Destination Guatemala


September 17 – November 7, 2008

An Exhibit of Mayan Dress from the Historic Textiles and Clothing Collection at Iowa State University

The Historic Textiles and Clothing Collection at Iowa State University is home to both historic and ethnic textiles that represent the diversity of dress across time and place. Pieces from the collection are used as teaching tools by Textiles and Clothing faculty in courses such as History of European and North American Dress (TC 354) and History of Twentieth Century Dress (TC 356). In Cultural Perspectives of Dress and Textiles (TC 362), students have the opportunity to learn about dress practices from other cultures when kimonos, saris, and kente cloth from the collection are brought into the classroom. Through this exhibit we intend to bring the collection beyond the classroom; to make it accessible to a larger audience. To begin this effort, please travel with us to the Guatemalan highlands as we examine Mayan dress.

The Maya are descendants of an ancient culture that prospered in the lowlands of Central America from approximately 250 to 900 A.D. After the mysterious collapse of their civilization, the population decreased and eventually relocated and established themselves in the northern highlands of Guatemala. Even after the Spanish Conquest in 1524 that led to three centuries of Spanish rule, and thirty-six years of guerrilla warfare during the latter half of the twentieth century, the Maya have persevered to maintain their heritage. Weaving and dress are important factors in the perpetuation of that Mayan identity. The most apparent example of this is the woman’s blouse called a huipil. In each Mayan village, women weave huipiles in colors, patterns, and styles that are unique to their communities. The weaving represents not only a woman’s skill, but also her commitment to her village and cultural ideals.

The textiles on exhibit represent a tradition that Mayan weavers have preserved across countless generations. Most of the pieces in the Textiles and Clothing Collection were acquired in the 1930s and 1940s by ISU faculty member Olive Settles and other visitors to Guatemala. While contemporary Mayan women continue to weave very similar garments for their families, they also produce and sell woven household goods and apparel to generate a much needed income.

– Janet Fitzpatrick and Carmen Keist, Curators

Acknowledgment to the College of Human Sciences and the Apparel, Events, and Hospitality Management Department for support of this exhibit. We also wish to thank Ashley Ratute, Tekara Stewart, and Erica White for assistance with exhibit installation; Tina Newton of Worldly Goods for loan of Fair Trade merchandise; Marguerite Sibley for loan of the backstrap loom; John Rundle for digitizing photographs; and Michael Metzler and Galen R. Frysinger for permission to reproduce photographs from their travels to Guatemala.