Robert Shaw Textile Collection at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford
We had a most enjoyable time at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford last week. Thanks to great organisation by Ann K, a coach collected us from Lockeridge and set us down around the corner from the museum with 10 minutes to spare before our guided tour. We were divided into two groups, one in the morning and one in the afternoon.
Jude Barrett was our guide and took us to the Jameel Centre on the first floor. On entering we were all thrilled to see a wonderful collection of quilted coats, hats and shoes on display.
In her presentation Jude explained that Robert Shaw was an Englishman who had a tea plantation in India. It was a period in history known as the Great Game when the British and the Russian Empires were challenging each other with regard to territory in Asia and between 1868-9 Robert Shaw travelled from northern India to Eastern Turkestan (now Xianjian, China). His journey was partly to help the British India’s secret service explore central Asia. We understand that Shaw was the first European to visit Yarkand and Kashgar and the explorer, George Hayward stood back to allow Robert Shaw to enter the city first.
On his arrival Shaw was presented with gifts of coats and other garments by the ruler, Yakub Beg and as a result, Robert Shaw started this wonderful collection of textiles.
After his death, Robert Shaw’s sister donated the collection to the Victoria & Albert Museum in London and in due course the garments were transferred to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. Ruth Barnes who was a curator at the Ashmolean Museum, decided to do some research into the collection and I have found an interesting presentation which she gave in 2014 when she was working at Yale University. It can be downloaded from this link: https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/tsaconf/933/
After Jude’s presentation we then had the opportunity to look at the collection on display. Colourful patterned Indian cottons were layered with Ikat borders and cuffs and silk from China. Fine hand stitching was used to secure the various layers in place and it was interesting to see the choice of stitches. The embroidery on the hats was superb and it was useful to have a magnifying glass to see the detail. In addition to the quilted coats and hats there were two pairs of boots on display.
I was particularly interested to see the construction of the quilted coats as several years ago I visited a workshop where they produced double Ikat on narrow looms in Patan, Gujarat.
To complete our visit we were taken to the main part of the museum where several other coats were on display for the public to enjoy.
Thank you to everyone involved for making this such an enjoyable and memorable day.
Report by Ros
Thanks to the Picture Department at the Ashmolean Museum for letting us use their images.
Details of the Robert Shaw Collection on the Jameel Centre website: http://jameelcentre.ashmolean.org/collection/4/1257/1267
Robert Shaw’s book: Visit to High Tartary and Kashgar – https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2660586-visit-to-high-tartary-yarkand-and-kashgar
Double Ikat in Patan, Gujarat: http://www.patanpatola.com/