Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Textile Narratives & Conversions: Proceedings of the 10th Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America, October 11–14, Toronto, Ontario


Copyright 2006 by the author.


Among the treasures in the Brooklyn Museum is an ancient cloth from the South Coast of Peru: 38.121, sometimes known as “The Paracas Textile,” and now more often as “The Brooklyn Museum Textile” (BMT) (fig. 1.). First acquired by a Peruvian collector around 1912, the cloth shuttled between New York and Paris in the 1920’s and 30’s, inspiring great interest and numerous studies. One of these, Raoul d’Harcourt’s Textiles of Ancient Peru and their Techniques (1934), has been in reprint since 1962, and continues to intrigue fresh audiences.

The BMT was one of several spectacular fabrics that spurred archeological exploration of the arid South Coast of Peru, resulting in the 1925 discovery of the cemeteries of the Paracas peninsula, where wrapped “mummy bundles” contained hundreds of fabulous cloths (Paul 1990, 1991). The BMT’s imagery relates to Paracas Necropolis embroideries, but it is also closely allied in technique and imagery with art from the Nasca valley, and dated to Nasca 2: approximately 100 – 200 AD (Silverman 2002: 83).

The entire BMT is completely reversible and perfectly finished on both faces. It was made in two parts: a transparent, open plainweave central cloth with a regular design of 32 stylized faces is surrounded by a dense, sculptural cross-looped “frame” showing a parade of 92 tiny figures, each about as tall as a finger. The outside dimensions are about 2’ x 5’.