I felt an immediate connection with the palampore in Cooper-Hewitt’s collection. My mother is a textile designer who works mainly with botanical imagery, so the yard in my childhood home was always filled with plants to serve as her inspiration. Looking at this hanging reminds me of looking through the kitchen window of my childhood home. The window was framed by my mother’s houseplants, and as a child I gazed dreamily at the tall, seemingly delicate palm tree in the front yard.
Cooper-Hewitt’s painted fabric or chintz palampore dates from the 3rd quarter of the 18th century and combines a central Tree of Life motif with a border of intricate floral ornamentation. The survival of words such as ‘chintz’, ‘gingham’ and ‘khaki’ in the English language serve as evidence of India’s influence on the world’s textile market between 1600 and 1800. The word chintz derives from Western India and was first used to describe painted and printed cotton used for clothing. During the 17th and 18th centuries, the vibrant colors of chintz fabrics contrasted dramatically with the typical painted linens found in Tudor England.[i] Therefore, colorful and elaborate floral hangings became fashionable bedspreads and hangings in Western Europe.
One reason that the hangings are so vibrant and detailed is because of the involved manufacturing process. A large hanging such as this one, using five or six colors, could easily take months to complete. They were made outside, often near a river. The majority of painters were likely impoverished families who belonged to a lower-caste and worked together to complete different steps of the process[ii]. Understanding the involved process behind the palampore adds a new appreciation and awe for the beautiful textile that is part of Cooper-Hewitt’s collection.
Nadia Vanek is Cooper-Hewitt’s School Programs intern for Spring 2013. She is currently earning her Masters Degree in Museum Education at Bank Street College of Education. Nadia is from Los Angeles and holds an undergraduate degree in Studio Art: Drawing and Painting from California State University, Long Beach.
[ii] Brett, Katharine & John Irwin. The Origins of Chintz. London: Her Majesty’s Stationary Office, 1970. Print.