Friday, November 28, 2014

"May you Find a Joyous Path"

Marion Kirkwood, Lann Smyth, Julia Pelenyi with Marion's handwoven merino scarf
Recently I acquired the book  The Comfortable Arts: Traditional Spinning and Weaving in Canada, 1981 by Dorothy K. Burnham. It's an endlessly fascinating book with lots of  surprising discoveries. First I noticed just how many male weavers were practicing in 19th century in Canada, many hailing from Scotland, Ireland, and Germany. What also surprised me was that jacquard weaving was done in this country at the time. Weavers of the period were able to purchase a separate jacquard mechanism which they attached to their looms.
Weaving and Spinning class. Photo taken by William Notman in Montreal. Photo belongs to the McCord Museum also in Montreal.

Burnham was hired by the  Royal Ontario Museum in 1929 as a "second assistant draftsman" .  In 1939 she became its first curator of textiles and retired in 1977, continuing her research and producing publications on Canadian textiles.

Warp faced rug by Jill Bidgood. 

Double weave lopi blanket in twill by Wendy Szpindel
Through her many publications she explored Canadian textile arts and developed research models that many generations of textile scholars employed. Some of her well known publications are:  Cut my Cote (1973), Keep me Warm One Night: Early Handweaving in Eastern Canada (with husband Harold B. Burnham, 1972),  and Warp and Weft: A Textile Terminology (1982).
Crimped fabric samples by Christine Shipley based on a workshop with Dianne Totten

Crimped fabric samples by Christine Shipley based on a workshop with Dianne Totten (
She was involved in  special research projects  for the National Gallery of Canada, the  Museum of Alberta and the Canadian Museum of Civilization. Her 1992 exhibition catalogue To Please the Caribou: Painted Caribou-Skin Coats Worn by the Naskapi, Montagnais, and Cree Hunters of the Quebec-Labrador Peninsula won critical acclaim for her innovative and illuminating methodology. At ninety, she collaborated with Judy Thompson, Judy Hall and Leslie Tepper to produce Fascinating Challenges: Studying Material Culture with Dorothy Burnham (Canadian Museum of Civilization, 2001).
Plain weave tea towels in cotton by Wendy Hayden  based on a Jane Stafford project. 
In 1998 Burham received an honorary doctorate from Trent University. In her convocation address to the graduating class she told them:
"Life slowly opened up in front of me, leading me on to a path where I was fortunate enough to find a way of making a living that I was good at, and, even more importantly, that I thoroughly enjoyed wish for you is that in spite of all the cutbacks and complications of the present time, you will find a joyous path to follow."  

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