What Would Frida Wear?

To visit this month’s featured textile museum, we travel to the American Southwest, home to the Ethnological Textile Collections at the Arizona State Museum.

North by Southwest

Located at the University of Arizona, the Ethnological Textile Collection features about 3,500 items, representing different cultural groups from around the world. About 50 percent of the items are from the American Southwest and northern Mexico; this includes an extensive Navajo textile collection that boasts one of the largest rugs ever woven. Robust online databases catalog and provide images for much of the Pueblo, Navajo, and Spanish-American textiles collection.

Navajo tapestry weave saddle blanket, circa 1880-1910. Photo courtesy of the Arizona State Museum, University of Arizona.

Dressing Frida

The Frida paper doll dressed in a three-panel Chinantec huipil. Photograph courtesy of the Arizona State Museum, University of Arizona.

The Arizona State Museum holds more than 600 examples of Mexican folk masks, and 400 folk costumes. The portion of the Cordry Collection of Mexican textiles that ASM curates is a significant record of Mexican textiles in the mid-20th century. It includes an extensive range of traditional clothing, featuring handwoven and embroidered huipils, shellfish-dyed purple and cochineal red skirts, and leather and bark clothing from Chiapas. The ASM highlights many of the items from the Cordry Collection in its fun and informative online exhibition, What would Frida Wear that provides an opportunity to “dress” a Frida Kahlo paper doll in a huipil or in a quechquemitl. (You’ll have to go see Frida to discover what that is–if you don’t already know!) Diane Dittemore, Associate Curator of the Ethnological Collection says it has turned out to be the most popular part of the Museum’s website.

Some of the textiles at the Museum are contributions from field work collections of University of Arizona professors. Former ASM curator Wilma Kaemlein collected over 30 samples of Guatemalan fabric duringher 1970s fieldwork, adding to earlier donations of more than 80 pieces of clothing and blankets from Guatemala.

Anasazi sock from the Two Mummy Cave ruin site. Photograph courtesy of the Arizona State Museum, University of Arizona.

ASM’s collection also features over 150 textiles from Asia, including Japanese kimonos and other embroidered silk clothing. Bolivian textiles, Peruvian carrying cloths, and Polynesian tapa cloths are some of the other ethnographic textiles, rounding out the global collection.

Curators of the Ethnological Textile Collection invite researchers, students, artists, native people, and the community to incorporate objects from their collections into their work and study.




And don’t forget, a Thrums Book just might be the perfect companion to your next textile museum visit!

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