Reasons for promoting home arts in education
One does not naturally connect weaving with matters educational or humanitarian. Indeed, seven years ago, the absurdity of encouraging and reviving weaving as a Home Art was considered a proof, if not of illiterate quixotism, at least of retrogade stupidity. Today in America the art which supplied the Southern States with homespums for their gallant defenders, and which just over a century ago played a part in the Great War of Independence, is regarded with sympathetic interest which is likely to have a powerful interest on what is also an economic force.
State labour is strongly resisted in America in everything that can be considered interfering with general trade. Thus the carpet industry of Indian gaols would not find any warm appreciation as a general rule in the States. It would be taken as unsound philanthropy and a blow at the commercial interests of the Commonwealth. No argument as to the boon such an intelligent pursuit might have in humanising and elevating the criminal class would have any weight with public opinion. In this the trade masses of the continents on either side of the ocean are agreed that State competition is unfair in matters of manufacture and trade. Even in England there is bitter opposition, and any definite attempt at introducing remunerative labour into large institutions is regarded with suspicion.
It is not, therefore, likely that in the country where the price of labour, as in America, has a fictitious value, weaving by hand will be permitted to be encouraged either in charitable or State-aided institutions. Nevertheless there is a growing interest shown in the matter in the States, and weaving crops up here and thru in the most unexpected places. There is already at least one lady lecturer who, without the assistance of agents or other outside organisation, manages to attract interest with her lantern and stereopticon slides.
Some modicum of archaeological and literary support comes from the grave professors of the Smithsonian Institute. The details of the Inca tapestries are known to Prof. William Holmes; on the only recently famous and now revived industry of blanket making among the Navohoe Indians and the less known Hopis work the chief authorities are Prof. Matthews and W. W. Foukes. The ancient blankets are beautiful in colour and texture, and remind one forcibly of the materials made in those districts of Northern Europe where Turanian tribes still follow their simple avocations and sing the songs of their fathers and the runes gathered from the roadside as they passed along the great route of immigration from Eastern lands, West to Europe, or further East to the territories and happy huntinggrounds, as the legends say, of North America.
The few remaining Indians who have their reservations in the Far West were almost losing the textile art, but it is gradually being restored, though the excellence of ancient dyes and the traditions of the elders has to be supplied by modern substitutes that are as yet inferior to those of former days.
Still more interesting is the attempt to introduce weaving among the valleys of Kentucky. Here, in the isolated communities far removed from the great connecting link of civilisation, the all important railway, the poverty and ignorance of the people have attracted the notice of those who see in such communities a danger to the common good.
The vendetta of Italy has taken deep hold in these sequestered spots, and family intermarriages and absolute isolation from what we now call civilisation have fostered a state of lawless, yet organised, crime and misery which is incredible to us in our tiny corner of the world. Here, as an educative and economic reform, weaving has been re-introduced by philanthropic ladies fresh from the beating heart of the Commonwealth,, who have given up the excitement of New York for a university settlement among the poor whites of Kentucky.
Again, in the Salt Lake State, where poverty is an ever-present foe, and where in their primitive life, farmers are richer in kind than in cash, weaving is springing anew into activity.
But most promising of all are the Arts and Crafts in the Dearfield Settlement. Here the embroidery revival, the blue and white craft of early times, has developed a desire for proper dyes. Indigos have been successfully used, and greens are now being attempted. Here, among the poorest of the poor villagers, various handcrafts have been revived, though at the present weaving has not been specially undertaken.
In New York a small attempt has been made to start art weaving. But Chicago has its Hull House, where among the various wonders that strangers are “ trotted ” round to see, are the various styles of weaving, at 'which the poor women of all nationalities can work.