Date of this Version
From Textiles in Trade: Proceedings of the Textile Society of America Biennial Symposium, September 14–16, 1990, Washington, DC
Textile production in Guatemala has been the focus of a considerable amount of twentieth century literature in the English language. Guatemalan textiles have been avidly collected by museums, universities and private collectors in North America and Europe. Our belief as researchers and collectors is that we are recording and preserving the valuable textile traditions of the indigenous people of Guatemala.
What we often don't realize is that collectively, over time, we are saying as much about our own perspective as outsiders as we are about the Guatemalan people and their textiles. Our choices of what to document and what to collect reflect our own biases. As important as what we choose to study and collect is what we do not select.
One type of textile which is ubiquitous to the region but consistently overlooked is the woollen blanket of Momostenango. Because their format and function are familiar to outsiders and because they are routinely sold to tourists, the blankets and related woollen textiles have not been considered worthy of research or collection. By examining this example of omission, this paper considers our collecting and research practices, particularly as they relate to tourist textiles. The long term impact of our attitudes may be to limit the capacity of the literature and collections to record the full range of textile traditions in Guatemala.
THE MOMOSTENANGO BLANKET
For the purposes of this paper, I am using the Momostenango blanket as an archetypical example of what has generally not been collected among Guatemalan textiles. This paper is not about Momostenango woollen textiles per se but more about our collective attitudes to trade goods, particularly widely distributed items and more particularly, items included in the tourist trade.
For anyone not familiar with the ubiquitous Momostenango blanket, I will provide a brief visual and verbal description. Most blankets commonly seen by visitors are made of a weft faced brushed wool either on a wool or cotton warp. Patterns are created by the use of discontinuous wefts using a dovetail join, or by double faced supplementary wefts. Blanket patterns can also be formed using warp striping, weft striping or twill checks and plaids, although these latter techniques are more common in blankets not aimed at the tourist market.
Patterns include versions of many of the images found in other Guatemalan textiles such as munjecas or human forms, animals such as horse or deer, assorted birds including the tourist industry favoured quetzal, various plant forms and geometries. Colours include natural whites, blacks and grays as well as a variety of commercial dye colours such as blue, red, yellow, brown, purple or green. Natural dyes were used before commercial dyes were available.