Coat, Central Asia. Collection of the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, EAX3975
In the winter of 1868–1869 the tea planter and explorer Robert Shaw traveled from northern India to Eastern Turkestan, a region that had recently revolted from Chinese rule and was briefly independent. At the time Central Asia was the setting of the Great Game, the espionage and power wrangle between England and Russia over the international control of the area, and it attracted several intrepid travelers who did not always come to a good end. Robert Shaw was the first Englishman to visit the area, and his published accounts describe the splendid dress he encountered on his travels, examples of which were sometimes presented to him by local dignitaries.
As Textile Curator at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, England, Ruth Barnes came across an undocumented collection of Central Asian garments, among them spectacular ikat coats. Her research traced these garments back to Robert Shaw’s travels in the 19th century. Ms. Barnes is now the Thomas Jaffe Curator of Indo-Pacific art at the Yale University Art Gallery.