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Columbia Missourian

MU Museum of Art and Archeology weaves past with present

By Lori Marshall
July 14, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA ⎯ The current exhibit at MU’s Museum of Art and Archaeology is not just about showcasing works of art — it’s about showing others how the past and the present are truly connected.

The exhibit, "Pre-Columbian Textile Art: Design that Speaks Today," features ancient Peruvian weaving that dates as far back as 600 CE. It will be displayed through Aug. 2 at the museum, located Pickard Hall at Ninth Street and University Avenue.


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“The exhibit takes (art) and brings it out of the past and puts in the present,” said Mary Pixley, associate curator of the museum. “It makes objects come alive once again … they’re not just pieces of art —they relate to us as humans.”

Pixley said one should not look at the works in a historical sense; rather, one should look at the different techniques used in the pieces. Each piece contains different patterns and colors that represent six different Peruvian cultures.

Different materials were also used in the weaving, including cotton and wool.  The kind of material used symbolized several things about the person adorning them, such as social status, religious beliefs and cultural differences, Pixley said.

“It’s the same today,” she said. “What someone wears tells you about that person.”

Many of the pieces shown are made of vicuña, which Pixley said was the “cashmere” of that time. The vicuña is a relative of the llama that lives in the Andes and is only shorn every three years. 

It is possible that the patterns symbolize other things about the individual cultures, Pixley said, and that they are “still trying to understand many things about those cultures.”

One particular piece also has tassels hanging in perfectly symmetrical rows, which Pixley said really brings “noise” to the piece.

“Culture is not silent,” Pixley said. “When accompanied by music, the movement of the tassels really relates to the music, so they really do become alive.”

Another piece features what they call the “tie-dyed effect,” which is a common pattern seen today. Pixley said this technique is extremely difficult to do on the material used, and would, like most of the pieces, take months or years to complete successfully.

“Beauty can be very simple, but it can also be very complicated,” Pixley said. “The process takes a lot of time … these are not machine-made pieces.”

Woven purses are also displayed, including some used in “mummy bundles.” In ancient Peruvian culture, according to Pixley, the dead were wrapped with textiles made of the materials featured in the exhibit as a way of “honoring and preserving” their bodies.

Many of the designs feature animals or figures meant to be spirits, which relate to many aspects of ancient Peruvian culture. One piece, for example, has a figure that appears to have an octopus on its head, which, according to Pixley, was commonly eaten in that time.

After viewing this exhibit, Pixley said, one should “come away with more sensitivity to fibers, colors and patterns … many of the patterns are still used today.”