Textile Collection
For information regarding the Collection please contact: [email protected]

CANOPY. Catalog No: 70.2/3376

Textiles tell a great deal about the history, daily life, aesthetics, environment, and technology of people all over the world. Used to make clothing, accessories, and domestic goods, textiles vary in complexity: from plain and utilitarian, to decorative and ceremonial. The symbols and designs in textiles are important cultural signifiers of identity, status, and wealth for makers, users, and observers alike. Since the Museum's founding in 1869, the Anthropology Division's ethnographic collection has grown to include 10,500 textiles from Africa, Europe, Asia, the Pacific Islands, and the Americas.

Between 2003 and 2006, with a significant grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, over 11,000 textiles in the ethnographic collection were moved into new cabinets, digitally imaged, and made accessible on this Web site.

Building New Storage for the Textile Collection
Prior to this project, the 10,500 ethnographic textiles were overcrowded in 124 cabinets made between 1975 and 1985 by Interior Steel. These cabinets have now been retrofitted, and 7,165 of the textiles are stored inside them without crowding. The other 3,335 textiles are now stored in 36 new Delta Designs cabinets. Collections management and textile conservation staff addressed the needs (size, condition, structure) of each of the 10,500 textiles, and systematically assigned each textile to one of five different storage scenarios (equipment specifications are written in inches and feet because these are the measurements used by U.S. equipment suppliers):
In the first scenario, 6,722 textiles (under 25" x 41") are stored flat on 1/16" polyethylene foam in 2,671 new trays (½" height) in retrofitted Interior Steel cabinets. This photograph shows a tray with Conibo textiles from the Montaña region of the Amazon rainforest.
In the second scenario, 443 textiles (under 40" in width) are stored rolled in 175 new Delta Designs trays (2 ¼" height) in retrofitted Interior Steel cabinets. Three inch (interior diameter) archival tubes with polyethylene end plugs are supported on ½" (interior diameter) conduit supports. The tubes were padded with polyester batting and stockinette as needed, and 4 mil clear polyethylene tubing was sleeved over the rolled textiles. This photograph is of a tray containing Guatemalan textiles.
In the third scenario, 1,204 textiles (under 41" x 76") are stored flat in 632 trays (¾" height) in seventeen new Delta Designs cabinets (7' width x 4' depth x 7' height). The Pacific Northwest American Indian textiles in this photograph rest on 1/16" thick polyethylene foam.
In the fourth scenario, 1,976 textiles (under 76" in width) are stored rolled on 170 racks in seventeen new Delta Designs cabinets (7' width x 4' depth x 7' height). The textiles were rolled with the same materials as those in the second scenario (see above). The textiles in this photograph are from Liberia and Ivory Coast.
In the fifth scenario, 155 textiles (under 65" x 114 ¾") are stored flat on 112 metal-framed polyethylene surfaces in two new Delta Designs cabinets (6' width x 10' depth x 7' height). Large sheets of polyethylene, with a structure similar to that of corrugated cardboard, provide unbroken smooth surfaces for textile storage. Seamless unbleached muslin underneath these textiles prevents sliding. The surface extended in this photograph supports three embroidered garments from China.

Building an Image Database of the Textile Collection
Prior to this project, less than 1% of the textile collection was photographed, in black and white, and prints of these photographs were accessible only to researchers visiting the Anthropology Division or the Museum Library's Photo Archive. As a result of this project, anyone with Internet access can see digital images of the 10,500 textiles in the ethnology collection, and over 3,000 Andean archaeological textiles.
Capturing digital images - Four workstations employed in the digital imaging of the 10,500 ethnographic and over 3,000 Andean archaeological textiles were located in the four corners of the textile storage area. To provide support for the textiles during imaging, the workstations were equipped with 8' x 8' slant boards (60º angle) made of two 4' x 8' x ½" foam core panels on a wood framework covered with muslin.
Stations consisted of color-calibrated Lacie Photon20Vision monitors and Apple G5 computers, connected via high speed IEEE-1394 (Firewire) cables to 22 megapixel Sinar 54S digital camera backs fitted onto Mamiya RZ 67 Pro Medium format cameras with Mamiya lenses. The cameras were equipped with through-the-lens viewfinders for accurate composition and focus. Profoto Accute 2/2400 Pro Strobe lighting systems reduced the exposure time and therefore the potential for light damage to the textiles. Image resolution is 5440 x 4080 pixels at 300dpi, resulting in a 63.5 MB 24-bit RGB uncompressed TIFF image. This represents a significantly higher resolution image than was acquired during previous projects, allowing researchers the ability to study fine details in the textiles.
The collections photographers worked with the collections management system through a Web-based image management tool developed by the Anthropology Division's software developer. This tool allowed each photographer to associate specific data (metadata) describing their equipment with each textile imaged. As each textile was imaged, the photographer transferred the file names directly from the database to the image capture software, eliminating the possibility of keypunch errors. Multiple images were often acquired to record specific details of the textiles. The image management tool also made it possible to track the progress of each photographer by recording the total number of textiles photographed and the number of images taken for each textile.
Archiving digital images - The creation and maintenance of an integrated collections management system and digital image archive present challenges similar in nature to those involved in the care and curation of physical objects, e.g., textiles. Having commenced the imaging of the 10,500 ethnographic textiles in 2003, and over 3,000 Andean archaeological textiles in July 2005, different standards were used to archive images. Images of ethnographic textiles were archived to CD, and images of archaeological textiles were archived to the Museum's Storage Area Network (SAN).
The 10,500 ethnographic textiles were imaged and organized in preparation for archiving to CD. File naming and directory structure was verified using a component of the collections management system. High resolution uncompressed TIFF image files were burned to archival quality CDs (ISO9660 standard). In order to incorporate the physical location of the high-resolution image files, each CD was input into the collections management system and the CD's number was associated with corresponding database records. This enables staff to retrieve high-resolution images from the CD media.
Over 3,000 archaeological textiles were imaged and the high resolution TIFFS were moved to the Museum's SAN. The SAN provides high-availability storage and is housed in a climate-controlled data center. Back-ups are conducted nightly and copies are sent off-site to prevent data loss in the event of a catastrophe.
Disseminating digital images - This digital imaging project dramatically increases access to 10,500 ethnographic textiles from all over the world, and to over 3,000 Andean archaeological textiles. Web visitors are presented with a range of options for exploring and learning more about textiles in the collection. One can choose to search textiles only, or one may find textiles amongst the entire ethnology collection from a given continent (i.e., Africa, Europe, Asia, Pacific Islands, North America, Central America, or South America). For example, within the textile database, a visitor may narrow their search to China, and be presented with 469 textile images. Alternatively, within the Asian ethnology database, a visitor may narrow their search to China and be presented with 11,618 images, which would include the 469 textile images. Other search refinements include: object name, material, culture, locale, country, catalog number, and donor name.
With the conclusion of this textile imaging project, over 160,000 of the 200,000 objects in the AMNH's ethnology collection have been imaged and are accessible on this Web site. (Because many objects required multiple images, there are actually over 214,000 images documenting the 160,000 objects.)

If the format of any material on the website interferes with your ability to access that material, please contact us at [email protected].