The production of Mesoamerican textiles dates back to about 1000 B.C.E., as shown by textile impressions in ancient pottery sherds. Although actual ancient samples of textiles have not survived the tropical climate of Mesoamerica, Pre-Columbian sculptural depictions and paintings of figures wearing woven costume indicate that textiles were decorative, highly valued, and used to show elite status since the Pre-Classic/Formative period (1500 B.C.E.-250 C.E.). Both ethnohistoric and ethnographic information indicates that textile-making was traditionally identified with women and was primarily a female occupation. Elaborate weaving tools of gold, jade, and other precious materials, meanwhile, reveal that skilled weaving was a high-status occupation for the elite.
Mesoamericans continue to produce highly skilled, traditional textiles in contemporary times, both to preserve and continue their cultural heritage and to earn an income through the tourist trade. Nevertheless, textile-making was not and is not a static artform; throughout their history, Mesoamerican weavers have adopted and adapted new materials, techniques, and designs as they have become available through interaction and trade, and they have developed new forms to appeal to potential customers. Men have also become more active in making textiles in contemporary times, using the traditional backstrap loom, but also using treadle loom, or foot loom, which was imported from Europe.
This rug-like textile has a woven-in or tapestry-style design that has been identified by the artist as the “little mountains” pattern. Among the most prominent motifs is the zigzag-and-dot, which reference mountains–a popular motif among the Zapotec and the apparent source of this pattern’s name. Also included are large, serrated diamond shapes, sometimes known as spiny star designs, which reference the creation of the world, life, and the four directions. Researched by Clara Komrosky-Licata
The coatl or serpent motif has a long history in Mesoamerican belief systems, referring not only to natural serpents, but also to Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent deity and the deification of the planet Venus; this god originated in the Valley of Mexico, but spread to many other Mesoamerican cultures. The coatl symbol also relates to Tlaloc, the god of rain, for whom the zigzagging serpent represented lightning. The bold serpent motif on this rug has a plume emerging from its head, which may indicate that this is, in fact, a representation of Quetzalcoatl. Researched by Clara Komrosky-Licata
The sarape originated in the northern Mexican town of Saltillo as a poncho or shawl worn around the shoulders of Spanish Colonial caballeros, or gentlemen. During the Mexican Revolution, these garments evolved into common dress and became a symbol of independence and Mexican nationality. Today sarapes are produced throughout Mexico, and many incorporate the traditional colorful stripes of Saltillo sarapes. This sarape also includes a register of simple anthropomorphic figures across the center. Researched by Clara Komrosky-Licata
As described by the artist, this Maya blanket illustrates a contemporary Maya religious myth. In this myth, a group of animals were sent to look for the Holy Chalice. First, the deer were sent to find the chalice, but they failed. Finally, the rabbits were sent to look for the chalice, and they found it. On this blanket, the landscape is represented by triangles and plant motifs, and stylized deer stand above and below the center. In the center is a diamond-shaped motif; the artist identified this motif as a metate—the traditional stone mortar on which corn is ground into meal–that is standing in for the chalice in the story. On either side of the metate are the rabbits that were successful in finding the chalice.
Because of the imagery used to depict this story, this textile appears to show a Christian interpretation of a Pre-Columbian myth. First, a traditional Maya metate stands in for a Christian Holy Chalice. And second, as noted in the other explorations of Maya motifs in this exhibit, the diamond motif used to represent the metate is a Pre-Columbian symbol of the sun moving around the sky, of the cosmos or universe, and of the four cardinal directions. Researched by Clara Komrosky-Licata
This textile is an excellent example of backstrap loom weaving. A rebozo is a traditional woman’s garment that is worn as a shawl, but that also may be used to carry babies or large bundles. This rebozo is finely woven of cotton, which is lightweight but strong, and the ends feature a detailed, deep blue decorative floral design. Researched by Clara Komrosky-Licata
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