Dr. Mattiebelle Gittinger
December 5, 1932 – October 16, 2023
Dr. Mattiebelle S. Gittinger was one of the foremost researchers and scholars in the field of Southeast Asian textiles. Beginning in the 1960s, she conducted extensive fieldwork across Southeast Asia, India, Myanmar (Burma), Europe and the Middle East. Dr. Gittinger was one of the founding Board members of the Textile Society of America and served as its president from 1995-1996. She chaired multiple conferences on South Asian textile traditions and served in leadership positions within the field.
As Research Associate for Southeast Asian Textiles at The Textile Museum (Washington, DC) for more than four decades, Dr. Gittinger helped build the Museum’s collection of Southeast Asian material into one of the finest holdings in the world. In 2022, she and her husband, Dr. J. Price Gittinger II, added to those holdings by contributing their personal textile collection and groundbreaking field research to the museum’s Arthur D. Jenkins Library.
Dr. Gittinger researched, curated, and organized numerous exhibitions at The Textile Museum, with accompanying catalogues, including Out of Southeast Asia: Art that Sustains (2013); Textiles for this World and Beyond: Treasures from Insular Southeast Asia (2005); Textiles and the Tai Experience in Southeast Asia (1992-3); Master Dyers to the World: Technique and Trade in Early Indian Dyed Cotton Textiles (1982-3); and Splendid Symbols: Textiles and Tradition in Indonesia (1979).
In 2009, she received the George Hewitt Myers Award for her lifetime achievements in textile arts, with opening remarks from H.E. Sudjadnan Parnohadiningrat, Ambassador of the Republic of Indonesia. In subsequent years she continued working, conducting fieldwork in Southeast Asia.
Mattiebelle met her husband Price while she was an undergraduate student at Iowa State University. He was a graduate student studying agricultural economics and later obtained his PhD. They were married in March 1954 and quickly began their lifetime of international travel and adventures. In 1965, Mattiebelle conducted her first fieldwork in the Lesser Sunda Islands (Indonesia). She later conducted fieldwork throughout Southeast Asia, including Bhutan, Burma, China, India, Indonesia, Laos, and Vietnam. Her final field research was in Hainan, China in 2006.
She earned her M.A. and Ph.D. in Art History from Columbia University (NY) in 1968 and 1972, respectively.
During his career, Price worked for the World Bank, with assignments that included the couple living in Iran, Vietnam, and Indonesia. While living in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), their work and social lives took place against the environment darkening towards war. Mattiebelle taught at the American School where teachers preceded students out the doors after classes to buses, acting as human shields against potential Viet Cong snipers.
Mattiebelle and Price traveled extensively and often along less-traveled routes. Their diverse transportation modes included Indonesian river boats, Cambodian elephants, and tuk-tuks. In 1969, Mattiebelle (who never drove) purchased a new Volkswagen at its German factory. Price flew to meet her, and together they drove through Europe, the Balkans, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan to India. When they finally left India, they drove to Mumbai (Bombay), put the VW on a boat, shipped it to California, and then drove it to Washington, DC in the early 1970s. They resided there for more than forty years until moving to a nearby Maryland retirement community.
Throughout their travels, the couple were avid and well-educated collectors. In addition to their contributions to The Textile Museum, they donated collections to the National Museum of Asian Art (Washington, DC) and the Museum Tekstil (Jakarta, Indonesia).
Mattiebelle enjoyed botany, birdwatching, gardening, and was an excellent cook. She loved her research carrel in the Library of Congress. In the U.S., she and Price continued to enjoy long drives, and made frequent summer visits to Crested Butte (Colorado).
She was born Mattiebelle Stimson on December 5, 1932, in Des Moines, Iowa, to Esther and Lowell Stimson. She passed away on October 16, 2023, and is survived by her husband, J. Price Gittinger II; her two sisters, Shirley Jean Stimson Foster, and Sharron Kay Stimson Goulding (Robert), and their children: Alan Foster (Kathi Marts-Foster), Michelle Foster (John Davenport), Denise Holck (Alan), Brad Goulding (Lori), Wendy Gatti (David), David Foster (Linda), Heather Goulding (Jack Hayes), and eleven great-nieces and nephews.
There will be a private memorial service in her honor.