By: Daisha Jones
WESTON, Mo. — The National Silk Art Museum in Weston has over 500 silk tapestries that combine history and art. Each piece is a woven copy of an original oil painting dating back hundreds of years. Some of the pieces serve as the only remaining evidence that their original image ever existed. When visiting, people can learn about the process of creating the silk art, which includes punch card technology. Then, they can explore the different styles and images on display. From different time periods to different artists, the research aspect is what museum curator, John Pottie, loves most.
The museum also holds Pottie's research library that has books over 100 years old, which he uses to uncover the mystery and meaning from new silk art pieces.
Author: MDT Staff
Step into an art museum and immediately feel transported to a different world. Footsteps echo softly through the building. Cool air keeps visitors comfortable and priceless art protected. Works by remarkable artists line every wall. In Missouri, each part of the state possesses its own wonderful art scene.
Celebrate artistic successes at the Daum Museum of Contemporary Art in Sedalia. Opening its doors in January 2002, the collection, which totals more than 1,000 works, includes art by some of the most revered American artists. View pieces by such iconic artists as Andy Warhol, Richard Serra, Helen Frankenthaler, Roy Lichtenstein and Julian Schnabel, plus works by well-known Missouri artists.
Missouri artists are well represented in the State Historical Society of Missouri Art Galleries in Columbia, where the galleries pay special homage to two of Missouri's most famous artists: George Caleb Bingham and Thomas Hart Benton. The Society holds one of the largest collections of paintings by Bingham, including, Order No. 11. Visitors interested in the World War II era have the opportunity to view the Year of Peril series by Thomas hart Benton, containing some of his best-known work. Also, the galleries house a large collection of editorial cartoons.
In southwest Missouri, the Springfield Art Museum offers a dozen galleries, holding more than 8,000 objects. These pieces represent thousands of years of culture. Special collections include 19th, 20th and 21st century American paintings; watercolors; sculptures; and prints.
In St. Louis, the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, on the campus of Washington University, showcases works from the 1800s to modern day. The museum's permanent collection contains works by such luminaries as Dutch master Rembrandt van Rijn, Spanish painter Pablo Picasso and American abstractionist Jackson Pollock.
A work of art itself, the Albrecht-Kemper Museum of Art in St. Joseph displays masterworks from the past four centuries. The former William Albrecht home provides the perfect backdrop for works by artists including Mary Cassatt, Robert Henri and Edward Hopper. A wide variety of special programs compliment the Museum’s exhibitions, including child and adult art classes, gallery talks, film series, and live performances.
In Kansas City, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art is one of the crown jewels in the city's vibrant art scene. This museum enjoys international recognition for having one of the finest collections in the world. Explore room after room of African, Asian, American Indian and European Art. Step outside to see the wonderful pieces in the 22-acre Kansas City Sculpture Park.
For a truly one-of-a-king museum experience, visit the National Silk Art Museum in Weston. The museum exhibits the world's largest collection of woven silk tapestries (more than 300) produced 200 years ago on punch-card mechanical looms. Every tapestry in the collection is a digitized copy of an original painting by one of more than 85 Master Artists from the 19th and 20th centuries.
There are hundreds, even thousands of museums in Missouri, ranging from one-room schoolhouses to institutions of national and international importance. Seek them out. Post your comments on ourVisitMO Facebook page.
Silk Art Museum Adds Shine in Downtown Weston John Pottie and daughter Adrienne Haake stand with one of the oldest silk art pieces, of J.M. Jacquard, who invented a keypunch card technique to create art from silk weavings. The weaving is in the collection of the National Silk Art Museum, now in the old Bank Building in downtown Weston. Posted: Tuesday, November 19, 2013 12:00 am The luster of pure silk shines out through reproductions of great art works in downtown Weston once more. After a detour through Leavenworth, John Pottie has brought his National Silk Art Museum back to Weston. The art is now front and center, spread throughout the ground floor of the old Bank of Weston building at the corner of Main and Thomas. The Museum is now a 501.c3, Museum of Fiber Arts LLC, and is working to become a Smithsonian Institution Affiliate. The museum is free to Weston area residents and business owners, $4 for those on bus tours, and $5 for individuals. In the lobby and back rooms, you’ll find more than 325 works of art on display. “We never had more than 200 on display at a time in our other location,” Mr. Pottie said. There will be even more when another room is cleared and set up for the displays. Each are features a theme - religious works, World’s Fair Souvenirs, military works - even billiards. That was what got Mr. Pottie started on his collection 33 years ago. He found a billiard game piece in an antique store, investigated it and started learning about the art of silk weaving. “When I bought my 10th silk, of a puppet maker, that was the tipping point,” he said. “I decided if I was spending $25 on a piece, I might as well go after everything.” From its inception in 1839 through World War I, silk weavings were used to create luminescent reproductions of fine art works. Some of the original art works represented in the collection no longer, exist, destroyed by fires or in wars. There are also silks no longer created, like the silk from Northern China, where worms were fed on oak before 1920, when they were switched to mulberry trees. One brownish colored created is made from wild silk. So if you’re looking for something shiny and special this season, check out the National Silk Art Museum.
