Maya Textiles of Guatemala

One of the largest research collections held at the Spurlock Museum is that of nearly 1,000 articles of clothing, adornment, and ceremonial Maya textiles from Guatemala. These 20th and 21st century textiles document weaving traditions from Maya communities located across more than 80 towns within 14 states of Guatemala. Members of each community can be identified by their distinctive style of dress and traditional weaving patterns.

The Museum’s collection was amassed through donations and Museum purchases over many years. The collection includes examples of ceremonial and special occasion clothing as well as clothes for daily wear. These textiles are characterized by distinctive colors and types of yarn and thread, specific weaving techniques, and community-specific traditional designs and motifs.

The majority of the collection, at just over 790 textiles, was collected by anthropologist Dr. Margaret “Peg” Kieffer. Dr. Kieffer developed her collection over a period of more than 30 years, beginning in 1972 when she first traveled to Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala to conduct research for her PhD. Over several decades, Dr. Kieffer and her husband, Jerry Lopez, acquired textiles representing the handiwork of 82 highland towns and villages. This collection was highlighted in an 2014 temporary exhibit titled “Artists of the Loom: Maya Weavers of Guatemala.” This exhibit demonstrated several important themes from across the museum’s Guatemalan textile collection: continuity from the ancient Maya to today; the technical skills and artistry of Maya weavers; daily wear and ceremonial textiles; and evolution of designs in huipiles (traditional blouses).

Mr. Lopez also donated Dr. Kieffer's collection of photographs and slides that she took documenting life in Guatemala. These include scenes from the markets and important celebrations such as Semana Santa, the week of Easter, and festival days when the patron saint of a community is celebrated.