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The following information refers mainly to the collections found at the Martin Gallery of Tribal arts. The gallery collection contains a large selection of textiles from Indonesia, Mexico and Guatemala.  Some of this information was obtained from the weavers, or cultural groups by the gallery owner, Jerry Martin, while, he was in the countries collecting art.



The Art of Textiles and clothing

This page is under construction and not totally complete



The weaving of textiles is one of the oldest art forms of our human existence. Archaeologists have found evidence confirming the making of flaxen or cotton cloth nearly 6000 years ago in the Near East. Today, commercial cloth manufacturers have become the norm and only a few cultures still make hand woven fabrics to be used by them on a regular basis.  Some the most noted of today’s textile producing cultures include the  Nusa Tenggara Barat islands of Indonesia, certain local cultures in Thailand, India and China, the indigenous Mayan populations of Mexico and Guatemala and the indigenous populations of the Andean cordillera of South America.





The Textiles of Mexico

Chiapas, Mexico Textiles

Chiapas is the most southern state of Mexico and borders Guatemala. Through most of the Spanish colonial era it was part of Guatemala but in 1824 they voted to become part of Mexico. Culturally, the indigenous people of Chiapas are closely related to those in Guatemala. They were both part of the Mayan empire and therefore have a common history and speak a similar language. The Cuchumatanes Mountains, home of today’s highland Mayan people, extend from central Chiapas to Central Guatemala which means they live in a similar environment. The textiles woven in the more traditional Chiapas villages are nearly indistinguishable from those made in Guatemala. But, these traditional villages are now very rare. Most Chiapas textiles have adapted to outside influence and have lost their traditional style and designs.




Magdelina, Chiapas, Mexico Huipil  #2002.01.037



The wool weavings from Magdelina are some of the beautiful and intricate weavings of all the Americas.

This huipil is a good example of how traditional clothing designs represent the wearer’s world view.

The center panel is called sme ( its mother) and shows the weaver’s position in her community and the cosmos.  The design around the neck represents sacred flowers putting her body in the middle of a holy place. The diamond designs on the chest and back symbolize the sun and the Mayan universe.

The side panels are called sk’obtik (its hands) and represent a prayer for the growth of corn and the continuity of life.

The toads along the bottom represent fertility, femininity and are the manifestation of the power of life and death. The earth lord lives under the earth in a cave guarded by toads. Just as the toad sits at the cave entrance as an intermediary between the gods and man the row of toads at the base of the designs separates the wearer from the gods and the underworld  represented in the design panels. The row of diamonds and Xs directly above the toads represent flowers and the growth of plants which is needed to sustain life.

 Ref: Textiles De Chiapas: The Symbolism of a ceremonial Huipil by Walter F. Morris, Jr. Pgs 93-95





In Zinacantan, Chiapas men and women continue to wear ponchos and  "rebozoes" (shawls)  embroidered with swirls of brightly colored flowers and large tassels. The unmarried men prefer very elaborate ponchos covered in flowers with large tassels while the married men prefer simpler floral designs with more muted colors and smaller tassels. The background of the textiles are hand-woven on a back strap loom while the designs are embroidered. In recent times metallic thread accents have become popular.



Zinacantan man's poncho 2002.01.003



Oaxaca, Mexico Textiles

The Mexican State of Oaxaca is known for its rugged diversity of landscape and its people. Nearly 50% of the population is indigenous people whose ancestry dates back to before the arrival of the Spanish.  They speak one of 16 different languages common in Oaxaca and many speak no Spanish.  Many of the groups stay in their villages and have little contact with the outside world.   They prefer the old ways and have a distinct distrust of all outsiders.  The two largest groups are the Zapotecs and the Mixtecs, both of whom resisted the invasion of the Aztec hoards 100 years before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors. 

Many of these groups have maintained their tradition of weaving and still wear the clothing styles of their ancestors. Their distinctive clothing quickly identifies them as a particular indigenous group.  Traditional clothing is worn daily by many women. Most men wear commercial pants and shirts but don their traditional clothing for fiestas and other special occasions. The people of Oaxaca have maintained many of the traditional ways. But, as electricity and modern forms of communications and technology invade their territory it will become harder and harder for the youth to resist the lure of contemporary Mexican culture.  






In Oaxaca, especially in the Tehuatepec, Juchutan and the northern mountainous areas including San Lucas Ojitlan, and Huanta de Jiminez, the indigenous groups no longer make their clothing from hand woven cloth. Instead they use commercial material, tailor them into styles mostly introduced by the early Spanish settlers, and create colorful and intricate designs with embroidery and appliqué. In the western parts of Oaxaca some of the groups never lost their weaving traditions. The Trique women still weave their wool huipils on the backstrap loom. The town of San Pedro Amusgos has created a cooperative to revive their tradition and teach their women to weave, mainly for economic development.



   Trique Women wearing traditional hand woven wool dress.


The textiles of Guatemala

Like Mexico, Guatemala has a rich tradition of traditional hand woven textiles.  Most traditional textiles are woven by the Mayan indigenous populations who live in the Cuchumatanes Mountain range that extends from Chiapas Mexico to the south central part of Guatemala.



Guatemalan textiles


Textiles are not just a piece of cloth to the native people of Guatemala. Women say that when they wear their traditional village huipil they are surrounded by their history and culture. Many of the Mayan villages have a specific style and design of clothing. In the past, people could tell what village a person was from by their clothing, but since the terrible civil war period of the 1960s through the 1990s, this has somewhat changed. Designs have been copied and intermixed and women purchase and wear huipils from other villages. Still, in many cases, huipils continue to be hand woven on backstrap looms and a person can recognize in what village the garment was woven.  Another special feature of Guatemalan weaving is the use of the “Ikat” technique or “jaspe” as they call it in this area. Jaspe is where the design is dyed into the warp threads before they are stretched onto the loom and woven. This technique is rare and generally only found in Thailand, parts of Central Asia, Indonesia and Guatemala. It is believed that the Mayan people developed this technique very early and independently from the other areas. In Guatemala, jaspe fabric is most commonly used for wrap-around skits called “corte” and hand woven on large treadle floor looms. Generally, only women weave on a blackstrap loom while both men and women use the commercial type treadle loom. Cotton is the most common material used but wool garments are woven and worn in the cold upper highlands.  Silk threads are often used for making “sobre huipils” which are large special huipils used for ceremonies and on special occasions.  Weaving is a large cottage industry in the highlands of Guatemala and an important source of income for many native Mayan families.






Guatemalan woman weaving on a backstrap loom

Example of a Guatemalan Jaspe weave skirt

  Chichicastenango, Guatemala  man's                     Nebaj, Guatemala, woman's                       Solola, Guatemala woman's "sobre"  

  ceremonial jacket #1998.01.001                              huipil # 2003.01.083                                      or ceremonial huipil #2003.01.085


Indonesian Textiles