Venice Lamb is a pioneering figure in the study and documentation of West African textiles. The series of books she published together her husband Alastair in the 1970s and 80s are still the only monographs devoted to most of these areas, and remain essential both for the wide variety of photographs and their recording of many traditions that have since evolved markedly or in some cases disappeared altogether: Venice Lamb, West African Weaving (Duckworth, 1975) – mainly covering Ghana; Venice Lamb & Judy Holmes, Nigerian Weaving (Roxford, 1980); Venice & Alastair Lamb, Au Cameroun Weaving – Tissage (Roxford, 1981); Venice & Alastair Lamb, Sierra Leone Weaving (Roxford, 1984).
The collection of textiles assembled by the Lambs is owned jointly by the National Museum of African Art and the National Museum of Natural History in Washington. Part of the collection was exhibited soon after the purchase and highlights of this may be seen in the small but important book by Peggy Stoltz Gilfoy, Patterns of Life: West African Strip Weaving Traditions (Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, 1987.) A small number of the Lamb cloths are also online as collection highlights at the National Museum of African Art website – search for “Costume and textiles” on the Advanced Search page here.
More importantly for scholars of African textiles, it is now possible to access a large part of the Lamb collection through the main Smithsonian database here. Entering “Venice Lamb” as the search term pulls up 1563 records, of which 988 include photos online. The strength of the Lamb’s collection of Asante kente cloths is well known and most of the major pieces have been published, but I was interested to see a number of very fine small cloths, described as shawls or headtie’s. Brigitte Menzel also collected a number of these miniature kente in the 1970s but I have seen only one in all my years of collecting in Ghana.
Click on photos for larger views…..
|USNM#: EJ10570, LAMB: "POSSIBLE A SHAWL OR SMALL WOMAN'S PIECE...ASASIA |
PATTERN...OLD...OYOKOMAN SAMPLE. BELONGED TO NAN OKAI ABABIO'S MOTHER."
112cm x 59.3cm
”liar’s cloth” pattern.
81cm x 37cm
Also of interest is a group of Manjak and Papel cloths from Guinea Bissau.
Wrapper, 185cm x 114cm.
For me though the most exciting pieces are three cloths unlike any I have seen before…..