The Andes has a weaving tradition of great longevity, spanning more than five millennia, that encompasses nearly every known technique. The textiles displayed here were created by weavers from a succession of independent cultures over a period of more than 1,500 years. Pre-Columbian examples of intact garments are fairly rare, but many fragments have been recovered from tombs located in the arid coastal regions of Peru. The imagery depicted on these textiles is expressive of the highly ceremonial nature of Andean textile art, with references to the plants, animals, and supernatural beings on which life depended. This vibrant and complex iconography is possible because alpaca and vicuña fibers readily accept dye and also permit the weaver to work in intricate detail.
The woven cotton textile with a painted, fanged deity is in the style of the earliest widespread religious cult of the Chavin people. This fragment, which dates from about 400 b.c., may have been found at the coastal site of Karwa, almost 500 miles from the highland center of Chavin de Huantar. Highly portable textiles were an ideal medium for spreading religious beliefs and iconography. About 200–600 a.d., the Paracas people of the South Coast created embroidered textiles that permitted an even broader range of designs. The fragments on display here may have come from the borders of large ceremonial garments such as mantles (see Threads of Time installation on the first floor). Textile designs from the highland Wari people are more abstract, perhaps signifying a language as yet to be deciphered. The Chancay doll, made just prior to the Spanish Conquest in 1532, is the most recent Andean textile in this display, but the idealized portraits of Inca kings included on the wall show garments that reflect the convergence of pre-Columbian and Spanish colonial artistic styles. Weaving continues to be an important art form throughout the Andes, with the widespread use of natural dyes, camelid fibers, and traditional techniques and tools such as the backstrap loom.
A weaving tradition has flourished for nearly two millennia in the Pueblo Indian territory of the southwestern United States, primarily in the present-day states of Arizona and New Mexico. The Hohokam people in southern Arizona cultivated and traded cotton by about 700 a.d. and developed looms about 1000 a.d. Beginning in 1540, Spanish colonization introduced new raw materials and weaving methods, and the advent of the railroad in 1880 led to increased tourism and new demand for textile arts.
Early examples of ancient woven Pueblo textiles dating from about 1100 and discovered in Canyon de Chelly in Arizona were made from plant fibers such as yucca and mesquite. The Anasazi carrying band displayed here dates from a slightly later period when cotton was combined with plant fibers. It would have been worn across the shoulders or forehead to transport a basket or water pot. The zigzag design relates to similar patterns used in basketry and on pottery and may represent lightning, clouds, and other weather phenomena.
Loom weaving facilitated the production of additional garment types, especially ceremonial dance kilts and sashes. Sheep wool and indigo dye, innovations introduced by the Spanish, can be seen in the Hopi man’s dance kilt. These traditional kilts are still made and worn today by men during kachina ceremonial dances. The warp-patterned belt, woven in a technique that the Spanish taught to native weavers in the seventeenth century, was made by a Navajo artist. The fringe, ribbon, and coral bead would have been tucked in to secure the belt.
A selection of textiles from the southwestern United States and the Andean area of South America will be on view from August 1 through November 25, 2007, in the Brooklyn Museum’s Luce Visible Storage Study Center for American Art. Weaving Arts of the Americas, an exhibition of fifteen exquisite textile fragments, features examples of weavings that illustrate technical skill and religious iconography. From the Southwest, Pueblo textiles reflect the historical changes that took place before and after Spanish colonization, when new fibers and weaving techniques were introduced. An example of a pre-Hispanic Anasazi carrying cloth contrasts with later, more colorful textiles such as the ceremonial Navajo belt and Hopi dance kilt also on view.
In the Andes, a great weaving tradition has continued through successive cultures for more than 5,000 years, producing vibrant textiles with representations of complex iconography, often representing real and supernatural animals. Included in the presentation is a rare, painted cotton textile depicting the fanged Chavin deity, an image from one of the earliest known belief systems that flourished in Peru about 400 b.c. Beautifully embroidered examples from the subsequent Paracas coastal culture are on view as well as textiles from a variety of other cultures including Nasca, Wari and Chimu. All portray examples of abstract and realistic figures that were part of the ceremonial nature of these societies. Two paintings representing Inca kings in full regalia illustrate the continuity of the pre-Columbian weaving tradition into the colonial era. Weaving Arts of the Americas has been organized by Georgia de Havenon, Research Associate, Arts of the Americas collection. Other examples from the Brooklyn Museum’s holdings of Andean textiles, considered one of the finest collections of its kind in the world, are on view in the Hall of the Americas.