Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Georgian Silk Museum

Below is the article that I wrote that was published in "Selvedge" magazine's Issue 26 Nov/Dec. I was not credited for writing the article or providing the photo (which is actually a photo of an old photo). To make matters worse, the promise of mentioning this oversight in the next issue did not occur. However, it did accomplish my goal of letting the world know about this incredible resource. Since the writing of this article, the museum now has their own website.

Off the beaten path and certainly a world treasure is the Silk Museum in Tbilisi, Georgia (a former Soviet republic in Eastern Europe). The country has a rich silk history and was once a part of the Silk Road. Tiny fragments of silk fabric have been found in burial grounds of the 2nd through 4th centuries and the first written record concerning silkworm breeding dates from the 5th century. While silk is no longer produced, samples can occasionally be found in stores and open markets.

During the Vienna Congress in 1815, it was decided that sericulture centers would be established in Western Europe to improve silk worm farming and conduct research. Centers in Austria, Italy, France and Hungary were opened. Georgia’s center, The Caucasian Sericulture Station, which also included a museum, extensive library and lecture hall, was founded in 1887 by Nikolas Shavrov (1858-1915), a scholar and scientist. Shavrov spent two years (1885-1887) traveling to Italy, France, Austria-Hungary Empire and Germany studying sericulture and gathering many of the materials now found in the museum.

The actual building was built between 1887 and 1893 by Polish architect Alexander Shinkevick who was living in Tbilisi at the time. The building’s architecture reflects the eclectic style characteristic of Tbilisi in the late 19th century. While the interior remains original, the building does suffer from the effects of a 2002 earthquake. Serious scientific work was conducted at the center. The museum consists of three halls which includes collections from 61 countries, 5,000 species and variations of silkworm cocoons from Europe, Asia, India and Japan, a silk butterfly collection which includes butterflies from Brazil, Argentina, India, Mexico and Bangkok and displays all the stages of silk production from mulberry tree seeds to silk production.

The silk museum's technical library houses more than 4,000 unique books in 26 languages concerning sericulture and other natural sciences including rare Chinese drawings on rice paper detailing silk production and processing.

This Museum is truly a unique part of the cultural heritage of Europe. “There are some things that it pays to remember,” American Silk Journal (1909).

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