Genghis Khan exhibit, Denver Museum of Nature and Science

I'm about six blog posts behind what's in my head. I'm also spinning and writing on a serious deadline (and putting together a Ravelry ad campaign in the hope of picking up enough income to float Nomad Press and me through this time of non-paying, absolutely must-do-for-many-reasons work).

However, I was just writing a quick Facebook note on the exhibit on Genghis Khan that I went to last night at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, courtesy of friends who are members and invited us to join them, and thought I'd put a short recap in here.

There will be no photos, because taking photos was not allowed. We all left saying that we have to go back, and walked to the car planning how to do that. We also all have different interests: I was the only textiles person, supported in that by my daughter, who took a comprehensive path through the rooms in the hour we had before closing. We had to make the trip to the city after a full day of work all around, so our time there was too short. (We also enjoyed a delicious and varied members-only opening-special buffet supper of Mongolian foods.)

We got a pretty thorough look at the first half of the exhibit, and as the staff was announcing the museum's imminent closure we skimmed the second half to get an overview and plan our return trip. Most textiles are in the second half of the exhibit, with enough just in the first half to have made yesterday's trip a stellar event for a fiber nut.

In that first part, there are some sleeper-but-gorgeous silks (noblewoman's burial series). There are two gowns, extremely faded and damaged—but look closely at the brocade work, and see the way the hems are faced with coarser fabrics, and what graceful shaping there is on the sleeves! (As I look closely and in relative solitude at the cloth, large numbers of people walk past me and the fabrics to see the mummy herself, resting in a secluded area, and then out again to the explosions that demonstrate Genghis Khan's invention of the modern army and of sustained warfare. I experienced those, too. . . .)

In a flat case in the armor area there's a fortified vest made primarily with what looks like a couple of yards of blue heavy chambray. . . . Most folks move around this case with a quick glance down: they've seen things like this on the rack or the bolt at Walmart. Oh, but no, and oh, my: all handspun, and if I had a strong magnifying glass I might be able to see clearly enough through the low-set case to confirm my guess that they are singles. The lining is coarser than the outer shell of the vest. Indigo-dyed. Not only handspun, but made with either handspindle or driven spindle: the timing predates flyer wheels, which were not prevalent in this part of the world in any case (all the Egyptian cottons also predate wheel-and-flyer technology by a long span, of course, as do many others of the world's most exquisite fabrics).

Great pottery, too. Not much time to look at it on this trip.

And some absolutely breath-taking calligraphic pieces, some in Mongolian script (Genghis Khan introduced writing in his home region), and a Chinese version of an earlier Mongolian book that was lost, and then a comparatively very recent piece that is also remarkable, a 19th-century genealogy of Genghis Khan (ink on cotton) that belongs in one of Edward Tufte's books, if it isn't already there: unusual and clear visual presentation of information. As my daughter noted, it's much more effective at conveying its content than the customary-to-us family tree.

There are also performers from the Mongolian community featured in the exhibit area daily—their placement somewhat impedes looking at the artifacts where they're stationed, but in the case of the dancer I watched, well worth the trade-off and a loop back through that area on another occasion to check out the walls and cases. I'm guessing the dancer we saw was Dugluun, based on brief conversation with her after her performance—how many highly skilled, seventeen-year-old contortionist dancers who have been training since they were seven are likely to be in Denver? She is like an extremely graceful and flexible yogini, her poses accompanied by a traditional Mongolian fiddle player of similar youth and equally distinct, of quieter, beauty. Seeing the young people so adept in these traditional arts was an extra treat. (P.S. An older man asked the young woman after her dancing what, basically, she thought the long-term negative effects to her body might be of the flexing she's doing. My guess is that she'll be in a lot better shape in forty years than most football players, ballerinas, or computer-based office workers.)

If you're within driving distance of this museum, or elsewhere that this exhibit travels, check it out. The textiles are not the big draw for most visitors, of course, but they're abundant and worth a pilgrimage to investigate. The cases around them are far less crowded than other parts of the show, too.


5 thoughts on “Genghis Khan exhibit, Denver Museum of Nature and Science”

  1. Although I could not tell, I really, really hope it is (or becomes) a traveling exhibition! Mongolian textiles have become a kind of hobby-study for me recently, and the inter-library loan books are coming verrrry slowly.

  2. Sounds fantastic. I was thinking of trying to make time this weekend to go to the Museum and I didn’t even know this exhibit was there. But, when I read this I became worried…

    “as the staff was announcing the museum’s imminent closure”

    Huh? The museum is closing? Or this exhibit? or did you just mean closing for the evening and not closing for good?

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