Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Museums to visit on your way to the beach

From Mary Spanos...

If you are leaving the Birmingham area and heading south to the beach this summer you should take a break in Montgomery and Mobile to see two new museum exhibits that include interesting textile details.

The Alabama Department of Archives and History in Montgomery has opened a new permanent exhibit that describes the history of Alabama from the 1700s to modern times. In the section about the interaction between the Creek Indians and early settlers there is a handspun twined cloth that I made, which I based on an impression in pottery from an archaeological site in Clarke County, just north of Mobile County. This sherd is dated to the Mississippian Period, which is from about 800 to 1500 AD.

The round fabric impressed pottery sherd, above on the left, is thought to have been shaped into a round, after its original pot was broken, so it could be used as some sort of gaming piece. I pressed white polymer clay into the face of the sherd in order to see the yarn and cloth more clearly. I spun hemp fiber and twined the cloth, above, to match the image in the sherd. Twining is a technique for making cloth that doesn't require a loom. This cloth is now on display in the ADAH museum and is mounted at a height to encourage school children to feel what the cloth and clothing of the earliest Alabamians might have felt like.

Check schedules, get directions, and find out more about the museum at the Alabama Department of Archives and History at

When you get to Mobile, stop by the University of South Alabama campus and visit the University of South Alabama's Archaeology Museum. It provides a unique view of how archaeology informs us about the past 2000 years on the Gulf Coast. I had the honor of designing and making the clothing for five figures: a woman and her granddaughter who are fishing on Mobile Bay 2000 years ago, a Mississippian chief wearing a full length feather mantle, a French trader in 1750, and an actual historical figure, Lucrecia Perryman, who was a midwife in Mobile around 1900. You can read about how the costumes were made, and the prehistoric and historic sources on which they are based, at:

The grandmother's shoes are based on a drawing by W. H. Holmes of shoes found in a cave in Kentucky. You can download Holmes' 1893 report, "Prehistoric Textile Art of the Eastern United States" at The shoes are twined, as are the skirts the grandmother and her granddaughter are wearing, and the grandmother's mantle. For the French trader (who represents the many European traders that were on the Gulf Coast in 1750), I spun and dyed the yarn for his socks and based their design on stockings recovered from a French ship, Le Macault, which was one of three ships that sank in the Restigouche River in Canada in 1760.

It was an amazing experience to completely clothe five people from such different times and backgrounds. Recreating any one piece is difficult enough, but completely outfitting a person, from how they wore their hair to what the chief's tattoos should be, was a daunting task. You can see more photographs of the museum, check its schedule and get driving directions at

I hope you will visit the University of South Alabama's Archaeology Museum and the Alabama Department of Archives and History. I'm sure that you'll enjoy both of them.

I also hope that if you find an interesting textile treasure that our guild members might want to see, that you'll send the information about it to me so I can post it here on the guild blog.

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