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Museum Archivist to discuss new museum exhibit

Michele Nielsen, San Bernardino County Museum history division archivist, will discuss a new museum exhibit on blue and white embroideries from China during a gallery talk on September 11 at 1:00 p.m. The talk is open to the public and is free with museum admission.

"Signs in the Designs: Blue and White Embroideries from China" is a new temporary exhibit in the museum's textile series. The exhibit opens in the museum's Hall of History on September 4 and continues through February 13, 2005.

The museum's Western Textile Center is home to an astounding variety of fiber arts collections. "Signs in the Designs" explores a group of unusual blue and white embroideries collected in the Chengdu region of central China in the early twentieth century by Virginia Moncrieff.

Moncrieff and her husband traveled from the United States to China for the first time in 1915. Her husband, previously assigned to a post in Japan as a missionary, assumed a position as a school administrator at West China Union University, a religious organization in the Szechwan Province town of Chengdu. The Moncrieffs eventually lived in this region off and on for the next thirty-five years as educators on behalf of the American Foreign Baptist Mission Society.

"This collection reminds us that institutions like Loma Linda University Adventist Health Science Center and even certain retirement enclaves, like Plymouth Village in Redlands, represent a unique and interesting world-wide connection with our county," said Nielsen. "Redlands, Loma Linda, Claremont, and other Southern California communities have been retirement destinations for a wide variety of citizens who traveled throughout the world as missionaries and educators. They form a fascinating part of the county's demographics, both past and present."

Virginia Moncrieff collected examples of an unusual kind of blue and white embroidery during her stays in China. This embroidery is very different from the multi-colored silk thread embroidery most often associated with China because it is worked on cotton or other simple plant fiber fabric using indigo-dyed cotton thread. She purchased many examples of this blue and white work. Some dated from as early as the 1850s; others were created by local artisans specifically for Moncrieff and her family and friends.

Embroideries on display at the museum include panels from bed hangings, cushion covers, and other household linens as well as samplers embroidered with a variety of stitches and patterns. The Moncrieff collection contains more than 100 pieces, most of which are blue and white "rural" embroideries worked in cross stitch or satin stitch on even weave fabric - linen, ramie, cotton, and even banana plant fiber material. The blue thread, ranging from robin's-egg blue to inky black, was dyed with a solution of natural indigo. The patterns and images embroidered on the pieces are rich in symbolism with roots in the cultural traditions of Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism. Similar collections of this kind of embroidery are preserved in collections at the Field Museum in Chicago, the Basel Museum in Switzerland, and the Sovereign Hill Gold Museum in Ballarat, Australia.

The San Bernardino County Museum is located at the California Street exit from Interstate 10 in Redlands. The museum is open Tuesdays through Sundays and holiday Mondays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. General admission is $6 (adult), $5 (student or senior), and $4 (child 5 to 12). Children under 5 and Museum Association members are admitted free. Parking is free, and the facility is handicapped-accessible. Lunch, snacks, and beverages are available at the museum's Garden Café from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. There is no extra charge for the special exhibit, "Signs in the Designs," or for the September 11 gallery talk. For more information, visit or call (909) 307-2669 / TDD/TTY: (909) 792-1462.


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