We are a support group of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco with the goal of advancing the appreciation of the Museums’ textile and costume collections. We are a Bay Area forum that provides lecturers, workshops, events and travel opportunities for artists, designers, aficionados and collectors of ethnic textiles, rugs, tapestries, Western costume, and contemporary fiber art.
The de Young Museum and its sister museum, the Legion of Honor, together comprise the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, the largest public arts institution in the city and one of the of the largest art museums in the United States. The de Young Museum originated as the Fine Arts Building for the California Midwinter International Exposition in 1894 and opened as a museum in March 1895. The collections of the museum including the textile collections were thus rooted in a wide reaching overview of world culture. In 1924, the California Palace of the Legion of Honor was opened with a focus on European art and with textile collections that included tapestries, ecclesiastical vestments, lace, women's fashion and costume accessories. In 1972, the two museums merged to form the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.
In the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989, the de Young building suffered significant structural damage and in 1997 the Federal Commission on the Arts and Humanities ceased to indemnity exhibitions because of the seismic vulnerability. The decision was made to raze the building and rebuild on the same footprint in Golden Gate Park. The former de Young Museum structure closed to the public on December 31, 2000 and the new de Young opened on October 15, 2005. With the re-opening of the de Young, the Textile Department was given a new prominent home. The new facilities have provided a state-of-the-art exhibition, education, conservation and storage space totally roughly twice the area afforded by the old museum.
Indeed, the Textile Department has made great strides in the last three decades. While both museums collected and exhibited textiles and costume from their inception, the textile department was not established as a separate department until 1983. The founding of the department was due to the ongoing efforts of a talented and energetic volunteer, Anna Gray Bennet. As a museum volunteer in the 1970's, Anna Bennet took an interest in the tapestry collection. She, aided by her husband Ralph, led an effort to clean, conserve, and research them, which resulted in major exhibition in 1976 accompanied by catalogue. During her tenure at the museum, both as a volunteer and as the first textile curator, Anna Bennet curated several popular exhibitions on Western costume and textiles including Undercover Agents, A Century of Brides, and Fans in Fashion and was also responsible for founding the Textile Arts Council.
The foundation of non-Western textiles at the de Young was solidified by a major gift of Central Asian carpets and textiles by H. McCoy Jones and his wife Caroline in the early 1980's. The Jones gift not only put the de Young on the map of international rug collecting world but also opened the doors for both exhibiting and collecting non-western textiles. After McCoy Jones death, his wife Caroline continued to generously support the department through multiple gifts. It was decided in honor of their endless generosity that the department would be named The Caroline and H. McCoy Jones Department of Textile Arts. From 1982 -1996, Cathryn Cootner curated the non-western textile collection, Melissa Leventon served as curator of western costume and textiles from 1986-2002, and Diane Mott served as curator from 1996-2009.
The Caroline and H. McCoy Jones Department of Textile Arts is currently directed by Jill D’Alessandro, curator of Costume and Textile Arts at the Fine Arts Museums