Thursday, February 19, 2015

Cultures of the Ancient Americas, a series in parts. Part 5 Textiles and Baskets

The Arizona Museum of Natural History has recently received major donations of objects from the American Southwest, Mesoamerica, and the Andes region of South America. The museum has opened a new exhibition, Cultures of the Ancient Americas, created solely from the new gifts. These magnificent objects offer insights into the cultures that produced them and underscore the monumental achievements of ancient peoples from New Mexico to Bolivia. We also celebrate the extraordinary generosity of our donors, who made the exhibition possible. Moche materials are the gift of Walter Knox of Scottsdale, AZ. Over the next several weeks AzMNH’s Museum Musings will highlight these objects and the cultures they represent, and suggest the special experience awaiting visitors to the exhibition.

Chimú Textiles

Textiles from cotton, llama and vicuña wool, but mostly alpaca wool, were usually woven in a plain weave.  Fibers were typically dyed with red (cochineal) and other bright colors (plants and minerals).  Single rectangular pieces of cloth became loincloths, shirts, tunics, ponchos and bags. 
 Embellishments included brocades, embroidery, paint, feathers, gold or silver plates.  Garments of the elite might be adorned with feathers or metallic appliqués.  Sea birds and aquatic life were common motifs, reflecting this coastal group's relationship to the sea; also spirals, geometrics, and stylized humans. Some elements occurred in earlier Moche culture.  Textile designs are repeated in architectural wall reliefs. Great quantities of textiles were buried with the Chimú dead.

Woven Blanket with Eight Figures, 40" x 84"
Lambayeque/Chimú, ca. 1000-1400 CE
North Coast of Peru

This plain-weave blanket has a design of eight embroidered human/mythical figures.  Four figures appear in each row, alternating in an inverse red and cream pattern; the pattern alternates again by row.  Each figure wears a single crescent headdress and ear spools.  The blanket ends are decorated with a striped border, embellished with woven bird effigies that alternate in an inverse yellow and brown pattern.  The primary decoration is framed by these borders and the red finishing fringe. Stains on the surface may be from human decomposition indicating use as a shroud.

The figures resemble what is known as a Peruvian moon animal; they share the crescent headdress associated with this being.  The moon animal is often represented in animal form but can appear as a human.  The pattern of alternating "positive" and "negative" figures may reflect a tendency for the moon animal to appear in pairs or may just provide contrast.  Moon animals are found in the Moche period in a variety of forms.  Typical Chimú design characteristics include: repeating elements; alternating inverse patterns; standardized human figures in a front-facing pose, arms outstretched, legs bent and feet turned out.  Ear spools are objects commonly found in the Chimú area.

(Join us in 2 weeks for a continuation of Textiles and Baskets)

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