Home Forums Karen Finch Memories My inestimable contribution to the TCC

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    Alan Cohen
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    Once, long ago (in the early 80s I think), I was paid to give a talk at the TCC in Hampton Court, even though I knew nothing about textile conservation. My academic ‘specialism’ was shamanism and Karen had sufficient faith in my subject knowledge for me to give a talk to a group of students about the symbolism involved in shamanic costumes, which is particularly rich in the region which gave us the term shaman – Siberia.
    As it happens, just the other day Katrina and I were at the extraordinary Moesgaard Museum just outside Aarhus, part of a visit to our son Joshua who has recently started a post-doc research post in anthropology and heritage studies at Aarhus University. His department is housed in the former home of the Moesgaard Museum, which has been reborn as an imposing grass-roofed edifice on top of the hill overlooking the old building and surrounded by magnificent woodland scenery (https://www.moesgaardmuseum.dk/en/.). We went to two exhibits, one on Denmark at the end of the Ice age and one on Genghis Khan. Both had a strong emphasis on the shamanic component of those ancient societies. In the Genghis Khan exhibit in particular, there were displays of shamanic costumes which reminded me of the talk I gave at the TCC decades ago. There were the drums that served as the shaman’s steed to the other worlds; the mirrors sown into the shaman’s costume to assist communication with the spirits; the reindeer horns to mark the shaman’s capacity to recapture the lost language of the animals; the bird figures symbolising the shaman’s capacity for ecstatic journeys of the soul.
    These were the same elements that I tried to convey to the students at the TCC. I don’t know whether any of them, or any other TCC students, were ever called upon to conserve a genuine shamanic costume. But no matter: Karen’s invitation to me was entirely consistent with her profound conviction that true conservation demanded an understanding not only of the techniques used in the creation of this or that object, but also of the history and spiritual beliefs of the people who created them.

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