A Study Of The Textile Art In Its Relation To The Development Of Form And Ornament: Part 5

All things considered, I regard it as highly probable that much of the geometric character exhibited in Polynesian decoration is due to textile dominance. That these peoples are in the habit of employing textile designs in non-textile arts is shown in articles of costume, such as the tapa cloths, made from the bark of the mulberry tree, which are painted or stamped in elaborate geometric patterns. This transfer is also a perfectly natural one, as the ornament is applied to articles having functions identical with the woven stuffs in which the patterns originate, and, besides, the transfer is accomplished by means of stamps themselves textile. Fig. 357 ill.u.s.trates the construction of these stamps and indicates just how the textile character is acquired.

[Ill.u.s.tration: FIG. 356. Ceremonial adz, with carved ornament imitating textile wrapping. Polynesian work.]

Textile materials are very generally a.s.sociated with the human figure in art, and thus sculpture, which deals chiefly with the human form, becomes familiar with geometric motives and acquires them. Through sculpture these motives enter architecture. But textile decoration pervades architecture before the sculptor's chisel begins to carve ornament in stone and before architecture has developed of itself the rudiments of a system of surface embellishment. Textile art in mats, covers, shelters, and draperies is intimately a.s.sociated with floors and walls of houses, and the textile devices are in time transferred to the stone and plaster. The wall of an ancient Pueblo estufa, or ceremonial chamber, built in the pre-esthetic period of architecture, antedating, in stage of culture, the first known step in Egyptian art, is encircled by a band of painted figures, borrowed, like those of the pottery, from a textile source. The doorway or rather entrance to the rude hovel of a Navajo Indian is closed by a blanket of native make, unsurpa.s.sed in execution and exhibiting conventional designs of a high order.

[Ill.u.s.tration: FIG. 357. Portion of a tapa stamp, showing its subtextile character. A palm leaf is cut to the desired shape and the patterns are sewed in or st.i.tched on.]

[Ill.u.s.tration: FIG. 358. Design in stucco, exhibiting textile characters.]

The ancient "hall of the arabesques" at Chimu, Peru, is decorated in elaborate designs that could only have arisen in the textile art (Fig. 358), and other equally striking examples are to be found in other American countries. The cla.s.sic surface decorations known and used in Oriental countries from time immemorial prevailed in indigenous American architecture at a stage of culture lower than any known stage of cla.s.sic art.

It may appear that I have advocated too strongly the claims of the textile art to the parentage of geometric ornament and that the conclusions reached are not entirely satisfactory, but I have endeavored so to present the varied phenomena of the art that the student may readily reach deductions of his own. A correspondingly careful study of other branches of art will probably enable us finally to form a just estimate of the relative importance of the forces and tendencies concerned in the evolution of decoration.

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