November 8, 2008  Yolanda Alcorta and Ana Maria Zaugg: Color and Symbol Evolution in Maya Textiles.

Weaving demonstration by Sabina Ramirez, Master weaver from Nebaj, Quiche

            Yolanda Alcorta, and Ana Maria Zaugg, Co-Vice-Presidents, and both former Presidents of the Friends of the Ixchel Museum, discussed Guatemalan weaving traditions, bringing beautiful samples of Maya weaving from their own collections, as well as the Collection of the Friends of the Ixchel Museum.  The presentation was highlighted by a weaving demonstration by Sabina Ramirez, master weaver from Nebaj, Quiche, who hung her back strap loom from the entry door of Room 345. Sabina has taught weaving at museums and with United Nations special projects. In 1989, Ms. Ramirez was named Ixil Princess, and  Rabinajau in 1991.
            Following an overview of the crucial mission of the Friends of the Ixchel Museum, Ana Maria Zaugg   introduced the three basic weaving styles: back strap loom weaving, as demonstrated by Ms. Ramirez, foot loom weaving, and Ikat, which involves weaving with sectioned, tie-dyed lengths of cotton thread.  She then introduced several woven motifs which have been in use from ancient times. The offering plate motif, most commonly seen on huipiles from Comalapa and Tecpan, represents a plate holding ritual offerings such as fruits, bread or corn ears. The plate can be seen in post classic codices, holding tamales or birds, and is used today in the ceremonies of traditional religious organizations. A second motif is the cornstalk; on many huipiles, the cornstalk is woven next to a male doll figure, and it would be traditionally paired with a female doll figure and a spider, the weaver. Other motifs discussed were the traditional Tree of Life and the double-headed eagle; the latter adapted from pattern books after the Spanish Conquest.  Yolanda Alcorta illustrated as many of the styles and motifs discussed as possible with woven samples from her collection, and that of the FOIM.  She also discussed the changes in woven style and color over time in the villages of highland Guatemala.  Using the village of Santa Caterina Polopol as an example, she traced the change from a traditional even red and white striped back round to a gradual narrowing of the white stripe, to a sudden change to blues. The introduction of acrylic threads sped up the weaving process, and brought in more modern brilliant colors like turquoise and teal. Fifteen years ago, huipiles were primarily aqua and blue; now dark purple has been added.  Yolanda noted that the wearing of huipiles in other than ceremonial activities has become more acceptable again, and that the Ixchel Museum, FOIM and master weavers such as Sabina Ramirez are working hard to foster the continuation of the weaving tradition.  Many thanks to our speakers for what was surely one of the liveliest and visually stunning meetings we have had!
            The Friends of the Ixchel Museum was formed in 1984, in order to promote interest in the Guatemalan weaving tradition and the Museo Ixchel, in Guatemala City, as well as aiding in the understanding, preservation and protection of Mayan textiles. The Friends have assisted in mounting traveling exhibits, have produced books, translated scholarly monographs into English, as part of a long range plan to document every weaving village, and helped the Ixchel Museum to develop a textile conservation lab.  In addition, the Friends sustain the Pro-Teje project, which makes good quality weaving financially rewarding to Maya weavers by supplying them with free thread and technical assistance, plus payment for their products. In 2007, the Friends of the Ixchel Museum received the International Queen Sofía Award for Conserving and Restoring Cultural Heritage, for their outstanding work for the defense, documentation, recovery of crafts and conservation of the Mayan textile traditions in Guatemala.

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