Friday, September 12, 2008

Material Choices: Refashioning Bast and Leaf Fibers in Asia and the Pacific wins Shep Book Award

From a Textile Society of America press release:

The Textile Society of America is pleased to announce the recipient of this year’s R. L. Shep Ethnic Textiles Book Award, Material Choices: Refashioning Bast and Leaf Fibers in Asia and the Pacific by Roy W. Hamilton and B. Lynne Milgram, editors, published in Los Angeles by The Fowler Museum at UCLA. Chosen from a field of 17 nominated titles, this book exemplifies the goal of the award to recognize exceptional scholarship in the field of ethnic textile studies.

While many books earned high scores and strong positive comments from the committee, ultimately Material Choices was selected for the stellar quality of field research and its vital contribution of new material to the field. Two books tied for second place: The Worldwide History of Dress by Patricia Rieff Anawalt, published by Thames & Hudson Ltd., and Uzbek Embroidery in the Nomadic Tradition, by Kate Fitz Gibbon and Andrew Hale, published by Art Media Resources, Ltd.
Material Choices reminds us in an elegant and erudite manner that before cotton and artificial fibers subsumed the textile field, societies used a range of other materials from bast to leaf fibers. Many of the customs associated with these fibers remained embedded within those societies, but over time their use largely dwindled and only marginalized segments of populations retained their use. Today these weavers are reinterpreting their positions in terms of ethnic, gender and national identities given the new opportunities presented by globalization. This book takes these textiles directly to the heart of current cultural studies and anthropology, fields which are re-examining such marginalized segments of a society.

It is a thought-provoking perch from which to view what follows in the book, with essays written by Asia-Pacific specialists of each of the eight regions covered. The entries examine the traditional functions and modes of production within a society and then trace responses to globalization within the society. They are amazing in their variety. In some instances there is a turn to considering these textiles as more “authentic” statements of a larger culture and a movement to bring these onto an expanded scene as national identity markers. In other cases women have seized newly available opportunities to better the position of their gender. In still other cases women continue local production out of a sense of pride, but know their efforts are uneconomic.

The book also provides a botanical overview of the fibers in question, a needed review considering how few of these are documented in readily available literature. This is because once the apparent usefulness of bast and leaf fibers declined, contemporary scientific studies also faded.•
Given annually to a publication judged to be the best book of the year in the field of ethnic textile studies, the award consists of a cash prize, funded by an endowment established by R. L. Shep in 2000. The endowment is administered by the Textile Society of America, through an Awards Committee comprised of members Mattibelle Gittinger, Barbara Sloan and Chair, Victoria Rivers.

A formal presentation of this award, along with that of the 2006 R.L. Shep Ethnic Textiles Book Award winner, will take place at the Textile Society of America’s 11th Biennial Symposium in Honolulu, Hawaii, September 24-27, 2008.

NOMINATIONS FOR THE 2008 R. L. Shep Ethnic Textiles Book Award WILL BE ACCEPTED IN MARCH 2009. For additional information visit the TSA website at

•Text prepared by Victoria Rivers, Chair, R. L. Shep Ethnic Textiles Book Award Committee

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