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Andrea Aranow
A Life In Full Vibrancy and Pattern

Andrea Aranow was a collector, business woman and story-teller of textiles. Born in Springfield, MA, Andrea grew up handling cloth. “I grew up sewing with my mom, who was a knitter,” Andrea said. “She enjoyed doing handwork and was happy to pass off the machine sewing to me, and we shopped together to look for colors and patterns for my clothes.”Andrea received a degree in cultural history from Brown University in 1967. She then went to New York to open Dakota Transit, a custom leather and snakeskin apparel shop in the East Village. By 1971 the New York Times noted that Andrea had “achieved instant fame” with the snakeskin collage clothes she made for Jimi Hendrix.

A few years later, Andrea left New York to live in the mountains of Peru for five years, and began collecting pieces for her textile library of living cultures. While in Peru she held a research position with the Instituto Nacional de Cultura of Peru, and began to spend time researching textiles and engaging in Peru’s rural villages.From Peru, Andrea relocated her family to London, where the British Museum took interest in a 400-piece part of the collection she had compiled in South America.They worked with her to document and catalog the collection before purchasing it to include their ethnographic-focused Museum of Mankind.

From London, Andrea traveled to Asia, spending years in outlying districts of China and Japan. “I rarely passed up an opportunity for a new technique or a handmade piece of unknown origin,” Aranow said. “The scope of the material in the archive reflects my various curiosities over the decades.” Aranow’s interest in the pieces she collected grew from the visual and material qualities of the textiles as well as their cultural contest and practical use in daily life.

In total, Andrea spent fifteen years abroad creating ethnic textile collections for museums. In addition to the British Museum, some collections have been purchased by The Royal Scottish Museum, and The Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In 1987 Andrea returned to New York to start Andrea Aranow Textile Documents, a business selling pieces from her international collection to fashion companies as inspiration for new designs. The collection became a highly prized and sought-after resource for fashion and design industry professionals worldwide, and clients included designers from Dries Van Noten, Ralph Lauren, Louis Vuitton, Williams Sonoma, Marni, Abercrombie & Fitch, The Gap, and UNIQLO. Aranow continued to grow her collection and by the time she closed her business in 2009, she had amassed more than 50,000 unique items.

In 2009 part of her collections were moved to Portland, Oregon to be digitized in a project that became Textile Hive. From 2009 to her passing in 2021, Andrea continued documenting and cataloging her vast ethnographic collection for expanded use, while continuing to enjoy traveling, meeting people, looking and discussing textiles together.

Created as a tribute to Andrea by her son Caleb Sayan, this virtual exhibit is a personal exploration of how we mourn, honor, carry forward memories and traditions from those we’ve lost, and make space for new ones.⁠

Irene Haberfelner

Andrea’s 55th birthday trip to Jauja! What a trip, Shad might remember…. I remember arriving on the bus in the middle of the night in this strange town in the Andes, feeling sick from the altitude and getting into a tuk-tuk. Very surreal, totally Andrea. That was the first time Richard (my husband) met her, he often talks about it when he’s had a couple of drinks. I think he thought he was going to Machu Picchu or something 🙂 Remember this hike we did Shad? After hours of following Felix through the mountains Andrea just decided she’d had enough and walked off down the mountain to some random village in the distance. Classic!

Mark Bobrowicz

Andrea was a very special person. She visited Israel and I took her to the Dead sea and climbed Masada at dawn. She walked the whole way up.

Alex Pompignoli

Here Andrea at home with my brother in 2015. She used to stay home when she came on Paris.

Missing her so much.

Georgianne Gregg

Despite my deep sadness at her death, I am glad to have had the good fortune to know Andrea, be it ever so briefly. I met Andrea through my friend Pauline Pharr, who had been Andrea’s friend during their college days at Brown. At the time we met Pauline was battling her own cancer. After Pauline passed, three years ago, we would meet in the city. There were museums, meals and conversation. Always heady stimulating stuff. Later, I was happy to be able to host Andrea in my Southold, Long Island home. She was a COVID escapee from NYC for a few days (a kind of modern day Fresh Air Child). She visited us twice. Those were special days. After a fairly bleak winter and spring of solation, she brought me a renewed appreciation of where I live and life’s possibilities. We marveled together at a kalamkari wall hanging I had inherited from my parents, and she was “my fabric advisor” as I tried to find a museum home for it. Her enthusiasm, curiosity and interests in all things were infectious and a joy.I shall miss the possibility of more shared time together.

Cassidy Lewis

Andrea was always so amazing. Whenever I’d go visit her at her apartment , she was always so lively and excited about the work that she was doing with textiles. We always talked together about how it meant so much to us to be able to touch and feel the textiles she had, unlike in a museum or other collection where you can only look. Everything with her was always very hands on, the way she worked and the way she interacted with people too. She wrote my recommendation letter for business school while simultaneously trying to convince me it was a waste of money. I’m sad because I couldn’t find a photo of us together, but I have this photo of Andrea from the Washi Paper Kimono Fashion show that she did a few years ago, which was a fabulous show and such a cool concept to have artists create each unique kimono. I will miss her very much.

Steven Dansky

A photograph of Andrea in Santa Fe, 2009.