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Primitive Patterns & Art

Plate I. The ornaments on this Plate are from portions of clothing made chiefly from the bark of trees. Patterns No. 2 and 9 are from a dress brought by Mr. Oswald Brierly from Tongotabu, the principal of the Friendly Island group. It is made from thin sheets of the inner rind of the bark of a species of hibiscus, beaten out and united together so as to form one long parallelogram of cloth, which being wrapped many times round the body as a petticoat, and leaving the chest, arms, and shoulders bare, forms the only dress of the natives.

Primitive Patterns
Primitive Patterns, Plate I

Nothing, therefore, can be more primitive, and yet the arrangement of the pattern shows the most refined taste and skill. No. 9 is the border on the edge of the cloth; with the same limited means of production, it would be difficult to improve upon it. The patterns are formed by small wooden stamps, and although the work is somewhat rude and irregular in execution, the intention is everywhere apparent; and we are at once struck with the skilful balancing of the masses, and the judicious correction of the tendency of the eye to run in any one direction by opposing to them lines having an opposite tendency.

When Mr. Brierly visited the island one woman was the designer of all the patterns in use there, and for every new pattern she designed she received as a reward a certain number of yards of cloth. The pattern No. 2, from the same place, is equally an admirable lesson in composition which we may derive from an artist of a savage tribe. Nothing can be more judicious than the general arrangement of the four squares and the four red spots. Without the red spots on the yellow ground there would have been a great want of repose in the general arrangement; without the red lines round the red spots to carry the red through the yellow, it would have been still imperfect. Had the small red triangles turned outwards instead of inwards, the repose of the pattern would again have been lost, and the effect produced on the eye would have been that of squinting; as it is, the eye is centred in each square, and centred in each group by the red spots round the centre square.

The stamps which form the pattern are very simple, each triangle and each leaf being a single stamp: we thus see how readily the possession of a simple tool, even by the most uncultivated, if guided by an instinctive observation of the forms in which all the works of Nature are arranged, would lead to the creation of all the geometrical arrangements of form with which we are acquainted. On the upper left-hand corner of pattern No. 2, the eight-pointed star is formed by eight applications of the same tool; as also the black flower with sixteen pointing inwards and sixteen pointing outwards .

The most complicated patterns of the Byzantine, Arabian, and Moresque mosaics would be generated by the same means. The secret of success in all ornament is the production of a broad general effect by the repetition of a few simple elements; variety should rather be sought in the arrangement of the several portions of a design, than in the multiplicity of varied forms.

Plaited Straw Pattern
Plaited Straw Pattern, from the Sandwich Islands.

In both there would remain a greater variety and individuality than in subsequent processes, which would become more mechanical. The first notions of weaving, which would be given by the plaiting of straws or strips of bark, instead of using them as thin sheets, would have equally the same result of gradually forming the mind to an appreciation of a proper disposition of masses: the eye of the savage, accustomed only to look upon Nature's harmonies, would readily enter into the perception of the true balance both of form and color; in point of fact, we find that it is so, that in savage ornament the true balance of both is always maintained.

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