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Discover the History and Meaning of Textiles at Melbourne's Ruth Funk Center for Textile Arts

By S. Mathur

The Ruth Funk Center for Textile Arts "promotes the cultural understanding and appreciation for textiles, fiber arts and associated objects within the University and surrounding communities". Located at the Florida Institute of Technology, the museum is one of the few in the nation that specialize in textiles. The collections and rotating public exhibitions display textiles from around the world, dating back to the 16th century.

What makes textiles unique as compared to other forms of arts, says Carla Funk, Director of University Museums, is that they "are unique as an art form that we use familiarly and intimately. They are things we take for granted; however, they are a fundamental part of the history of civilization and technology."

The museum collections include traditional handmade textiles, embroidery, dresses and decorations from places like Africa, Japan, India and Central Asia; embroidery and samplers made in Europe and North America embroidery from the 16th through the 20th centuries; and contemporary art and garments. The collection includes almost a thousand objects.

At the core of the collection are textiles donated by Ruth Funk. She was also instrumental in setting up the museum, says Funk: "Ruth not only provided the finances necessary to build the Center but she also donated hundreds of objects that now make up the heart of our permanent collection.

Along with the gifts of international textiles - wall hangings, embroideries and elaborate garments from Central Asia, Africa, Europe and India - Ruth also gave us fabulous pieces of wearable art that she designed and created herself. Ruth remains the guiding spirit of the Center." The museum in Brevard county is the only textiles museum in the Southeast.

Special exhibitions focus on contemporary arts, with such objects as bamboo baskets, woven installations and recycled fashion. These highlight the innovative use of textiles as a "limitless artistic medium," says Funk. Both contemporary and historic textiles have a cultural significance, she explains, because they "represent the history of design and are also objects that express cultural and ethnic identity. Our collection of Japanese kimono, for example, is stunningly beautiful but also speaks volumes about Japanese values related to gender, politics and religion."

Events at the museum include special talks by visiting and resident textile artists and experts. The Uncommon Threads series, now in its 11th year, offers lectures and gallery tours for the community. The series explores the historic significance and meanings of fabrics as well as contemporary trends in the fiber arts and design.

The museum welcomes volunteers and offers docent training. An eight-week docent training program is offered every spring, with lectures and demonstrations. The training helps docents enhance their knowledge and appreciation of the textile arts and to share these with others. A visit to the museum is an enriching experience, not only for the knowledge and understanding gained through the interpretation of textiles, but also for the sheer visual beauty of the displays. As a window into an ancient and continuing craft, the textile museum is a rich contribution to the record of human history.

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