GUATEMALAN HUIPILE – 1970’s
Quite a few years ago when we were living in LA We visited the LA county museum of Art on Wilshire Blvd, something we did fairly regularly on a Sunday afternoon; as I recall it was about the middle of December. Throughout my travels during my life I’d always been interested in folk textiles, I’d often buy pieces to bring home; in fact on one occasion in the the northern mountain villages of Guatemala one day I bought over $400 worth of hand woven textiles from a peasant Indian woman, a weaver, beautiful fabrics, all of traditional designs, and of course we still have them hanging in the bedroom. Her husband would earn $1 a day picking bananas in season.
I mention this only because the purpose of our visit to the museum was because there was an exhibition of traditional scarves from all over the world, some dating back many hundreds of years. They were from museums all over the world, all identified and dated.
The exhibit was on the top floor of the museum, the gallery took up almost the entire floor. The scarves, most of which were 3-4ft square were displayed on dowels hanging from the ceiling, they were all behind rope barriers. We were the only people in the gallery and we stood at the barrier staring and whispering to each other, there was one piece that absolutely entranced me, it was Persian, about 400 years old and was pure black silk, except the texture of the design was such that it shimmered and changed with every movement, it was spectacular!
The security guard, a young black man, had materialized next to me. “You like that one eh” he said, I said “Absolutely, I think it’s fabulous”. “We have some more if you’d like to see them” he said, I said that we’d love to. We followed him to the outer wall of the room where he found a hidden button that opened a hidden door into another room.
In the center of the room was a large square table piled high with folded scarves, apparently the ones that didn’t make it into the exhibition. There wasn’t a rope barrier. He led us to the table and handed me a black silk scarf, I couldn’t believe that I was handling this work of art, he selected another and then another, “You like those?” he asked, “$125!” “What do you mean?” I asked, “$125”. “If you like ’em, any of ’em, $125.”
I was absolutely dumbfounded, I didn’t know what to say. I could give this guy a couple of hundred dollars and walk out with pieces of historic museum quality art and no one would ever know. I just didn’t know how to handle it, whatever ‘it’ means.
I leaned over to Gina who was also in shock and said ” We should go get a cup of coffee and decide how to handle this, let’s go”. We descended to the street level and exited the museum onto Wilshire Blvd.
“Phew…How do you deal with that one? We were unable to speak for a while but eventually we split and drove home and finally we were able to talk about it.
Several months passed and it was constantly on my mind, I was aware that the entire security staff at the museum was black and that they were on minimum wage, and it was the most boring job in the world. It had been a couple of weeks before Christmas if that meant anything. I was also aware that the museum visitors were not black, they were mostly just like me. I was conflicted.
So one day I picked up the phone and dialed the museum, I asked to speak to the director.
I related to him the story exactly as I have written it here, “What did he look like?, What was his name? etc. I told him that I wasn’t going to answer any of those questions, he should just be aware that he had a serious security problem and that I as a regular visitor was concerned about it. I hung up on him and left it at that, I never heard from him again.
I quite enjoy writing these incidents from memory, I do it all the time, I’ve got lots. I hope they’re not too boring.