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“Pepper Lady” hits spice routes for latest exhibit of exotic textiles

Dr. Jean Andrews has always had a bit of the wanderlust.

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AUSTIN, TexasDr. Jean Andrews has always had a bit of the wanderlust.

From her 1944 honeymoon in Mexico, where she witnessed a live volcano, Paracutin, to a 1998 camp-out on the way to Timbuktu, the UT Austin graduate has visited more than 100 different countries around the world. On every trip, she takes time to browse through the local markets and shops in search of the best additions for her private trove of textiles and folk art.

An exhibit featuring some of the exotic items collected by Andrews as she traveled the spice routes through the Middle East, Asia and China is currently on display in Mary E. Gearing Hall. The exhibit runs through Feb. 7, 2000. Bedouin garments from Syria and Egypt, a mirrored wedding mask from Gujarat, India, a tunic dress and traditional sandals from Yemen, a child’s hat from Pakistan, a Turkoman pectoral covered with cowerie shells and a copper spice box from India are among the objects displayed.

“The people from these desert countries have very few plants and flowers, so you’ll find that they love to decorate everything — from clothes to tents to the horns on their cows,” said Andrews. “Their garments are richly embroidered in some cases, heavily patterned and always colorful.”

As Andrews shops, she always stops to learn about the history of a piece of clothing or object. In Pakistan, she explained, the bride doesn’t know the groom before the wedding as marriages are arranged. “She will wear an adorned mask to her wedding,” said Andrews.

Also featured in the exhibit is a Turkoman woman’s cape called a Kurteh and worn over the head, a stone spice container carved by the Bedouins and a silver case used by the princes of India to send messages (1858-1947). An iridescent purple and silver silk thread skirt made in Varanasi, Utta Pradesh, India, also is displayed. The gores on this skirt, Andrews pointed out, are individually woven to shape and then sewn together.

Andrews says that she began collecting “stuff” as a child and that her father often accused her of being a pack rat. She has been traveling in earnest since the 1980s and now, on most occasions, she travels alone. “It was difficult traveling at the whims of a husband. It definitely put a crimp on my collecting,” she said.

Early next year, Andrews plans to go to Burma, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Iran, Oman and will go on a camping trip in Ethiopia before visiting Assam and Nagaland.

She also became interested in embroidering as a small girl and organized an embroidery club in her hometown of Kingsville. Andrews later went to UT Austin, where she studied fashion design and earned a bachelor of science degree in home economics. She received a master of science degree in education from Texas AandI University and a Ph.D. in art from the University of North Texas. She was the first woman to be named to the Hall of Honor in the College of Natural Sciences at UT, and also received the Distinguished Alumna Award from UT Austin and from NTU.

Andrews has been called a “Renaissance Woman” in recognition of her many and diverse accomplishments as a naturalist, artist, author and illustrator, lecturer, world traveler, philanthropist and gourmet cook — all of which she did after age 45.

She also is widely known as “The Pepper Lady” for her internationally recognized books on the genus Capsicum (pepper). Sales are still brisk for her book, Peppers: the Domesticated Capsicums. Andrews also is the author of Red Hot Peppers, The Pepper Lady’s Pocket Pepper Primer, Sea Shells of the Texas Coast, Texas Monthly Field Guide to the Shells of the Florida Coast, The Texas Bluebonnet and An American Wildflower Florilegium.

Andrews is a visiting scholar in the UT botany department and she has endowed two visiting professorships — one in botany and one in nutrition. She also has endowed four scholarships as memorials to her daughter. On many occasions, Andrews hosts graduate seminars at her home and gives talks on how to organize research.

In addition to her professional and research activities, Andrews has been a mentor and patron for 17 years to a group of 150 women from the villages of Santa Elena and Monteverde in the mountains north of San Jose, Costa Rica. The group of women produces unique handicrafts and articles of clothing which feature intricate embroidery, needle work and handpainting. Andrews helps collect equipment and also offers instruction in design, sewing and cooking. In appreciation of her efforts and contributions to their community, the women have named their new workshop and sales facility in Monteverde “Doctora Jean Andrews.”

“I was on a bird-watching trip in Costa Rica and stumbled on to the group,” said Andrews. “I recognized immediately that they were hard-working and highly motivated, but lacked direction, design and marketing skills and equipment,” she said. Andrews’ friend, Lady Bird Johnson, once noted that “Jean not only saw the beauty and value of these crafts, but also saw that they could be life-changing for these poor native women and their families.”

NOTE to EDITORS: To request photos of Jean Andrews and the textile exhibit, contact Marsha Miller at marsha@opa.wwh.utexas.edu or visit online at http://www.utexas.edu/news/1999/12/08/nr_andrews/