Tag Archives: collections

All Wrapped Up in Finery: Virginia Campbell’s Shawl

Every object has its own chapter that makes the greater story of the Campbell family and the Museum remarkable. Although some of these chapters have been lost during the transition from a house to a museum, original objects continue to return “home” to the Campbell House more than 70 years after the last Campbell died. One extraordinary artifact associated with Virginia Campbell was donated this past summer: a shawl.

Portrait of Virginia Campbell circa 1882 showing the shawl draped over the chair.

Portrait of Virginia Campbell circa 1882 showing the shawl draped over the chair.A large nine-foot long shawl was donated by the family that purchased it from the Campbell estate auction in 1941. The unique textile is made from silk and wool and is believed to date from around 1840. It appears to be the shawl draped over a chair in the life-size portrait of Virginia Campbell hanging above the piano in the downstairs parlor.

Between the years 1770 and 1870, the most valuable thing in a women’s armoire was a Kashmir shawl. These textiles originated from Kashmir, a lush area in India. Documentation shows that woolen shawls were fashionable for Indian and Persian men and women centuries prior, but it was not until King Zayn-ul-Abidin, a 15th century leader of Kashmir, introduced Turkish weaving to the area, that Kashmir became noted for their textiles.

Made from the finest goat fleece, these shawls were hand-woven by a team of specialists. Looms were later introduced and the weaving process that could take years then only took a few months. Traditionally, flowering plants were the primary design on the shawls. In the early 18th century, these flowering plants morphed into encased flowers, and by the time Western European consumption of shawls began, morphed into the “buta” design. Meaning “flower,” the “buta” design is the characteristic tear drop with a bent tip design. This became known as the “pine” and the “cone,” in Western Europe, and the “paisley” in North America.

In the late 18th century, Kashmir shawls were acquired by travelers, explorers, military personnel and members of the East India Company who brought them back as “exotic” presents. Shortly after, European countries, namely England and France, began producing imitation Kashmir shawls. Although never fully obtaining the same quality as the original Kashmirs, European design had its own value in the market. France took the lead by obtaining its materials from the Middle East, creating distinctly French designs, and revolutionized production with img_5709the introduction of the Jacquard loom. Eventually, Europeans produced comparable shawls with cheaper materials. This caused the prices of European produced shawls to drop, allowing more than just the wealthy to own a shawl. The United States, emulating European fashions, also started producing a limited amount of shawls, in addition to wearing the ones purchased abroad.


Shawl in display in the Campbell House parlor, December 2016.

A number of factors led to the decline of the Kashmir shawl industry in the West: war, famine, and fashion. By the 1870s, France had become the biggest importer of both shawls and shawl materials from Kashmir. But when the Franco-Prussian War broke out in 1870, trade halted and robbed Kashmir of its largest shawl consumer. Around the same time, a famine crossing India robbed the industry of its artists, leaving fewer workers to create the shawls. Additionally, the “in” dress fashions played a role in the decline of shawl popularity. The bustles, or protrusion on the back of the dress, did not allow the shawl to fall properly as it did with previous dress styles. While some women altered their shawls to fit the new style, many sought to repurpose their textile treasure into furniture pieces, such as piano covers or curtains. Furthermore, as the prices became cheaper and more women owned shawls, it fell out of style. What was once a symbol of wealth and luxury became a garment of days gone by.

The donated shawl made its debut during this year’s Christmas display and will be out for public viewing until mid-January.

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Summer has arrived, which means school’s out and interns are in. We’ve got two stellar students spending the summer with us – they spend a few days a week at the Museum helping out with tours, doing work in the office and, most importantly, working on a self-directed project. First up is Katie – a St. Louis native home for the summer from her studies at the University of Iowa. In addition to her work with CHM, Katie is completing a conservation internship with our pals over at the Saint Louis Art Museum this summer.


Intern Katie! Visit her this summer and click on her image to learn more about internships at the Campbell House Museum.

What are you studying and where?  Art and Art History at the University of Iowa.

Why Campbell House?  I like the Museum’s focus on preservation.

What are you working on at CHM?  Inventory! (Katie is working on our annual collections inventory, during which she’ll check to make sure that every one of the thousands of objects in our collections are accounted for and in their proper place. If you’re thinking, “wow, that sounds like a truly massive undertaking” you’re right. Go Katie!)

When you aren’t having a blast at Campbell House, what are you doing?  Reading, usually.


Katie working on a conservation project at the University of Iowa. She’s basically famous.

What if your favorite thing about CHM so far?  I’ve really liked learning how a small museum functions. 

iPhone or Android?  iPhone.

Favorite color?  Blue.

Favorite band?  Mutemath. (If you know who this is, you’re hipper than we are. We had to Google them.)

Andy Warhol said that everyone gets 15 minutes of fame. What happened in your 15 minutes?  I was in two front page stories in Iowa City newspapers for my work on flood damaged books.

What’s your favorite sandwich?  Toasted PB&J

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josh scott

Intern Josh. Click his image to learn more about internships at CHM!

The second of our crew of stellar interns this semester is Josh, an undergraduate history student at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. He’s on board through the Spring to lend a hand with some backlogged collections projects we have around the Museum. Meet Josh!

What are you studying and where?  I’m a junior at the University of Missouri-St. Louis and I’m a history major.

Why Campbell House?  The Campbell House sounded interesting to me because it’s a wonderfully restored 19th century house.

What are you working on at CHM?  I am working with the Museum’s collection and updating uncatalogued pieces to be put into the online database.

When you aren’t having a blast at Campbell House, what are you doing?  Mainly, I work as an Assistant Manager at Sonic Drive-In, I’m at home studying or I’m hanging out with my girlfriend and two dogs. (editorial note: this guy isn’t kidding. He’s up before the crack of dawn working the breakfast shift, then goes to classes, THEN comes and spends the afternoon with us! A trooper if there ever was one.)


Editorial note: This place makes us feel pretty fancy too.

What is your favorite thing about CHM thus far?  My favorite things about CHM so far are the Parlor and Dining Room because I get to feel fancy for a brief moment.

iPhone or Android?  iPhone. Duh.

Favorite color?  Blue.

Favorite band/singer?  Nickelback.

Andy Warhol said that everyone gets 15 minutes of fame. What happened in your 15 minutes?  My high school choir director presented me with an award for being the most outstanding students before I graduated. It was an unexpected 15 minutes of fame.

If you could be any fictional character, who would you choose?  I would be the Flash because I can move fast.

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