This group of quilts, newly aquired for the RISD Museum collection, is compelling for its history of ownership, its remote origins, and its representation of regional traditions. The quilts were initially purchased by Anjali Mangaldas, who was born into an Indian textile family and studied textile design in England and the United States. In 1962, after returning to India from her studies abroad, she traveled to the Kutch region of northwest India, where she met with individual craftspeople and purchased quilts and textiles that captivated her interest, as well as those that might inform her own textile work.
The Kutch region shares a border with Pakistan and is home to a wide variety or both Hindu and Muslim nomadic and semi-nomadic groups, as well as settles communities of herders. Known know its rather harsh and colorless terrain, the region’s monochromatic palette is brightened by the craft of the local population. As different clans and groups migrated to and eventually settled in the region, each brought their own unique textile designs and techniques, including richly embroidered styles for which the region is well known. Close proximity encouraged an exchange is well known. Close proximity encourage an exchange of stylistic ideas, motifs, and techniques, and over the course of centuries there developed a recognizably “Kutch” aesthetic tying together individual community styles.
These quilts and quilt covers, while more modest in detail than many of the heavily embroidered textiles from the area, nonetheless exemplify this regional style and express the significance of textiles in daily life. In place of embroidery, most of the elaborate designs on the quilts are formed by stitching together pieces of fabric (patchwork) or by applying shaped fabrics to a foundation (appliqué). All of these textiles share the trait of having been pieced together from material that we might consider scrap, but which the Kutch craftspeople recognize as a valued and reusable source for quilts. Several of the quilts incorporate fabrics that were salvaged from worn cotton saris; similar prints and patterns can be seen in the silk sari and veil on display. Whether they are constructed from recycled or new fabric, quilts are considered a sign of a family’s wealth and position and serve as a point of pride and heritage.