Sunday, January 30, 2011

Pre-Columbian textiles

All fiber artists, no matter how contemporary their sensibilities and leanings, must have soft spots in their hearts for the magnificent ancient textiles that have survived, against all the odds, across the centuries in a few fortunate spots on the globe.  I had the pleasure of seeing a treasure trove of such textiles recently in Santiago, Chile, at the Museum of Pre-Columbian Art.

Curiously, the museum has gathered artifacts from all the South and Central American civilizations, not just from the Andes.  But most of the textiles were from Peru and Chile.  I don't know enough about the various peoples and empires that succeeded each other in the pre-Columbian eras to distinguish among them, so I'll dispense with the geographical identifications and just tell you the dates.

Much of the Andes mountains is desert, and the low humidity has contributed to the remarkable longevity of these textiles.  Considering how enthusiastically my jeans fray and disintegrate at the hem and how frequently I encounter a rotten piece of cloth in a flea market or old box, I am always amazed to see fabrics and garments that have hung on for millenia.  Perhaps because the Inca didn't treat their yarns with formaldehyde for wrinkle-resistance.

I don't know enough about weaving to appreciate the nuances of technique, but I can savor the richness of the colors, the uniformity of the weave, the intricacy of the pattern.  My photos may be marred by reflections from the glass, but I think you'll share my wonder and delight at these specimens.

the classic Peruvian motifs 900-1470 AD

painted onto plain-weave cotton  900-700 BC

more classic patterns; cotton/llama yarns 400-600 AD

 funeral cloth, llama yarn  500-700 AD

shirt border band  cotton/llama  600-800 AD

cotton/llama  200-400 AD

weft-face tapestry, shirt fragment


and my favorite -- yes, it's tie-dye!

1 comment:

  1. Loved the last image in your post on textiles. I remember seeing this and sketching it in my sketchbook in the days before we had these wonderful pocket cameras. Alas, I have never done anything with the imagery. Maybe you will inspire me.