Woven EnchantmentForty years ago, David Fraser was enchanted by weft-twined Bedouin textiles found in Cairo bazaars. Fraser, an internationally recognized epidemiologist and Swarthmore president from 1982 to 1991, subsequently mastered the weaving technique, the world’s oldest, and wrote the definitive book on the subject. Since 2000, Fraser and his attorney-wife, Barbara, have studied and collected rare antique textiles in the mountainous Southeast Asian settlements of the Zo tribal peoples (also known as Chin), which comprise about 50 related linguistic groups. As the only recent Zo collectors known to have worked in the field, the Frasers have slept on mats, eaten ceremonial mithan (a domesticated ox), and gotten stranded crossing rivers. The research culminated in their award-winning 2005 book, Mantles of Merit: Chin Textiles from Myanmar, India and Bangladesh. Last winter, the Frasers acted as curatorial consultants for a Philadelphia Museum of Art exhibit, which relied heavily on their own collection. Art of the Zo: Textiles from Myanmar, India and Bangladesh featured everyday and ceremonial pieces, including colorful wedding blankets, loincloths, skirts, mantles, and shrouds reflecting the cultural traditions and artistic skill of these groups. A sample work in progress was displayed on a backstrap loom, on loan from Fraser, built by a Zo man. The Frasers plan at least one more collecting trip, this time to the home village of their Yangon, Myanmar-based dealer. Why their shared passion for learning about Zo textiles? “We have no business doing this except that we’re liberally educated,” Fraser says with a smile.