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A Mano/By Hand, the ambitious textiles exhibition on display at Denver’s Museo de las Americas through January 13, celebrates the detail and spirituality of folk art and indigenous weaving traditions from the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. With curator and executive director Maruca Salazar at the helm, the exhibition also examines the cultural significance of using ancient looming techniques to create contemporary designs. In fact, it’s the tension of that duality that makes this an affecting, not-to-be-missed immersion into the art and ethos of eight countries across the Americas.
Featuring textiles from Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, Mexico, Panama, Peru, and the Hopi and Navajo tribes of the American southwest, pieces from the Museo’s permanent collection are displayed alongside weavings by contemporary designers like Marisol Centeno of the Mexican textile cooperative Bi Yuu. Centeno’s collection of seven rugs, Viaje Al Hilo, draws on the ancient weaving styles of Oaxaca and uses dyes from plants, insects, and minerals to create vivid colors (Cochineal—little bugs that live in cacti and secrete a rich magenta color when dried and boiled—are shown in raw form in a jar at the exhibit).
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But there’s an important difference between Centeno’s recent creations and the weavings of yore: Traditional textiles were created to honor the spirituality and cultural significance behind the designs, whereas contemporary works are detached from this symbolism. You’ll see the difference even in the final products. Traditional designs (created up to 500 years ago) are on blankets, which serve to warm and shelter an individual; contemporary patterns (created starting in the 1960s) are on rugs, which serve to protect the floor beneath ones’ feet.
“This exhibition is a reminder for current artists to go back and see what has been done in the past, the strategies and techniques in palettes and colors. [We are asking them] to review their sense of history and understanding of textiles in order to put value on the ancient creations,” Salazar says.
It’s also an opportunity to simply take in the exquisite craftsmanship of these culturally significant designs, to compare the differences in works between masters and students, and even to view natural dyes and wool in their original forms. The 60 textiles on exhibit carry the imperfections and uniqueness of human-made creations—beautiful, authentic manifestations of what the mind can envision and the hand can create.
If you go: A Mano/By Hand is on display through January 13 at Museo de las Americas, 861 Santa Fe Dr.; 303-571-4401; museo.org