The Chancay people lived in the central coastal region of Peru during the Late Intermediate Period (1000-1460 CE), where they were prolific, highly skilled weavers best-known for complex, finely woven textiles. The Chancay wrapped their dead with multiple layers of fine clothing and elaborate fabrics, which have been well-preserved from ancient times by the arid coastal climate of the western Andean region. Unfortunately, the cemeteries of the Chancay are well-marked, and the modern-day Chancay and Chillon Valleys are pock-marked with looted, desecrated graves, while scraps of ancient fabrics destroyed by the treasure-hunters frequently blow into nearby modern communities.
Inhabitants of these communities, many of whom are direct descendants of the ancient Andeans, have found a way to salvage the scraps of fine cloth made by the ancestors, and also to earn a living, by transforming the scraps into cloth dolls for the tourist trade. The local artisans create an armature of sticks, cloth, or paper, which they wrap with scrap cloth to form the body. They embroider a face on the doll, and then they use more of the cloth scraps to fashion traditional clothing on the figures, including headbands, veils, tops, skirts or pants, and aprons; they also often attach additional crafted features including baby figures, backstrap looms, flutes, or panpipes, or they may arrange the figures in groups or scenes. These “Chancay dolls,” as they are known, are easily discernible from grave figures made by the ancient Chancay, which are also made from cloth, but have woven features. The contemporary “Chancay dolls” also serve the additional purpose of preserving the discarded scraps of Chancay cloth, which provide small samples of Chancay skill and workmanship that may be studied and analyzed by scholars.
The weaver who made the apron on this Chancay doll used only a plain weave and three shades – tan, light brown, and deep brown –to create an intricate pattern of stripes in varying widths. Also adding interest is the addition of diamond shapes, created by embroidering a long stitch of fine, four-ply tan thread onto the widest brown stripe and then splitting it in two and tacking it down each side.
The mother figure in this Chancay doll family wears a pink apron that illustrates both an interesting cloth-decorating technique and an important character. The cloth is plain-weave, but the fabric was dyed pink and then painted with a dark brown figure whose lower half is preserved in this apron. The figure may have been formed using stamps or a wax resist method. The character portrayed is a human figure with a frontal stance, splayed feet, and arms held akimbo to the sides, and the figure wears an image of an apron and possibly a belt. While the figure’s hands appear empty, this image may be the portrayal of an important Andean character known as the “staff god,” as two brown spots or stains may indicate something being held in the outstretched arms.
This mother figure’s apron cloth is a complex weave that combines a double, woolen warp (the stationary, vertical threads on a loom) along with a cotton weft (the horizontal threads that are woven through the warp). This combination twice the wool and half the cotton allows for the warmth of wool with the ease of weaving smooth cotton. However, the design is also complex, forming geometric shapes using triangles, diamonds, and spirals or frets, which together outline larger, diamond-shaped designs. The double warp-faced weaving method not only creates a thicker, more luxurious cloth, but it also hides the weft threads and creates a reverse-color version of the same design on the back of the fabric.
The mother figure wears a headband that is a tiny piece from a much larger textile. Finely woven of cotton, the fragment shows an elaborate zoomorphic motif composed of geometric shapes that form long, snake-like designs with pointed ears and feline faces. Despite the complexity of the weave and of the design, this motif was a relatively common and popular design in Andean textiles. The modern artisan who created this Chancay doll carefully cut and positioned this scrap of cloth to highlight the complexity of the motif as a headband design.
The lacy veil worn by the mother figure is a uniquely Chancay invention. Stretch gauze lace is a specialized weave developed by the Chancay and intended for special purposes such as funerary ritual. Woven using a discontinuous warp, weavers created repeating images within the gauze, such as animals or complex geometric patterns. Once the textile was removed from the loom and the thread tension was released, however, the images are no longer legible. This remnant is unfortunately too small for the viewer to discern any images formed in the gauze, but the piece is unusual in its multiple deep colors, as most gauze textiles are monochromatic in either white or brown.
For more information, you may contact the researcher(s) noted in the title of this exhibit entry, or Dr. Billie Follensbee, the professor of the course, at BillieFollensbee@MissouriState.edu