Friday, 22 July 2011

An exceptional silk Asante kente cloth



Superb and very rare museum quality Asante silk kente, early C20th, in the "mmeeda" pattern. Very finely woven supplementary weft float motifs in soft subtle colours on a muted green ground. Collected in the 1970s and in an English private collection since. Ross 1998:115 notes mmeeda means "something extraordinary" and cites Rattray (1927:241) "Asonawo mmada" - "the father of King Bonsu Panyin was Owusu Ansa, who belonged to the Asona clan, the first of that clan ever to be father of an Asante king." Details on our website here.


Some Asante kente cloths are woven from cotton, a very few highly prized heirloom pieces are silk, but the vast majority are woven from rayon, which was adopted by Asante weavers as a substitute for more expensive silk soon after it became commercially available, at least by the 1930s/40s. We focus as far as possible on  rare silk pieces rather than the more readily available rayon ones (which can be picked up  on Ebay for a few $100.)  Careful attention and a trained eye attuned to the nuances of Asante textile design will be rewarded by a greater appreciation of the skill shown by those weavers working for Asante kings and chiefs.  I assess the quality of Asante kente primarily on the scale and variety in the weft faced patterns - an exceptional example should have a wide range of motifs built up of very well executed small scale shapes rather than larger blocks of colour. Pieces of this quality are extremely hard to find and are poorly represented in museum collections, with the exception of those collected during the early 1970s by Venice Lamb (cloths now at the Smithsonian)  and Brigitte Menzel (cloths now in Leiden, Berlin and Krefeld). Their relative scarcity can be attributed to the fact that top pieces were woven in very small numbers for royal use and were property of the stool rather than the individual ruler. To view our current stock click here.

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