Due to extremely dry costal deserts and the burial customs of many ancient cultures, Peru is blessed to have some of the best preserved ancient textiles in the world. The condition of fibers and colors is astounding as many pieces appear to have been made only yesterday.
Many ancient cultures along Peru’s northern coast developed textiles to a great extent, but it is the Chavín who are generally given credit for the invention of the backstrap loom and many of the techniques that weavers in the Andes still use today. Their realm of influence extended over most of the coast of modern day Peru and the Chavín’s plain-cloth, painted textiles depicting their deities have been found in sites far flung from their capital at Chavin de Huantar.[i]
Chronologically following the Chavín, the Paracas and Nazca cultures are best known for their stunning embroideries and tapestries. Preserved in underground tombs on the southern desert coast where these two cultures flourish, their textiles inform much of what we know about the Paracas and Nazca as they did not develop a written language like other pre-Columbian cultures.[ii]
The Wari, a highly war-like people based in the highlands, were the predecessors of the Inca, extending their empire throughout much of modern day Peru. Today they are world renown for their highly abstract tapestries depicting deities and other cultural concepts. Their textiles look so surprisingly modern for a reason: the Bauhaus school and other early 20th century modern artists were influenced by the abstraction they observed in Wari tapestries.[iii]
The Chimú, who flourished on the northern coast of Peru and were conquered by the Inca, are of particular importance to modern day Andean weavers as many of the designs they weave can be traced back to this pre-Incan culture. Chimú designs often represent costal flora and fauna inside of geometrical patterns.[iv]
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[i] María Ysabel Medina Castro and Roberto Gheller Doig, Textiles of Ancient Peru, (Peru: Serinsa, 2005), 40.
[ii] Anne Paul, “Procedures, Patterns, and Deviations in Paracas Embroidered Textiles: Traces of the Creative Process,” in To Weave for the Sun, ed. Margaret Jupe (New York: Thames and Hudson, Inc., 1992), 25-32.
[iii] Rebecca Stone-Miller, “Creative Abstractions: Middle Horison Textiles in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston,” in To Weave for the Sun, ed. Margaret Jupe (New York: Thames and Hudson, Inc., 1992), 35-41.
[iv] Ann Pollard Rowe, Costumes and Featherwork of the Lords of Chimor: Textiles from Peru’s North Coast, (The Textile Museum, Washington, D.C., 1984), 13-34.