This week’s blog tells the incredible, globe-trotting tale of how a particular Tibor Reich cloth came into the museum collection via Afghanistan and Pakistan. For such an apparently local item, manufactured in Stratford-upon-Avon, it weaves a global story that provides insight into that region at an important moment in recent history. Susan Walker, Education Officer at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, donated the cloth and tells how it came into her possession:
“About twelve years ago I was teaching Tudor history to my class of 7 - 9 year olds. At the end of that term one of the parents gave me a gift - a Tibor Reich panel of Henry VIII and his six wives. It was a lovely and very appropriate gift, and would not have been exceptional if I had been teaching in Stratford or even in England but I was not - this was in Pakistan!
As I was working in The British School in Islamabad I had to teach the National Curriculum, even though the children in the school were of 50 nationalities and spoke, between them, some 25 different languages. The gift was from the mother of one of my American pupils and she had come across this panel in the Sunday Market, a huge and amazing bazaar run by the large number of desperately poor Afghans taking refuge in Pakistan at that time, and selling everything you could think of, not just fruit and vegetables but spices, silks, beautiful jewellery made from pearls and lapis lazuli, marble ornaments, hand made carpets, hand carved furniture - and jumpers!
At that time Aid agencies in Britain were regularly collecting vast quantities of good sweaters and woollen jumpers to help these people face the very cold winters. The Afghans, however, like their Pakistani cousins, were not much taken with western style knitwear and preferred to cut out any labels and then to sell the garments to get money to buy what they did want to wear.
Somewhere in the UK somebody must have put this panel into a collecting bag and so it found its way to Pakistan. Little did Mrs Wahlert know when she found this panel on one of the jumper stalls, and gave it to me, that I came from the same town where Tibor Reich lived and worked - and little did I know then that when I was evacuated to the UK only a year later that I would be working for SBT and able to donate this to the Museums Collection!”
To find out more about Tibor Reich and the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, you can visit our blogs about the textiles his company created for the new Shakespeare Centre in 1964 and the 1969 Garrick Jubilee bicentenary.