The Koelz Collection of Himalayan Art

Kashmiri Shawls


This exhibition features 43 shawls collected by Walter N. Koelz during his travels in South Asia in 1932-1934. Included in the collection are 16 long shawls and 27 square shawls. The majority date to the nineteenth century; the long shawl 17312 is earlier, dating to the late eighteenth century. Taken together, the collection is representative of the range and richness of Kashmiri tapestry-weave shawls, tracing the many changes in shawl production that occurred across this period.

Koelz acquired shawls and other textiles from merchants and antique dealers in Delhi, Amritsar, Lahore, and Bombay, usually in the winters when travel in the Himalayas was not possible. In addition to the materials he collected for the University, he acquired pieces for his friends and himself. In an April 27, 1933, letter written from the Punjab to friends and benefactors, Koelz described these efforts:

"And then there was constant intercourse with curio dealers within a radius of 500 miles. I saw several hundred old textiles, mainly shawls, and bot [bought] a half-dozen exquisite specimens. It is amazing that really few dealers have any idea of what constitutes merit in anything they sell and good and bad are priced alike. The more I see the more apparent it becomes that the paisley pattern represents the end of the art of shawl weaving. The glorious work of the best period is something quite of art." (Letter to Margaret Watson Parker, 27 April 1933, Koelz Papers, Box 2.)

The textiles were shipped back to Ann Arbor in 1934. In describing the contents of his shipment Koelz noted:

"The textile collection consists principally of shawls, Old Persian and Kashmir. Roughly 40 were bot [bought] this year. There are a few pieces of old Persian brocade, old silk print, velvet print, silk and cotton saries, etc. The acquisition of textiles is a slow process, more laborious even than the body-exhausting trek in the mountains after the Tibetan paintings. I am accumulating experience and should be able to do better work in the future.

All the objects sent are not considered beautiful by me. Some have been bot [bought] as illustrative of type of design, execution, or otherwise. I shall be glad, however, if you agree with me that some of the things are really beautiful." (Letter to Professor Winter, 13 January, 1934, copy on file, U-M Museum of Anthropology, Asian Archaeology Division.)

Upon returning to the United States, Koelz undertook a study of the shawls, intending to publish what would have been one of the first books on Kashmiri shawls. Unfortunately, this manuscript never reached fruition, though a copy of his typescript was recently published in Beardsley and Sinopoli 2005. The most comprehensive study of the Koelz textiles was conducted by Grace Beardsley, who worked on the collection in the 1980s until her death in 2004. Her research is published in Wrapped in Beauty: The Koelz Collection of Kashmiri Shawls by Grace Beardsley in collaboration with Carla M. Sinopoli (Anthropological Papers, no. 93, Museum of Anthropology, University of Michigan).

Copyright © 2010-2018 UMMAA