Book Bag: ‘The Art is the Cloth’ by Micala Sidore; ‘All the Light Here Comes from Above’ by Robert T. McMaster

  • An image from “The Art is the Cloth.”

Staff Writer
Published: 4/22/2021 3:48:51 PM

The Art is the Cloth by Micala Sidore (Schiffer Publishing)

 

In addition to creating her own tapestries, Northampton weaver and artist Micala Sidore has written about them for years for various publications and has led many weaving workshops. She’s also traveled to different parts of the world, including Siberia and India, to examine different styles of tapestries and attend workshops herself to learn new techniques.

Now Sidore has synthesized much of that experience and research in “The Art is the Cloth,” a handsome, coffee-table style book that includes color images of more than 300 tapestries from around the world — and from as far back as the 13th century — to offer a guide for weavers, textile lovers, and art lovers alike.

The subtitle of her book — “How to Look at and Understand Tapestries” — provides a basic explanation of what Sidore has set out to do with the book, by Schiffer Publishing of Atglen, Pennsylvania. She looks at multiple elements of tapestries — visual themes, historical trends, different textiles, weaving patterns — as a means for giving readers a basic way to understand what they’re looking at and the work that goes into it.

“People are sometimes overwhelmed by the size of historical tapestry, or by its odd imagery, or by its faded colors, or perhaps simply by the realization that such objects are handwoven,” she writes in an introduction. “They can miss the opportunity to see fully, and so to appreciate, what these works of art have to offer.”

The book includes some basic information on weaving techniques, but the emphasis is on visual presentation, with short descriptions of the selected tapestries, their makeup and style, and how historical themes and images reappear today. One chapter, for instance, looks at how modern weavers adapt the geometric blocks and lines of Navajo tapestries from the 19th and early 20th centuries in their work.

Aside from examining tapestries from around the world, Sidore also looks at works from hundreds of years ago. As one example, she includes an image of “The Apocalypse Tapestry,” a series of six tapestries, each about 20 by 78 feet, that were woven in France between 1377-82 and based on the biblical book of Revelations; these extensive works are housed in Chteau d’Angers, in the Loire Valley of France.

There’s also an image of a imperial court robe from 17th-century China with a style known as kesi or k’ossu, both of which mean “cut silk,” and which has recurring depictions of dragons.

The rich colors and imaginative patterns and images of the tapestries in “The Art is the Cloth” also help butress Sidore’s overarching theme — that while painting has traditionally been labeled art and weaving craft, there is, as she puts it, “no art without craft.”

 

All the Light Here Comes from Above: The Life and Legacy of Edward Hitchcock by Robert T. McMaster (UnQuomonk Press)

 

Williamsburg author Robert McMaster, a former biology professor at Holyoke Community College, is also the author of a trio of historical novels, known as the “Trolley Days” series, set in the Holyoke/Springfield/Westfield area in the early 20th century.

In his latest work, McMaster has combined his interest in science and history to take a close look at a seminal figure from Amherst College: Edward Hitchcock, a prominent science professor at the school in the early 19th century and the college’s third president, as well as a skilled geologist who made notable surveys of Massachusetts — especially of the Connecticut River Valley — and of New York state and Vermont. It’s the first-ever biography of Hitchcock, the author says.

Hitchcock, who also left his mark as a paleontologist, is remembered as well for helping rescue Amherst College from dire financial circumstances after he became president in 1845, and for his promotion of women’s education. He became the first state geologist of Massachusetts in 1830.

In an introduction to this in-depth work, for which he says he’s relied heavily on Hitchcock’s voluminous writings — studies, letters, diary entries, sermons — McMaster recalls visiting the Pratt Museum of Natural History at Amherst as a boy and being impressed even then with the number of artifacts, such as dinosaur tracks in stone, that Hitchcock had discovered.

Since that day, McMaster writes, “I have not stopped thinking about, reading about, and studying Edward Hitchcock — poet, playwright, pastor, preacher, professor, paleontologist, president, and pater familas. The more I have learned of the man, the more convinced I am that there is a story yet to be told — many stories in truth.”

The book traces Hitchcock, born in 1793, from his humble beginnings in a financially strapped family in Deerfield to his growing interest in science as a teen, then his developing interest in religion as a young man. Largely self-taught, he would become an ordained Congregationalist pastor in 1821 and pastor of the Conway Congregational Church for several year before moving to Amherst College, where he at one point was a professor of natural theology.

Aside from its exploration of Hitchcock’s scientific achievements, “All the Light Here Comes from Above” also looks closely at Hitchcock’s inner turmoil: a fear of failure, worries about his health and fears he would die young, and the difficulty he sometimes had with reconciling scientific evidence with “the simple truths of the Bible,” as McMaster puts it.

Hitchcock, who died in 1864, was fortunate, the author writes, that his wife, Orra White Hitchcock, was at his side; she was a supremely talented scientific illustrator whose work illuminated her husband’s publications and books and whose close care of Hitchcock kept him going.

“She was his anchor, his rudder, his keel,” he writes. “Without her steadying hand, her constancy, her faithfulness, his career would have had a very different trajectory … [and] his soul buried in self-doubt and guilt.”

McMaster notes that Hitchcock’s work as a paleontologist was dismissed by some 20th century scientists; in 1969, one called him “the last of the first-rate amateurs.” Yet Hitchcock’s belief that some fossil footmarks here in the Valley were made by giant birds has now been confirmed, McMaster notes, by more recent research showing links between dinosaurs and modern birds.

In the end, McMaster says, the most enduring legacy of Hitchcock’s life might be that, with his wife’s help, he “allowed science to lead him where it might, without regard for his faith.… He was certain, as certain as one can be about anything, that the search for truth would not lead him astray, that all knowledge was derived from God.”

More information about the book and about Edward Hitchcock’s writing can be found at edwardhitchcock.com.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached as spfarrer@gazettenet.com.




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