Textile Museum Associates of Southern California
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"Cochineal Red

The Art History of a Color"

Elena Phipps, PhD

 Conservator, Curator, Author and Professor, New York City

Cochineal—a small insect that lives on cactus—originated in the Americas.  After the Spanish arrived to the New World in the 16th century, they marveled at the brilliant red dye, and brought it back to Europe by the ton.  From there, it was shipped to Asia and the Middle East, travelling through the global trade networks of the 16th and 17th centuries, becoming the primary source of red color throughout the world.  Through a study of the textile collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Elena Phipps traces the use and meaning of this remarkable color.  Her book Cochineal Red: the Art History of a Color (Metropolitan Museum of Art and Yale University Press) was published in 2010.

Elena Phipps, PhD in Pre-Columbian art from the Department of Art History and Archaeology, Columbia University (1989) was Senior Museum Conservator, Metropolitan Museum of Art, where she worked since 1977 until her retirement in 2010.  She is currently a Visiting Professor, the UCLA/Getty Cotsen Archaeological Conservation Program.  Her interests focus on the history of textile materials and techniques and dyes in relation to cultural perspectives.  During her tenure at the MMA, among other projects, she was co-manager of the architectural design and implementation phase of the Antonio Ratti Textile Center, the state-of-the-art textile study and storage facility for the museums 32,000 textile collection.  In 2004 she was co-curator of an exhibition and co-author of the catalogue The Colonial Andes: Tapestries and Silverwork  1430-1830, at the MMA, awarded both the Alfred Barr Jr. Award for best exhibition catalogue 2004-2005 from the College Art Association, and the Mitchell Prize, in 2006. Her recent publications include Cochineal Red: The Art History of a Color (Metropolitan Museum of Art and Yale University Press, 2010) and Looking at Textiles: a guide to terminology (Getty Publications, 2011). She is currently the President (2011-14) of the Textile Society of America.  Elena invites TMA members to bring cochineal-dyed textiles for show & tell.

 

 

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