by Sally Cohen
For 40 years, Claudia Raab of Mt Airy has been collecting world textiles. Her periodic “Avante Yarde Sales” at her home on Carpenter Lane were near-famous among a circle of several hundred devotees.
This weekend — Oct. 26-28 — she will sell a major chunk of her collection at a pop-up shop in West Mt Airy. Now 62, she has “decided to go Zen … and simplify.” The shop will be open Friday, 5-7 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 9-6 p.m., at the Greene on Greene building in West Mt Airy.
She will be joined by several other specialized collectors. The event coincides with a big vintage/industrial Open Air Market down the street, organized by Philadelphia Salvage Company at its emporium and its neighboring lumber yard.
As Claudia recalled in an interview this week at her colorful home in Mt Airy, by the time she was in kindergarten her mother, Anita Raab Mednick, dressed her in world clothing — embroidered blouses from Oaxaca, silver tribal jewelry from Rajastan and smocked dresses from a Polish seamstress in their Elkins Park neighborhood. Anita was similarly festooned.
As a teenager, Claudia swathed herself in ethnic clothing and jewelry, bold African prints, long Indian earrings, hand-stitched Romanian coats and as much embroidery as she could apply to her body at one time.
“I am an embroidery fiend,” she said, laughing.
This day she was wearing antique Berber bracelets and vintage Mexican earrings while she delivered the first installment of materials in anticipation of the upcoming pop up event: She had just hung a gypsy mirrored dress from the Banjara tribe in northern India in the display window facing Greene Street by Carpenter Lane.
In her 20s, she took courses in weaving and textiles at Penland Crafts School, near Asheville, North Carolina. “It made me much more aware of how everything was made. I learned to spin and dye and all sorts of modern sculptural techniques as well as early styles of needlework.”
Over the years, she has brought back textiles and folk art from travels in Haiti, India and Pakistan, Southeast Asia, Peru, Bolivia and regularly scouted the burgeoning folk art markets in the U.S. From 1990-92, she was the proprietor of what “the small-and-crammed” Erzuli Folk Art in Chestnut Hill.
She is selling many of the pieces she has saved and savored for herself over the years. From Bolivian milkmaid beaded jackets to Haitian voodoo flags to fine block print cottons from India and Hungarian redwork embroideries, they will be on sale throughout the weekend.
A singer and performer herself, Claudia quickly learned to play musical instruments during her travels, including the Bolivian “charango,” a small, eight-stringed, guitar-like instrument with an armadillo shell for the body; and “bombo,” a huge drum with a goat skin head.
She also sings folk music from over the world. Andean music particularly appeals to her, although early American music has become a more recent favorite.
Claudia will be on hand to tell you the history of each piece she has collected.
“You just don’t see this kind of work anymore,” Claudia said. “A lot of this material represents the traditions that have since diminished.”
Joining Claudia will be a longtime colleague of Claudia’s, Dave Miller, the Andalusia Bookman, from Andalusia, Pennsylvania. A rare book dealer, he will be selling a selection of vintage paper ephemera and old books.
Full disclosure: Your writer confesses that before the interview ended, I purchased a pair of Hmong farmers pants, embroidered with intense fields of cross-stitching. Someone loved that farmer and the land they cultivated.
Also, Saturday’s “Fall Revelry” down the street at 522 Carpenter Lane will feature, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., 14 creative, local and industrial producers will sell their wares. For more information, call 215-842-1040 or firstname.lastname@example.org.