Monday, March 2, 2015

Cultures of the Ancient Americas; a Series in Parts. Part 5, Textiles and Baskets continued...

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.

Chancay Textiles

The Chancay used llama wool, cotton, and feathers as resources in the spinning and weaving processes. Weaving was used to make everyday items like clothing and bags, as well as specialty items such as funerary masks.  Techniques used to create decoration in fabric included decorated gauzes, brocade, embroidery, and painted woven fabric.  Common motifs included geometric patterns, zoomorphic and marine motifs, and anthropomorphic figurines done in colors of whites, shades of brown and yellow, reds, blues, and greens.  Most popular were the crescent head-dressed "deity" and bird motifs.  Textiles are known from their abundance in Chancay tombs: people with rank had many grave goods, including textiles; commoners had only a few and a bundle with undecorated fabric.

Like craft specialists anywhere today, the Chancay weaver possessed a personal toolkit.  These "weaver's kits" have been recovered in large numbers from funerary contexts and contain remarkably similar items but are not always identical.  The kit includes tools that this weaver used in spinning fibers and weaving, as well as the products of the craft.

Weaver’s Kit
Chancay 900-1430 CE
Central Coast of Peru, Lima Area

This Weaver's Kit contains most things necessary for the weaver to accomplish the task, and it all stows away in one handy lidded basket.  The contents include items for spinning and for weaving.

For spinning:  unworked sticks for use, or fashioning into spindles; a number of decorated and undecorated spindles, with and without spindle whorls; a bundle of spindles wrapped with cord; and spindles with spun fiber wound around the shaft.

For weaving:  a rolled up back strap loom with the weaving attached, and heddles and shed stick in place; a back strap for belting the loom around the waist; a number of shed sticks, battens, picks and other weaving tools.

Some of the finished woven products include a bag, a textile fragment, a bundle of felt, and bundles of cordage and strap that may have served to tether the loom, or just been products of a days' work.  Of some interest, is a variety of "personal possessions" (perhaps granting spiritual protection or insuring success) included in the kit: a gourd, a polished stone, a "God's Eye", a drilled bone, some pendants, and a miniature Cuchimilco.  The latter is of particular note, as these items in a larger size are ubiquitous in Chancay culture (See the Chancay section for an example).  The miniature shares many of the same attributes that characterize the larger Cuchimilco.

Gift of Walter Knox, Scottsdale, AZ

Loom Posts with Carved Finials
Chancay, 1000-1400 CE
Central Coast of Peru, Lima Area

Two wood loom supports have matching carved finials with standing figures that surmount the posts.  The figures wear crescent headdresses similar to other Chancay images.  Unlike some Chancay loom post figures, which can have quite ornate headdresses, these figures have a simplified crescent with rounded and undecorated features.  The overall appearance of the figures is rounded rather than geometric.  Facial features include almond-shaped eyes, a rather large triangular nose, and a simplified expressionless mouth on a rounded face.  Like a guardian of the loom, the figures stand erect, unclothed and unadorned, with arms straight at their sides, and knees bent, but turned straight ahead.

The posts have seven roughly square mortise holes that secured the upper and lower horizontal warp beams of the loom.  The seven positions would allow the beams to be moved up or down for sizing, as well as positioning for work.  This configuration for a fixed-frame loom allows greater flexibility for wider textiles to be woven than is possible with the back strap loom.  It is possible that the special figures on the finials provided some protective advantage for the weavers, or for the spirit of the work or the cloth itself.

Gift of Walter Knox, Scottsdale, AZ

Child’s Poncho, 20" x 36"
Chancay/Inka, 1200-1500 CE
Central Coast of Peru

This textile, a partial split tapestry weave, has an intricate design of many colors.  Of typical construction, two joined woven panels make a larger cloth.  Looking closely, though, this cloth is a patchwork of many small rectangular cloths.  A slit along half the center seam forms an opening to create a poncho or shirt.  The small size may suggest a child's shirt, but unusual in that many children's ponchos lack design and are not dyed.  This dyed fabric is covered with a repeat of designs: many alternating smaller and larger human figures, in tunics, lined up holding hands.  Color combinations of outline and fill vary among the figures' tunics in groups of eight to ten.  The group is repeated in rows across the entire field, seeming to continue indefinitely until a horizontal border, in a red and a dark tan stripe, abruptly stops them.  This is a very complex design for a garment of an ordinary citizen. The poncho confirms the special status of the wearer.

This textile shares much with the ChimĂș textile: the standardized human figure, now in "sickle-shaped" headdress; repeating elements; and alternating inverse patterns.  These features are often seen in Chancay textiles.  Given the quantity found, repeated like-design, construction technique, and spinning characteristics, possibly the textiles were mass produced for the robust regional trade.  Certainly a high level of artistic competence was achieved.  Also, care was taken in piecing this garment to maintain the "line of eight/ten figures" pattern, but the sequencing of color combinations had to be sacrificed in many instances.  Were patches used to extend the life of the garment?  If so, it is evidential that textiles were standardized to such a degree that fabric itself could be recycled for repairs; much like today, excess denim may patch a pair of beloved jeans.

Anonymous gift facilitated by Walter Knox, Scottsdale, AZ

painted textile
Painted Textile, 26" x 52"
Chancay, ca. 900-1200 CE
Central Coast of Peru

This cloth has a natural background and design painted in a light shade of brown.  The lower edge has a border of narrow brocades in alternating shades of brown/cream.  A further adornment, a dark brown woven strip with fringe finish, is sewn to the brocaded edge.  The cloth is constructed from three vertical panels, each with a similar but not identical design, sewn edge to edge to form a horizontal finished piece.  The edge finish was attached to the panels after joining.  Each panel is a loosely woven, gauze-like typical plain-weave, but with a two thread warp and a single thread weft.  Some staining suggests use as a burial cloth; the single-sided edge treatment may indicate an altar cloth or manta.
The complex designs are interesting, geometric forms described as either a snake or lizard.  These three designs share common parts, but the parts are put together differently to create slightly different constructions.  It is unclear how these figures fit into Chancay iconography.  Whether a snake, a lizard, or some other representation, care has been taken to make them similar yet individual in their own right.

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

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