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Monday, September 20, 2021

Interview with Mary Schoeser

The UC Davis Design Museum is to open its winter exhibit, Structures, Signifiers, and Society: People and Textiles, with a special discussion with the guest curator and UC Davis alumna Mary Schoeser, Thursday, Jan. 24. The exhibit features global textiles, coincides with the release of Schoeser’s new book, Textiles: The Art of Mankind and exhibits over 1,000 global textile objects from the last 2,000 years.

In an interview, Mary Schoeser discussed how the exhibit at the design museum came to be realized.

“The collection results from the fact that I just wrote a book that’s about the continuity of creativity, that’s half historical material and half contemporary material,” she said. “I knew that this collection hadn’t been widely published, so it was a real chance to highlight some of the objects that have gone into the book.”

From African to Guatemalan to Afghan textiles, this exhibit offers a unique look at rare objects found through anthropological expeditions and donations by a diverse crowd of designers, scientists and anonymous students.

“The exhibit is almost all by donation. Part of what makes this collection so good is that so many of these donors were, or still are, textile artists and teachers,” Schoeser said. “The objects were collected if they were expressive, creative, whimsical or if it had some interesting design aspect.”

This exhibit is both a celebration of the artistic and cultural significance of the pieces and an opportunity to teach students and the public about the historic and all-encompassing relationship humans have with textiles.

The exhibit is divided into four main sections that cover different themes.

“The first is the human compulsion to make portraits of themselves on textiles,” Schoeser said. “The second looks at social meaning of textiles, all those special event textiles, like weddings, funerals and fiestas. The third section looks at the symbolic relationship humans have with textiles and our environment, and the different techniques used to draw on textiles.”

Schoeser discussed the relationship between textiles and computer science.

“The fourth section looks at the structure of textiles. It looks at the grid structure, which then links to the QR codes, which have complex grid structures relevant to textile structure.”

Part of what Schoeser hopes to convey in this section is the interconnectivity between the physical structure of textiles and the way our brains are structured.

“Scientists say the act of making baskets and weaving patterns in the grid structure is what developed the human brain to be the complex mechanism that it is now,” Schoeser said.

Schoeser also discussed the different topics within the exhibit.

“We’re trying to show how all-embracing textiles are, through the donors (geneticists, psychology, teachers, designers, regular people) and objects themselves. The topics covered show why textiles have to do with absolutely everything — how textiles are connected to people in all walks of life all around the world,” Schoeser said.

After three years of preparation, this exhibit is a milestone in the design collection. The exhibit opens Jan. 24, with a free opening reception from 6 to 8 p.m. and a lecture by Mary Schoeser in which she plans to talk about her research and her professional journey after graduating from UC Davis, followed by an informal walk-through in the museum. A second free tour will be held Sunday, Jan. 27 from 2 to 4 p.m., led by Schoeser and curator Adele Zhang.

CRISTINA FRIES can be reached at arts@theaggie.org.

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