Defining moments in life can change the course of events forever. For John Pottie, his moment happened while he was strolling through a Milwaukee antique mall in 1980. Pottie didn’t know then what he knows now: his find that day was created on a mechanical loom using keypunch-card technology that led to the birth of the information age and the invention of the calculator and computer. And it’s all enshrined in downtown Weston, Mo.
Pottie, a former Wisconsin restaurateur who moved to Platte County, Mo., in 1992, was an avid pool player and collector of pool, billiards and bar memorabilia. At that antique mall in Milwaukee, he spotted what he thought was an engraving of Victorian men and women playing billiards. Thinking that it would be a welcome addition to his collection of shot glasses and beer steins, he brought it home. On closer inspection, he realized his $50 purchase was a tapestry made from finely woven silk thread. That sparked his interest in learning more about silk art. He visited libraries, museums and art institutes throughout the Milwaukee and Chicago areas, but came up empty-handed. “There was no information, period,” says Pottie, 67. That lack of knowledge triggered what became a more than 30-year passion for what he calls a lost art form. After two years of learning virtually nothing, in 1982 Pottie sent a copy of his find to a journal for billiards aficionados. Finally, he hit pay dirt. He learned that the piece was an example of Jacquard weaving. By 1983, when he bought his tenth silk piece — a scene depicting a puppet show — he says he made the decision to go “after everything and eventually have a museum.” For the next 20 years, Pottie collected woven silk tapestries, mostly French, and stored them in a spare bedroom at his house. In 2003, he decided to display 75 pieces in the second floor of Charlemagne’s Restaurant, which he owned at 616 Thomas St. in downtown Weston. He also displayed several pieces in the dining area. After a while, people began visiting the restaurant more for the art than the food.
Over the years, Pottie has amassed, primarily by spending nominal sums at auction houses and flea markets, what he claims is the largest collection of Victorian and Renaissance silk art in the world. The National Silk Art Museum outgrew Charlemagne’s and then its second home in Weston, inside the Saint George Hotel at 500 Main St. Last summer it moved to a former Bank of Weston building at 423 Main St. “Since that showing in 2003, I’ve had 111 museum curators worldwide come to see it,” Pottie says. “We’ve had patrons from all 50 states every year for 10 years, and we’ve always surpassed more than 50 foreign countries every year.” Pottie says the collection has more than 350 pieces, but he can’t give an exact number. “There are two reasons for this,” he says. “I get started counting and then get interrupted, and the other reason is that I’m accountable to my wife for how many I have.” Much of the artwork is religious in nature because it was commissioned by churches. His wife, Venessa, is an environmental scientist and the museum’s director of research and acquisitions. Pottie has big plans for the museum. He wants to expand to the upper floor of the old bank building, and he’s working to make the museum an affiliate of the Smithsonian. He hopes to finalize that process in the first quarter of this year. Smithsonian affiliation would allow Pottie to add the Smithsonian name to the museum, and would help with foundation funding, seminars and classes and textbook publishing. The museum also recently reorganized as a 501(C3) organization, the Museum of Fibre Arts, Inc. His daughter, Adrienne Haake, is president of the corporation. Like the art he’s amassed, Pottie's life has evolved into a tapestry rich in color, diversity and vintage perspectives.
