Sunday, August 25, 2019

The Fifi White Collection


I came to the Fifi White Collection of Ancient Peruvian Textiles by a long route. I was on the internet early on.  My company website was first set up in 1996 but I was on the dial-up web years before that.  I remember in the early 1990’s joining CompuServe’s Art Forum.  The first time someone wrote to me I did not even know how to respond until I was told you have to hit “Return” as the old electric typewriters used to say.  These days on the computer the same key says enter which is clearer!  The art forum used real names and shared real information about art and I even remember when we had our once a week “live meeting” with time zones from China to Alaska all up at the same time.

I made a point of meeting CompuServe friends when I travelled, so on one of our early visits to Santa Fe I looked up an Art Forum participant, a dealer by the name of William Siegal, aka Bill or Billy, who specialized in Aymara Bolivian and Peruvian textiles.  He lived out of town and in his spacious and beautiful home he started pulling out these breathtaking Bolivian Aymara creations.  Eventually we had a home here and Billy had a gallery that I would visit from time to time.  

If you have read my missives you know by now that we have collected in a number of fields but due to disposable income and space one has to draw the line somewhere,  so I admired but never bought one of his textiles.

At his gallery I would see textiles that looked just like the Abstract Expressionist paintings.  I often asked Billy if he would do a show of textiles with visually comparable paintings, but he did not wish to go in that direction. However, the Fifi White collection that he has recently acquired was put together with an eye to the similarities of examples of weavings from Peru to 20th century modernist paintings.

Fifi White was already a serious textile collector when she teamed up in the late 70’s with Elizabeth Wilson, an art historian and wife of Marc Wilson, the Orientalist and Director of the Nelson Gallery in Kansas City. Together Fifi and Elizabeth launched a designer clothing line using Japanese fabrics. Women from all over came to assemble wardrobes from their unique garments!  They called their company, “Asiatica” Here is a photo of Fifi and Elizabeth on their annual buying trip to Japan.


With her increasing focus on Japan, White’s Peruvian material was shown in 2005 in an exhibition at the Johnson County Community College Gallery in Overland Park, Kansas nand was sold soon after.  It then went into storage for the next 14 years.  Billy has been after it ever since.  When I asked him, what was so special about this collection he said that each of the works was either unique or the best in its category.

Naturally, after that back story you want to see what I am talking about and here are a few samples from the collection at the Siegal Gallery. Let’s start with what I heard Billy describe as his “Mark Rothko”.  It is a Tunic from the Nasca (or Nazca) Culture that flourished from c. 100 BC to 800 AD beside the arid, southern coast of Peru.


This ceremonial cloth also from the Nasca Culture reminds me of a painter’s palette.  I have always found palettes somewhat satisfying and sensuous when the paint is thick on the palette.  Here the daubs of color seem more like a watercolor chart.



This large stepped tunic from the same culture Billy referred to as an Art Deco design, but according to an expert in that field, the stepped diagonals are just small part of Art Deco. This piece reminded her more of Mayan and Aztec architecture and archeological Southwest pottery designs.  What fun to have an art form that you can see every day in a different light.


My final example, as usual is a favorite of mine, if only I had the room… a mantle from the Paracas Culture on the South Coast of Peru 500 - 100 BC using shellfish dye on cotton 48 x 58 Inches.  This reminds me of cave painting or petroglyphs, also from prehistoric times.



If you like an exhibition where your imagination can run wild in a very satisfying manner get over to the William Siegal Gallery, 318 South Guadalupe Street in Santa Fe, New Mexico. What has not been sold you might be able to acquire and enjoy at home!

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