From Russia With Love

Mon 17th June 2013
11am-3.30pm

Haslemere Museum
78 High Street, Haslemere, Surrey, GU27 2LA

Our visit to Haslemere Museum was a full-day event, taking in the Russian exhibition, a show and tell session by Audrey Duck and Pamela Smith, and a presentation of Russian, Ukrainian and other textiles from the museum’s collections by Freda Chapman.
The exhibition showed artefacts relating to the history and culture of Russia, with explanations and illustrations of how peasants lived, what they ate , how they dressed and what their houses were like: these provided a context for the exhibits themselves which included a magnificent (Ukrainian) white linen 19th century towel (Rushnyk) with red embroidery depicting the goddess Mokosh. Next to the towel was an image of a peasant girl in traditional dress holding such a towel, with a cake placed on it, over her upturned arms. These towels had multiple uses, as Pamela explained to us later, mainly on religious, ceremonial or other “transition of life” occasions. I have myself attended a Russian wedding where the bride’s mother welcomed guests back to the house in just such a pose, bearing bread and salt on an embroidered towel.
Showing textiles from her personal collection, Pamela expanded on the towel theme and said that a bride and groom might walk down a very long towel in the marriage ceremony, or a towel might be wrapped around a coffin as it was lowered into the ground, after which it would be given to the church. The embroidery on Russian towels tended to be stylised and geometric, whereas that on Ukrainian towels was more naturalistic with birds and flowers depicted: she showed examples of both. As well as embroidered towels, Ukrainians also produced woven towels with a geometric print.
Audrey’s collection focused on Russian printed textiles. Showing a cotton patchwork horse-cloth with printed fabrics on the back, she said patchwork was popular because peasants could buy bags of “bits” by weight. A fabric with an iris design was printed on rollers from a factory in Manchester. A furnishing fabric of the Russian seasons intriguingly did not include “winter”: this may have been to avoid copyright laws when copying others’ designs (an original, but higher quality, G P & J Baker design from England did depict winter, with an image of a horse-drawn Russian sleigh!) Audrey also showed samples of designs printed on cotton, modelled on Khokhloma wooden objects (which were on display in the exhibition): these could be cut out and made into aprons or tea-cosies.
Freda introduced some new Greek and Cretan acquisitions just donated from Maidstone museum’s Horsnaill Collection, comprising textiles from the Balkans, Greece, Poland and the Middle East. When catalogued, these will be available for viewing by visitors. She then presented fine examples of embroidered and woven Russian textiles including garments such as an exquisite embroidered linen peasant smock.

Jennifer Glastonbury