Just what is so special about Pottie’s collection that brings visitors from around the nation and the world? To Pauline Verbeek-Cowart, professor and chair of the Fiber Department at the Kansas City Art Institute, the answer is simple: it’s a treasure in Kansas City’s backyard. “He definitely has a collection that’s worth showing, preserving, highlighting and showcasing,” she says. Calling the collection “mind-boggling,” Verbeek-Cowart initially did not believe what she was seeing when she first saw the tapestries in Pottie’s restaurant. “It was a strange sensation because you look around and you think, ‘This is not possible. Things don’t make sense that here, in this little restaurant up in the attic, is this amazing collection,’” she says, adding that Pottie himself is amazing. “The time and energy he has invested to actually build his collection is astonishing. It’s his life’s work and his passion. It’s a super great example of what you can do when you’re passionate about something.” For Pottie, what’s amazing is the look of awe on visitors’ faces when they step inside the museum. “They don’t know what they’re getting into,” he says. And no matter where they come from, their reactions are pretty much the same. Most are simply wowed. Visitors get a free tour and a history lesson on French silk tapestry, based on works by major artists of the 19th and 20th centuries. They learn that silk tapestry, the art of weaving silk threads into an image for decorative purposes, is a precursor to photography. They also gain an understanding that the keypunch-card technology used to create the works was the beginning of the information age that led to the invention of the calculator and computer.
According to Pottie, in 1801, French inventor Joseph Marie Jacquard first used an automated loom with existing keypunch-card technology to successfully mass produce fishing nets. Cards streamed through the loom’s mechanism, dictating which threads would be placed where. In 1804, he adopted the technology to create patterned textiles. That technology led Charles Babbage to create the first calculator—an analytical machine – in 1840. In 1939, IBM created the first large-scale computer. “I always tell people that when Lewis and Clark were sitting in Weston battling mosquitoes, Jacquard in France was computerizing the loom,” Pottie says. “That was the beginning of the birth of the information age.” But Jacquard was never involved with producing portraits or landscapes. That task fell to weaver Francois Michel-Marie Carquillat, who in 1839 became the first person to successfully copy masterpieces on a mechanical loom as a major means of reproduction, an art form for which only the French were successful, Pottie says. Reproducing a painting in silk on a mechanical loom required a laborious, intricate and complex process that only the wealthiest families, royalty or churches could afford to commission. Some pieces are reproductions of renowned paintings, while others haven’t been traced to an original, leading Pottie to believe that some of that art is lost forever and preserved only in silk. By converting details of a painting to dots, much like pixels in televisions or digital photographs of today, the mechanical looms were programmed to reproduce artwork in fabric. Every dot the size of a pencil point depicted in the pictures has 400 threads of woven silk. It took 7.4 miles worth of punch cards to recreate the pictures, involving three years of production set-up time. “You’ve got 7.4 miles worth of cards hand-sewn together, so if a string stretches, it’s over. If there was a snag or a pull or a tear, it’s over,” Pottie says. “They weren’t made for resale, so they weren’t concerned about production.” He believes the true artists were the designers who created the keypunch cards. “It’s kind of like an artists’ workshop. They’re the ones who never get recognized.”
One of the museum’s many admirers is Jim Black, owner of Black’s Frame Shop in Smithville, Mo. For about five years, Black has worked to repair the tapestries’ original frames or reframe them with materials typical of the era. He also replaces old mats with acid-free ones to prevent threads from disintegrating. Black’s work allows him to get a close-up look at a tapestry, front and back. “It’s absolutely amazing, the detail that is in it,” he says. “When light shines off of it at different angles, you see the different tones and colors that you don’t see in any other type of art. It’s an art form that people have not really recognized. They don’t understand the detail and what it takes to do it.” By converting details of a painting to dots, much like pixels in digital photographs of today, mechanical looms were programmed to reproduce artwork in fabric. Every dot the size of a pencil point depicted in the pictures has 400 threads of woven silk. Pottie has dedicated his life to making sure museum visitors understand and appreciate the process. Over the years, the museum has continued to inspire awe, mainly because of the tapestries’ three-dimensional characteristics and intricate weaving. Visitors to the museum, which includes a small gift shop and a library in which half of the books are more than a century old, often are curators, historians, weavers and others interested in art. In 2004, one such visitor was the assistant curator of the Louvre, Pottie recalls. She called the museum a mini-Louvre and said the collection should be back in France. But Pottie has no such plans. The tapestries are remarkable examples of an art form of a bygone era, and he likes the idea of the extensive collection of French art having a home in, of all places, Weston. “They were here 150 years ago, some of these pieces, and they’re going to be here another 150 years from now,” he says. “So all I am is just a mere caretaker.” See the article at http://www.435mag.com/February-2014/Weaving-a-life/
"The museum is truly a one-of-a-kind. It is located in the former Bank of Weston building in historic downtown Weston, MO. The museum exhibits the world's largest collection of woven silk tapestries (over 300) produced 200 years ago on punch card mechanical looms. This process was the first to utilize the same punch card technology that would eventually lead into the invention of the modern-day computer. The museum preserves and shares the history of this long-lost and largely forgotten guild. Every tapestry in the collection is a digitized copy of an original painting by one of over 85 different Master Artists from the 19th and 20th centuries, including Francisco Goya, Mariano Alonzo Perez, Rembrandt, Raphael, Guido Reni and Elizabeth Sonrel. The collection also serves as the only evidence of many paintings that have either been lost over time, or altogether unknown. The museum also boasts an impressive art research library with the Grove Art Dictionary, E. Benezil-"Dictionnaires des Peintres, Sculptures, Dessinateus, et Graveurs", Propylaen Kunstqeschichte, and "The Art Galleries of Erope", as well as many rare books over 100 years old."
