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Insights into MOA’s Textile Collections

Learn about a range of cultural textiles with MO Volunteer Associates, Marilyn Bild and Arlee Gale, as they take us inside the collections at MOA.

Textiles are one of humanity’s most universal innovations. Learn how the history of trade, spirituality, food, politics and the environment are influenced by the world of textiles. In this video, we look at a century-old bark cloth from the Solomon Islands; a classic Cantonese opera robe, a Tsimshian weaving and a knit Cowichan sweater. Whether it is made of gold and silk or bark and wool, all of these items have one thing in common: they hold the story of humanity inside their fibres and fabrication.

Watch the video below:

Speaker biographies: 

Marilyn Bild and Arlee Gale are MOA Volunteer Associates and Gallery Guides. In 2014 they established the museum’s Textile Committee and launched a public tour called Clothing the World.

Marilyn Bild has been a MOA Volunteer Associate for over 10 years. She started her MOA career on the Education Committee, presenting programs to school groups and is now a Gallery Guide. Marilyn has also held a number of executive positions on the MOA Volunteer Associates Council, including Education Committee co-chair, Continuing Education and Enrichment co-chair and Council president.

Arlee Gale has been a Volunteer Associate at MOA for 19 years. She has held many positions including Treasurer, Internal Coordinator and President. The experience of teaching textiles and clothing courses at UBC; owning a fabric store, and working with large garment manufacturers has given Arlee extensive knowledge of textiles. She joined MOA’s VAs hoping to work with the fabric collections and is now the co-founder of the Textile Committee at MOA.

Objects Discussed:

zigotu (Tapa Cloth)

This tapa cloth, also called barkcloth, was made in 1909 in the Solomon Islands. The name is derived from the Samoan word tapa, which means the undecorated edge of a piece of barkcloth, and the Hawaiian word kapa, a variety of barkcloth. Tapa was probably brought to the Pacific Islands thousands of years ago by the ancestors. No important occasion is complete without the presence of tapa, and those who make it continue to generate techniques and designs that serve both utilitarian and ceremonial purposes.

Close up of a barkcloth showing repeating designs in rows: a human-like figure with a long body and a sideways 'H' shape.
A tapa cloth from MOA’s collection. Still from Insights into MOA’s Textile Collections, directed by Marie Wustner and filmed by Rea Saxena.
A long narrow barkcloth with repeating designs in rows: a human-like figure with a long body and a sideways 'H' shape.
zigotu (Tapa Cloth). [MOA Collection C933]. 1909. Solomon Islands. 303 cm x 87 cm. Photo by Kyla Bailey.









gwishalaayt (Sala gamiilga gaax ganou)

William White (Tsimshian) began this weaving, his first Chilkat robe, in the summer of 2002 in the context of an exhibit at MOA entitled, “My Ancestors Are Still Dancing.” He and his brother David Oldfield spun the yarn for the robe’s warp in the exhibit, following from his earlier experience of weaving in ‘living exhibits’ at the Museum of Northern B.C.

Chilkat regalia has had a long history of use on the northern Northwest Coast. Robes, aprons, leggings, headbands, and bags are all made using this technique. They have long been items of high value to be worn by people of high rank on ceremonial occasions. They were given at potlatches, sometimes cut into pieces. This style of weaving is recognized as having originated with the Tsimshian people.

William White sits, weaving a blue, yellow and white Chilkat robe at MOA. Text in the bottom left corner reads William White weaving at MOA, 2002.
William White weaving a Chilkat Robe [MOA Collections 2641/1] at MOA, 2002. Still from Insights into MOA’s Textile Collections.
A blue, white and yellow woven Chilkat robe, with Northwest Coast style motifs. A white fringe hangs down.
gwishalaayt (Sala gamiilga gaax ganou). [MOA Collections 2641/1]. William White. 2002-4. Tsimshian. 121 cm x 106 cm. Still from Insights into MOA’s Textile Collections.








Cowichan sweater

This is the first Cowichan sweater made by Christine Charles (Musqueam). She made it in 1950, and gave it as a gift to Dr. Harry Hawthorn, who noted: “she had watched others making them and offered to make this one for me. The birds in the design are swallows, she said. The cuffs were mended by Della Kew, her daughter, around 1970.”

A grey, brown and beige knit Cowichan sweater laying flat. The central motif shows two swallows flying toward each other.
Sweater. [MOA Collections Nbz839]. By Christine Charles. 1950. Musqueam. 83.5 cm x 166 cm. Photo by Kyla Bailey.
A person pulls out a white drawer containing a knit Cowichan sweater, in MOA's textiles storage area.
Christine Charles’ Sweater. Still from Insights into MOA’s Textile Collections.









fan gongzhuang (Cantonese Opera Transforming Robe)

This costume is one of a set of identical costumes called “Transforming Palace Robes,” “Faan Gung Jong,” in various colour combinations that were used in two splendid and auspicious performances, “Six Kingdoms Present a Chancellor,” or “Luhk Gwok Daaih Fung Seuhng,” and “The Celestial Fairy Presents a Son,” or “Tin Gei Sung Jih.” This particular robe was made in 1915, by Gam Leuhn Cheung and Gam San Gung Si. The appeal of the costumes, which were particular to Cantonese opera, was that they could transform on stage by reversing the double-sided flaps.

Close up of the transformation robe, showing turquoise ties and rich colourful embroidery.
Detail of fan gongzhuang (Cantonese Opera Transforming Robe). Still from Insights into MOA’s Textile Collections.
A colourful transformation robe on display, with wide sleeves. A large embroidered bat is in the centre of the robe.
fan gongzhuang (Cantonese Opera Transforming Robe). [MOA Collections N1.718]. By Gam Leuhn Cheung and Gam San Gung Si. 1915. China: Guangdong, Guangzhou. 133 cm x 182 cm. Photo by Derek Tan.