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Hawaiian Textiles Exhibit Opens at WSU on Mom’s Weekend

Pullman, Wash. The man responsible for bringing Hawaiian textile design to the world’s attention is the focus of Hawaii’s Alfred Shaheen: Fabric to Fashion. Stunning mid-20th century textiles and garments will be on display at the Washington State University Museum of Anthropology beginning April 7. The exhibit opens in conjunction with Mom’s Weekend and kicks off with a hula performance at 5 p.m. by WSU’s Hawai’i Club hula dancers. A lecture focusing on the history of Hawaiian textiles will be presented in College Hall 125 at 2 p.m. on April 9.

A Shaheen sun dress featuring purple chrysanthemums. Photo courtesy Linda Arthur Bradley/Washington State University
A Shaheen sun dress featuring purple chrysanthemums. Photo courtesy Linda Arthur Bradley/Washington State University. Click image to download full-resolution version.

Dr. Linda Arthur Bradley, professor in the Department of Apparel, Merchandising, Design, and Textiles, is a scholar of Hawaiian textiles and WSU’s Curator of Costumes and Textiles, as well as co-curator of the exhibit. Bradley said Alfred Shaheen believed designs should be bright and dramatic works of art.

“People were able to communicate their love of different cultures through these designs and that is really a focus of the people of Hawai’i,” Bradley said. This exhibit will enable the viewer to see representations of cultures displayed on garment styles that were popular in the mid-20th century.

Shaheen transformed fashion design not only in Hawai’i but in the continental United States as well. He brought ethnic designs into everyday Western style by training artists in textile design and sending them to countries throughout the world. The artists made sketches and drawings of the motifs and patterns they saw in various cultures. Shaheen then transferred the illustrations into fabric designs using new dyes and techniques he developed.

“He was an innovator in manufacturing, design, marketing and promotions,” Bradley said. “This guy had it all covered.”

According to Bradley, within ten years of starting his business, Shaheen was producing textiles worth approximately $35 million annually in today’s dollars. The exhibit and related events will inform students of how business and the humanities can intersect in constructive and profitable ways, she said.

This national exhibit will include some of Shaheen’s highly sought after originals that were collected by his daughter, Camille Shaheen-Tunberg. The exhibition was planned and arranged by Shaheen-Tunberg and co-curators Bradley and Deborah Corsini of the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles.

On April 9 the exhibit will be open from 1-4 p.m. and museum representatives will be present to direct visitors toward College Hall 125 at 2 p.m. for the lecture. After the Mom’s Weekend events, the exhibit will be open to the public through May 3 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and from May 4 to June 30 by arrangement.

In addition to the main exhibit and events, there will be a Hawaiian shirt contest on April 21 at noon on Terrell Mall. “These are shirts of woven fabric with collars and buttons,” Bradley said. “The goal is to find the best and worst of Hawaiian prints with prizes for each.” All the events are free and open to the public.

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NOTE: This release was written by WSU CAHNRS MNEC intern Kacie McPartland.

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