Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Textile Society of America 9th Biennial Symposium (2004)


Presented at “Appropriation • Acculturation • Transformation,” Textile Society of America 9th Biennial Symposium, Oakland, California, October 7-9, 2004. Copyright 2004 Textile Society of America.


In the 5th century BCE, Heraclitus wrote, “Everything in time begets its opposite.” The history of the Carson colchas of New Mexico appears to follow that axiom. Under a range of epithets from “fake” to “authentic,” these embroideries evolved during the 1930s as marketable (alternately enigmatic) replications or copies of 19th century Spanish colonial textiles to finally emerge as a distinctly recognized, legitimate genre of traditional Hispanic needlework in the late 20th century. These pieces were originally associated with the Carson community dominated by a clan of Mormon brothers married to Hispanic sisters, which created a complex intermingling of Anglo Mormon entrepreneurial guidance with Hispanic and Anglo artistic collaboration.

My presentation traces the evolution of the Carson colcha legacy as the calculated invention of a Mormon trader who saw an opportunity to create historically “authentic” embroideries from the remnants of genuine Spanish colonial textiles. In the process, appropriation encompasses everything from reusing yarn and patching together original foundation fabrics to borrowing iconography while simulating a particular aesthetic system. Carson designers and stitchers then acculturated neotraditional imagery (Catholic saints and rituals) and ethnic emblems (e.g., Native American) to create eclectic embroideries with immediate visual impact and identifiable symbolic content that met tourist demands for exotic yet “culturally expressive” textiles.

This paper explores the consequences of the circulation of a cultural artifact predicated on an interpretation of authenticity, created from artifice, subject to scholarly skepticism, and eventually transformed over time to become the basis of an independent artistic trend, or at least a viable colcha embroidery subgroup.