Unknown; Chinese | Taoist Priest’s Robe, c. 1850-1900 | Philadelphia Museum of Art | Image and data from the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Amelia Nelson
Cataloging and Digital Services Librarian
Kansas City Art Institute

In the spring semester the library collaborated with the Fibers Department by hosting 500 growing silkworms in one of the display cases at the library entrance. The worms were grown as part of the course “Fiber History and Properties.” The silkworms’ development was tracked by students visiting the library and through a live feed broadcast on the library’s ustream channel. Playing host to these silkworms was a fun opportunity for the library to connect with students and to highlight some of the plethora of library resources available to fibers students. Some of these representative resources were compiled into a LibGuide. The guide incorporated the live feed of the growing silkworms and linked to fibers resources across the collection including an image group compiled from the Artstor Digital Library.

The Artstor image group complemented our physical collection and also provided unique imagery documenting the history of the silkworm industry and examples of silk used across cultures and throughout history. These images range from an 8th-century Caftan from the Caucasus Mountains to Grace Kelly’s silk tulle wedding gown. Each image provides unique high-quality image resolution especially usefully for fiber students. In the Caftan image, for example, students are able to zoom into the image to see repairs, the texture of the plain weave linen, and the faded silk decorative border. For a tactile fiber student, these detailed views provide insight into the construction, texture and materials—details that couldn’t be extrapolated from other images.

Unknown; Chinese | Taoist Priest's Robe, c. 1850-1900 | Philadelphia Museum of Art | Image and data from the Philadelphia Museum of Art
Russian; Unknown | Dress, first half 19th century |Image © The Metropolitan Museum of Art | Image and original data from the Brooklyn Museum.
Emperor Huizong | Court Ladies Preparing Newly Woven Silk, early 12th Century | Museum of Fine Arts, Boston | Image and data from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Asian; artist unknown | Silkworm, 206 B.C. - A.D. 220 |The Minneapolis Institute of Arts | Image and data from The Minneapolis Institute of Arts
British | Mantua or court dress, 1740 - 1745 | Victoria and Albert Museum | Image and data from the Victoria and Albert Museum

This sample image group can be arranged chronologically, allowing users to compare the weaves of different silk textiles and to track the evolution of this fabric through time. Viewed together, this image group illustrates the important cultural, symbolic, and artistic role this luxurious fabric has held throughout its history, included in everything from tapestries to a 16th-century Emperor’s court robe to silk slippers from the 18th century. The images in this group perfectly dovetailed into the goal of the fibers LibGuide to build a bridge from the excitement and curiosity about the silkworms on display to the library’s rich collection of fiber resources.