Silk Painting - History

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Wax resist techniques for embellishing silk can be traced back to India in the second century A.D. and to Java 200 years later where the batik industry flourished. Gutta resist techniques are most likely a more recent development, but probably originated in the Indonesian islands where the pallaquium trees, from which gutta-percha is derived, grow naturally. It’s a bit of mystery how silk painting found it’s way to Europe, but silk painters from France and Hungary believe their teachers learned the craft in France from members of the Russian czar’s family. In the 1920’s, hand-painted silk designs began to appear in haute couture of France. Upon the freeing of the colonies from King George the 3rd via the American Revolutionary War the prohibitive tariffs on silk were averted, thus allowing silk to become a new trend in Colonial American arts. Silk started showing up in samplers, stitched-and-painted pictures and such in the early 1800's, but by the 1840's there was a distinct preference among the few colonial fine artists there were, for painting on silk. The medium was still very expensive to do, and so it was something of high art snobbery to behold or own a silk painting. One may find that the abundance of silk painting waxed and waned with the activity of the silk mills in the New England states from 1840 on. When the mills closed their doors, people stopped painting on silk. It wasn’t until the 1970’s that silk painting really began to be popularized by artists in the United States and it has been gaining popularity as a textile art ever since!

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