A world of art from anonymous hands

Historical museum unveils exhibit of work in the traditions of distant villages

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter


photoRidgefield resident Carol Pinnell holds up a colorful appliqué from Dahomey, a precolonial West African kingdom now known as the Republic of Benin, during a presentation Saturday at the Clark County Historical Museum.

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What: “Working with Tradition: Folk Artists of Washington State,” a traveling exhibit from the Washington State Historical Society, explores the handmade traditional arts carried on by people in the state.

Where: Clark County Historical Museum, 1511 Main St., Vancouver.

When: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, through Feb. 18.

Cost: $4; $3 for seniors and college students with identification; $2 for ages 6-18; free for 5 and younger.

More information: 360-993-5679 or cchmuseum.org.

While it didn’t have the regal shimmer of a sari from India or the intricate details of an embroidered blouse from Guatemala, the colorful appliqué from West Africa was certainly eye-catching.

Bold-toned animals against a black background could have been made for a child, guessed the owner, Carol Pinnell.

But are those machetes? And look there, in the bottom right corner: It appears as though a dinosaur wants to attack a man who has just hanged another man.

Maybe it wasn’t made for children.

“Oh, that’s terrible!” said Pinnell, noticing the hanging scene for the first time after she gave a presentation Saturday at the Clark County Historical Museum in downtown Vancouver.

Pinnell, who moved to Clark County 10 years ago after selling her Portland travel agency, shared a sampling of the textiles she’s collected over 40 years of world travel.

Now the owner of a Ridgefield bed-and-breakfast, the Sanctuary Inn, where she operates the travel agency Group Journeys LLC, Pinnell has been to 130 counties and collected an estimated 3,000 pieces, which she stores off-site.

Pinnell’s presentation gave a worldly flair to the museum’s current folk art exhibit, “Working with Tradition: Folk Artists of Washington State.”

The exhibit runs through Feb. 18 at the museum, 1511 Main St. It includes a traveling exhibit from the Washington State Historical Society as well as items from the museum’s collection and from Pinnell’s collection.

The museum is open 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday through Saturdays. Admission is $4 for adults, $3 for senior citizens and students and $2 for children.

Pinnell, 67, does not claim to be an expert on folk textiles, just a “passionate observer” who after years of experience can now spot if a local store

has mislabeled a textile from Bolivia as an item from Africa.

She’s also learned that store owners do not like to be told that, she added with a laugh.

The 80 people who came Saturday wanted to hear everything she had to say.

She gave a slide show of some of the marketplaces she’s seen, but the audience was most eager to ooh and ahh over the actual pieces, which Pinnell held up and then passed around for inspection.

“I’m going to take you on a trip around the world,” she said. “There may be too much to see today. We will get halfway around the world, maybe.”

Folk art evolves out of the villages, she said, starting with a photograph of a Guatemalan priest.

After sharing pieces from Central and South America, she moved on to Africa. She shared a wall hanging from Morocco that, instead of strong reds and yellows, was made with muted colors. She wasn’t certain of the fabric. She thought it was palm fiber.

“Is there anyone here who would know?” she asked.

She added that she doesn’t keep everything she buys. She once decided a rug from Morocco was too garish and she donated it to Goodwill.

A month later, she returned to the store and it was still there.

She shared one item that represented where she started her hobby, a lace curtain panel.

In 1964-65, she attended the University of Vienna. On her way to class, she’d walk past homes where the delicate lace curtains hung in every window. She also started going to antiques stores and discovering tapestries and hand-embroidered pieces.

“That’s what really caught my eye,” she said.

In the late ’60s, she and her former husband backpacked from San Francisco to the southern tip of Chile. With no way to store purchases, she could only browse.

She’s more than made up for it.

She’s been with her partner, Ralph Burton, for 15 years. A retired high school history teacher, Burton said the first time he traveled to Mexico with Pinnell they came home with 20 boxes full of purchases.

“She’s a passionate traveler and has a great eye,” Burton said. He’s learned a lot about textiles and enjoys browsing marketplaces.

“If I’m going to be with her, I’ve got to be patient.”

Stephanie Rice: http://www.facebook.com/reporterrice;http://twitter.com/col_clarkgov;stephanie.rice@columbian.com.