ideals of education, accessibility, openness, and service to Iowans upon which Iowa State University was founded.

An eighty-eight page catalog was published in conjunction with the exhibit, featuring the essays that describe the cultures and textile traditions of the eight ethnic groups included in the exhibit. In addition to the essays, the catalog contains full color photographs of the textiles on display and an introduction and conclusion by the curators.

This exhibit is the collaborative effort of over twenty individuals, including curators: Janet Fitzpatrick, Sara J. Kadolph, and Sara B. Marcketti; essayists: Brenda Ackerman, Laurann Gilbertson, Carmen Keist, Anna Mullen, Ashley Ratute, Jessica Santillan, and Marilyn Woodin; graduate students: Carmen Keist, Ashley Ratute, Megan Sims, and Tekara Stewart; undergraduate students: Amanda Lensch, Beatriz Saavedra, and Hillary Van Ham; research associate Suzanne LeSar; catalog copy editors: Alexandra Johnston and Sara Perez; graphic design: Amy Viall; catalog photographer: Bob Elbert; videographer: Dennis Goodrich; and publication layout and design: Allison Juull. Thank you to the African American Museum of Iowa in Cedar Rapids, Alma Bashich, Urbandale, IA, Nermina and Nedzad Hajdarevic, Johnston, IA, and Monica Howard, Ames, IA for lending textiles for the exhibit.

The exhibit and catalog are funded by grants from Humanities Iowa and ISU Center for Excellence in the Arts and Humanities in addition to ongoing support from the College of Human Sciences and the Department of Apparel, Events, and Hospitality Management.