Guatemalan textiles bring cultural understanding to Centennial Hall gallery

Ms. Susana Lambour’s students explore the Guatemalan textile exhibit on September 21, 2021- Mr. Thomas Stambaugh

First-hand exposure to other cultures and traditions is essential to school community health. Since September 17, Centennial Hall has become a home to a Guatemalan textiles exhibit. Many students have had an opportunity to learn about the pieces and their significance to Mayan culture. Walls of outfits, dolls, and men’s clothing—including pantalones and belts—have allowed students to comprehend these pieces’ societal and cultural meaning, as well as to understand how our all-boys community compares to a different culture.

The exhibit was brought to the community by the Friends of the Ixchel Museum (FOIM), an organization composed of Guatemalan and North American volunteers who share an interest in the Mayan textile tradition of Guatemala. The foundation is a part of the Museo Ixchel, located in Guatemala. Yolanda Alcorta, an FOIM Board Member, guided students around the exhibit and explained the pieces’ significance to Guatemalan society and her culture. 

“My culture is very important to me,” Alcorta said. “I’ve learned to embrace it and educate others on its history and traditions.”

Students from art classes learned about the weaving process, specific materials, and design inspirations. A wall of pantalones draws parallels between our everyday outfits and those of the Mayans. Traditional garments called huipiles are packed with color; extremely precise weaving skills are required to create the eye-catching patterns and shapes. An artisan working on a loom allowed students to observe the process. The woman weaving spoke Spanish, which allowed Spanish students to put their skills to the test, interacting and asking questions about the weaving process. She explained how difficult it was and how much time and effort was required to create the beautiful pieces as well as the math and precision required to get the patterns perfect.

Upper School students learn about the Guatemalan textile exhibit in Centennial Hall on September 21, 2021- Mr. Thomas Stambaugh

Not only are all of the works appealing, but they also have many historical roots, allowing students to learn about Mayan society. Geography serves as inspiration, demonstrated in most of the designs. Zig-zags symbolize mountains or rivers. Animals from Central America appear often in the designs. 

The exhibit’s outfits also reflect individual identity. What someone was wearing could be used to identify where specifically they were from, as lots of regions within the culture used different designs and techniques.

Guatemalan textile exhibit poll

The exhibition has allowed students to put different things they’ve learned to use, whether extracting information about the artistic composition of each piece with an art class, or being able to speak to and understand someone in a different language.