Skip to main content
Crafts
Cusco Textiles
Weavers use natural dyes to create brilliant colors for their textiles.
Weavers use natural dyes to create brilliant colors for their textiles.
Photo by Josué Castilleja, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives

In the 1970s, weavers from the Chinchero community formed a group to revitalize and reinforce the traditional textiles of the region, which were decreasing in quality and using synthetic dyes. In 1996, Nilda Callañaupa Álvarez created the Centro de Textiles Tradicionales del Cusco, where she says weavers “share their knowledge and techniques with young people and ... sell their products at prices that do justice to the quality and inherent value of the weaving.”

The center works with ten communities, bringing together weavers and their families to highlight their distinctive designs and engage in skill-building, networking, marketing exercises, workshops, and demonstrations. The center also has a school for young girls and a museum.

Weaving Process

The weaving process begins with shearing llamas, alpacas, and sheep, and then washing the fiber. From a young age, children participate in spinning the fiber into yarn. The yarn is dyed with natural colors and then is ready for the awana, or loom, where the weaver can create different designs.

Textile Designs

The designs are inspired by the weaver’s surroundings: agriculture, astronomy, flora and fauna, and society. “It is about the hand-crafted garment, made thread by thread, piece by piece,” says Álvarez. “Each section has its own life, the reflection of the spirit, skill, and personal history of its creator.”

Crisscrossed with paths connecting communities across geography and history, Peru boasts a stunning vertical landscape that integrates a diversity of ecosystems and cultures. Peru is one of the world’s most biodiverse nations, containing ninety microclimates across extreme variances of altitude. The coastal, rain-forested, and mountainous environments provide abundant resources, including major exports such as fish, copper, and asparagus. Many culturally and historically significant areas are popular tourist destinations that encompass complex layered histories.

The uniqueness of Peru’s diversity lies in the connectedness of its landscape in the form of rivers, roads, and pathways that existed long before the Inka Empire (fifteenth–sixteenth centuries) and Spanish colonization (sixteenth–nineteenth centuries). Across its different altitudes and climates, communities exchange commodities and practices, shaping deeply rooted but constantly changing daily customs and celebrations. The influx and movement of people between and beyond borders also influence and transform these exchanges.

The 2015 Peru program featured projects, organizations, and groups whose cultural expressions highlight these social, cultural, and economic exchanges. It demonstrated how the networks of celebration and community, crops and markets, textile and craft production, foodways and technology, and music and dance forge the diverse cultural heritage of the country.

Visitors to the Peru Festival program could experience these unique connections through cooking and craft demonstrations, music and dance performances, moderated discussions, ritual and celebratory processions, and other participatory activities. In addition, there was a robust involvement with Peruvian American and diaspora communities. The public had the opportunity to learn, to eat, to dance, to shop, to witness these vibrantly connected cultures, and to create their own connections with Peruvian artists and specialists on the National Mall and beyond.

Olivia Cadaval and Cristina Díaz-Carrera were Curators for the Smithsonian; Rafael Varón Gabai was Curator and Consultant to MINCETUR. Valentina Pilonieta-Vera was Program Coordinator; Alexia Fawcett was Community Engagement Manager, and Betty Belanus was Family Activities Curator. A Curatorial Advisory Committee included: Madeleine Burns, Marjorie Hunt, Mary Linn, Luis Guillermo Lumbreras, Giancarlo Marcone, Soledad Mujica, Diana N’Diaye, Luis Repetto, Marcela Ríos, Daniel Sheehy, Jorge Ortiz Sotelo, Milagritos Saldarriaga, Francisco Tumi, and Madeleine Zúñiga. A Community Advisory Group included: Catherine Cabel Chicas, Nelly Carrión, Billy Castillo, Kristy Chavez-Fernandez, Fabiana Chiu- Rinaldi, María del Carmen Cossu, Miguel García, Elmer Huerta, Vicky Leyva, Doris Loayza, Ana Noriega, Elena Tscherny, and Ricardo Villanueva.

The program was co-presented and co-sponsored by the Republic of Peru Ministry of Foreign Trade and Tourism (MINCETUR). Additional support was provided by the staff of the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian, directed by Kevin Gover (Pawnee), coordinated by Amy Van Allen; Washington Dulles international Airport and the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture. The program received federal support from the Latino Initiatives Pool, administered by the Smithsonian Latino Center. Special media support is provided by Telemundo Washington DC, BrightestYoungThings.com, Latin Opinion Baltimore Newspaper, Orange Barrel Media, WAMU 88.5, El Tiempo Latino, Washington Hispanic, Washington Blade, El Tiempo Hìspano (MD-DE-PA), CTM Media Group, El Zol 107.9, Digital Conventions, and Greater Washington Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Support for the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage's welcoming ceremony was provided, in part, by Avocados From Peru and Pisco Portón (in-kind).


Support the Center and our important work, including the Folklife Festival, Folkways Recordings, exhibitions, films, and educational materials.

.