An Unexpected Treasure
A surprise flea market find leads John Pottie to a world-class collection of French and English silk art
by Bob McEowen
Weston thrives on the unexpected. A historic community north of Kansas City, Weston invites visitors to explore its narrow streets, browse its shops and sample the local flavor at its restaurants. Nothing could be more unexpected than what awaits travelers in two small storefront rooms located inside the 1845 Saint George Hotel. In fact, the artwork on display at the National Silk Art Museum would surprise devotees of fiber arts, no matter where it was found. Inside this small museum are nearly 200 reproductions of masterpiece paintings and other illustrations, each woven in silk. Originally commissioned by 19th-century royalty and heads of churches, this artwork represents the pinnacle of the weaver’s craft. It also preserves a critical step in the march of technology that eventually led to calculators and computers. The self-proclaimed National Silk Art Museum is actually the personal collection of restaurateur and innkeeper John Pottie, who purchased the Saint George Hotel in August 2008. He claims that his museum is “the most important and extensive exhibition of woven silk tapestry ever shown in the world.” Pauline Verbeek-Cowart, interim chair of the Kansas City Art Institute’s Fiber Arts Department, doesn’t question Pottie’s assertion. “It is mind boggling,” she says. “He has a range of work that is unlike anything else in the world. He has a few very important pieces that maybe only one or two exist anywhere.” Pottie’s three-decade-long pursuit of the world’s best silk art collection began in 1980 while he was shopping at an antique mall. The sports memorabilia collector and former semi-pro billiards player found what appeared to be an illustration of an 18th-century French billiards scene. “I didn’t even know it was woven when I bought it,” he recalls. When Pottie examined the artwork closer, he discovered it was not an engraving as he expected, but rather finely woven thread. Attempts to research woven silk illustrations hit dead ends as Pottie contacted museums and art schools in the Chicago area, where he was living at the time. Finally, a fellow billiards collectables enthusiast identified the piece as an example of Jacquard weaving.
In 1804, French inventor Joseph Marie Jacquard adopted existing punch card technology to operate a loom. Just as early computers took instructions from punch cards, a card reader on Jacquard’s machine controlled the pull of thread on the loom. In fact, Jacquard’s loom is considered an evolutionary step in a chain of inventions that culminated with the first computers. “It was Jacquard’s 1804 technology that led Charles Babbage to the calculator in 1840,” Pottie says. “In 1880, (Herman) Hollerith made the census counter with punch cards and, in 1939, IBM made their Harvard Mark I computer.” By converting details of a painting to dots — much like the pixels of today’s digital photographs — it was possible to program a loom to reproduce artwork in fabric. It was a laborious process, requiring as much as three years of work to map out the details of a painting and prepare punch cards to recreate it. Reproducing a painting in silk was so complex and time-consuming that only the wealthiest patrons — churches or monarchies, typically — could afford to commission the work. Consequently, much of the artwork woven into silk in the mid-19th century was religious in nature. Some of the paintings in the collection are reproductions of well-known works of art. Others relate to no known original, leading Pottie to believe that some art is lost to history and preserved only in silk.
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