Folk art function, form meet in textiles 

click to enlarge Material goods Works from many ages, such as a 19th-century nuptial weaving from Tunisia, are on view at the San Francisco Tribal & Textile Arts Show. - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy photo
  • Material goods Works from many ages, such as a 19th-century nuptial weaving from Tunisia, are on view at the San Francisco Tribal & Textile Arts Show.

Museum curators acquire new pieces for their collections by shopping; the annual San Francisco Tribal & Textile Arts Show at Fort Mason Center from Friday through Sunday is one place they do it.

Artifacts ancient and contemporary, plucked from civilizations across the globe, are on view in an eclectic array of folk and ethnographic art. The range is wide, from contemporary Moroccan rugs to 19th-century Swedish wedding weavings or a 12th-century Buddha.

More than 100 vendors offer objects from the everyday to the ceremonial, making collectors and curators salivate in anticipation of the show every year.

“Our audience is varied,” says producer Elizabeth Lees, who co-founded the show with her husband, Bill Caskey, 28 years ago. “School groups, spectators and interior designers view the displays alongside curators and major collectors from around the world.”

Lees and Caskey first hosted the show in Southern California, but after a few short years, they moved it to the Bay Area.

“San Francisco has always had a strong interest in tribal and ethnic materials,” Lees says. “The de Young has one of the primary Oceanic collections in America; the only comparable collection is at the Met in New York.” No doubt some vendors will also hope to cater to the Asian Art Museum.

In her decades of collecting and showcasing, Lees has noticed trends change among buyers.

“There has been a surge in Oceanic material in recent years, perhaps because it is still relatively fresh. The West only discovered many of these civilizations in the 1960s and 1970s.”

The recent blossoming of DIY and crafting culture has broadened the audience even more, extending to nonbuying spectators who have a passionate interest in handcrafted objects.

For example, a guerilla knitter who swaddles tree branches in yarn (i.e., a “yarn bomber”) may enjoy this year’s special exhibit, “Post Punk Pink,” a display of contemporary Moroccan “rag rugs” woven with discarded textiles and found objects.

While patrons buy the show’s works primarily for display purposes, Lees believes the continued appeal in folk art lies in the purposeful combination of form and function.

“All of these materials were made with techniques developed over the centuries, whether they’re carvings, fertility symbols, weapons or tools,” Lees says. “Everything had a function in someone’s culture somewhere. I think that imbues these objects with depth. It wasn’t a vase to put on the mantelpiece, it was used.”

If you go

San Francisco Tribal & Textile Arts Show

Where: Festival Pavilion, Fort Mason Center, Marina Boulevard and Buchanan Street, S.F.

When: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday-Saturday; 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Sunday

Tickets: $15

Contact: (310) 455-2886,

Note: A preview benefit for the de Young Museum begins at 6 p.m. today. For $150 tickets, call (415) 750-3518

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Lauren Gallagher

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