The Carl Schuster collection of Chinese textiles is unique and by far the largest and most exclusive collection of Chinese folk embroidery in the world, including China. Distinct from multicolored and multi-technique silk or cotton embroideries from other parts of China, the Western and Southwestern folk embroideries collected by Schuster are mainly cross stitches in cotton thread on cotton cloth with combinations of either blue on white or white on blue. They were mainly used by Han Chinese and the minority groups living in these regions.
Schuster assembled his collection with a wide variety of household items, clothes and specimens during four long journeys to the western and southwestern regions and some areas in central and south China between 1932 and 1938. Schuster believed that the various symbols appearing on what seemed to be the simplest cross stitch could indeed bring us back to traditional Chinese culture. Therefore, he amassed a wide range of designs with different symbolic meanings. Because of this extraordinary level of documentation, the collection has unusual potential for the study of traditional Chinese textile decoration techniques and symbolism.
In 1960, due to the warm friendship between Schuster and The Field Museum Curator of Asian Ethnology, Kenneth Starr, Schuster eventually decided to sell most of his Chinese folk embroidery collection to The Field Museum, which included 1000 objects and several hundred specimens. He also gave the museum his extensive files of notes and photographs, including his dissertation.
Image above: Detail of an embroidered cotton sleeve band, Mianyang, Sichuan, China. Collected by Carl Schuster. Catalog Number 2724.234232. © The Field Museum.