Folk Art of the Andes

Weaving European art forms with indigenous craft traditions

Latin American folk art lovers will have a special treat on April 17th when The Museum of International Folk Art opens, Folk Art of the Andes, the first major exhibit in the United States that will feature more than 850 works of art from the Andean region.

The show highlights the development of folk art during the region’s colonial period, after independence, and the European art influence combined with traditional indigenous craft. The exhibit was drawn from the Museum of International Folk Art own collection, which was started with an initial gift from the museum’s founder Florence Dibell Bartlett, as well as other private and public collections across the United States.

The exhibit is accompanied by a lavish 300 page catalogue written by the show’s curator Barbara Mauldin, who tackled the vast and complex cultural geography of the region. Under thematic sections--in both the exhibit and the catalogue--Mauldin explains the relationships of these objects with the people who made and used them. Folk art flourished during this post-Independence period of the nineteenth century and that “Mestizo, cholo, and rural indigenous artists were freer to create things for their own use, or for trade to a broader market.” Maudlin comments that a wide variety of folk art was made for use in indigenous Catholic and Andean religious practices that had originated in the late seventeenth century and were carried out more openly in the nineteenth. Ritual objects that were made included paintings, sculptures, portable altars featuring Catholic saints.

Of the other numerous art form traditions, weaving had been the most important among Andean ethnic groups prior to colonization, and continued with the Spanish where much of the output went to the colonial authorities. However, after independence, traditional weaving and other textile arts enjoyed a renaissance. Weavers like the Quechua women in the Department of Cuzco as well as the Aymara and Quechua weavers in southern Peru and Bolivia created stunning ponchos, mantles, bags, belts and other items. Mauldin writes, “European-style costumes imposed on cholos and Indians during colonial times were adapted to their sense of fashion and made their own. Knitting, introduced by the Spanish, became an important technique utilized by indigenous men to make caps that they wore as a form of ethnic identity and pride. Embroidery was another innovation adopted from the Europeans that added lively decoration to clothing and other items.”

Folk Art of the Andes includes religious paintings, sculptures, portable altars, milagros, amulets, and ritual offerings.  Traditional hand woven ponchos, mantles, belts, and bags are shown, along with women’s skirts, hats, and shawls adapted from the Spanish. Jewelry, wooden trunks, silverwork, majolica ceramics, carved gourds, house blessing ornaments, and toys reveal not only the craftsmanship of the work. Also explored are Andean festival cycles with lavish costumes and a variety of masks.

Examples on display include some pieces from prehispanic and colonial times as well as from the twenty-first century, and come from Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador, along with a handful of items from Venezuela, Colombia, Chile and Argentina. Mauldin concludes in her foreword, “This folk art reflects aspects of the interweaving of Indian and European cultural traditions, while providing windows into the rich spirit and aesthetics shared by the Andean people.”

Folk Art of the Andes opens Sunday, April 17th and runs through September 16, 2012. For more information about the exhibit, please visit The Museum of International Folk Art website at



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