C. and S.B. sent me a photo of one of my passions, a red half-century-old Manton de Manila, locally knows as the Spanish shawl, worn for fiesta. This is a cultural hybrid. Laugh, C.B., but the Manton was to the 19th C. what the hot dog was the 20th C. Think of the hot dog: it is JUST as American as the Spanish shawl is Spanish.
The dog was an export from Germany, specifically Frankfurt, since the 13th C., the treat of pork the peasants received on coronation days. Over in Vienna (Wien) this sausage was made of beef. In the 18th C. an enterprising German mixed pork and beef and the hot dog (minus the bun) was born.
Like any great invention, two German immigrants to the U.S. thought of serving the dog on a convenient bun, inspired at the same time, separately: Charles Feltman on Coney Island, and Anton Ludwig Feuchtwanger at the 1893 World Columbian Exhibition in Chicago. So the most American of foods known by association with the most American of pastimes, baseball, was a cultural import.
Likewise, C.B.’s shawl comes from Asia. Spanish imports passed from Canton to Spain through Manila in the Philippines. Beginning in the late 15th C., European tastes for silk had necessitated a trading route that joined the world together: the Silk Road overland. By the 18th C. silk, tea, spices and porcelain traveled on sea galleons from Asia through Manila and on to Spain, sometimes stopping in New Spain – that was us, and how we got the shawl bug.
Yet how the shawl became all the rage was due to the incorrigibility of female nature – which is to say, if you tell us we can’t have something, we want it MORE. The Catholic Church in Spain banned the covering of faces of women with veils (a backhanded hit at Moorish (Islamic) women), but they couldn’t ban shawls. Shawls of silk exported from China began to be flaunted on the streets of Seville in very bright colors. Originally the shawls were Asian in embroidered design, then enterprising Philippine and Spanish craftswomen began to “Europeanize” the designs to simpler gorgeous open flowers (which held secret symbolism), ornamenting the shawl with fringe. The Asian embroiderers took this trend up and a further cross-pollination ensued.
When the Spanish settled New Spain (Mexico and California), Manila galleons sailed with shawls to Vera Cruz, then on to Spain. Not wanting to miss out on Spanish fashions, those of us in New Spain craved them.
C.B., visit the Santa Barbara Historical Museum: view Mrs. De La Guerra’s belongings, including her Spanish (Chinese silk embroidered in Manila style designs) shawls: the display reflects the way the shawl was worn between 1828-58, over full skirts, nipped waists, long sleeves, upon dresses in dour colors in lesser fabrics. To add a silk shawl of bright color to your outfit was wonderful; ladies in early Santa Barbara flocked when a trading ship was sighted.
A book of that period, Letters from California (1846-1847) by William Robert Garner and Donald Munro Craig is a first-hand account of this feminine willpower. The author’s note that the average California woman of the mid 19th C. was formidable and headstrong: “The washerwomen must have as many and as rich dress as the person she washes for, or she would feel debased in her own eyes…economy is contrary to all the ideas and customs of a Californian.” The Californio women, say the authors, earned her OWN money for such finery: “The Women are always occupied in some useful employment, either in their house or out of them, and do a good deal more service than the men…(women) actually maintain their husbands and children by their own personal labor, the husband existing as a mere cypher in the family.” We worked for those shawls, not always during our daylight hours.
As Bancroft writes in California Pastoral, in the period when the shawl was popular, the Californio family had an average of 10-children. The aforementioned mid 19th C. author Gardner notes that some California women had 20-25 children; for example, Juana Cota left 500 descendants, Secundino Robles’ wife bore 29-children, Jose Antonio Castro’s wife bore 26. Mrs. Wep Hartnell (born Maria Teresa de la Guerra) bore 25 children, and wore her shawl as an accomplished grand dame and fashionable hostel. C.B., the value of your shawl is $300 if the condition is perfect, and to keep it so, do not store it in plastic.
Certified appraiser for estates, inheritances and trusts.
Dr. Elizabeth Stewart's column appears every week in the Salon & Style section of the Santa Barbara News Press. Email her your questions and high-resolution photos at ElizabethAppraisals @ gmail.com
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