May 19, 2013
Continuous Threads of the Maya Weaver
Yolanda Alcorta and Sheba Velasco

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During the 20th and 21st centuries Maya textiles have changed, influenced by increased outside contact such as tourist tastes, politics such as the 30-year civil war, economics marked by the prohibitive cost of threads and lack of time to weave, fashion trends influenced by increased media penetration, access to new materials such as Mylar and dyes and a rebirth of the Maya Identity. The Friends of the Ixchel Museum (FOIM) Collection and personal FOIM Board collections were used to construct a timeline of Continuous Threads. In this process they discussed and demonstrated weaving techniques, and examined the dynamics of style, continuity and change through time. Sheba Velasco, a master Maya-Ixil weaver and long-time consultant to the National Museum of the American Indian was with us to discuss her weaving through time and place.

Yolanda Alcorta is a longtime Board member of the FIOM, has been collecting textiles for thirty-five years and she has curated Maya textile exhibits at Longwood Gardens and the Morris Arboretum and Maya programs at the National Museum of the American Indian and University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology and Anthropology. She has a Master of Arts in Teaching in Museum Education from George Washington University. She began her work as a museum educator at the Mexican Museum in San Francisco where she established the Education Department when the museum opened in 1975. In 1992 in Philadelphia she co-founded Raíces Culturales Latinoamericanas—Latin American Cultural Roots, now a respected Latino cultural center in Philadelphia. As Executive Director of Raíces she worked closely for 16 years with the Latino community in Philadelphia and developed numerous educational centered programs on Maya textiles and traditions.

Currently a resident of Washington, DC she works closely with the Guatemalan/Maya community to produce and persent annual Guatemalan community festivals and cultural programs. As President of Alcorta Connections, she is a bilingual consultant to museums and the non-profit community. She has also worked on various interpretive projects at the National Museum of American History, the National Museum of Natural History and the National Museum of the American Indian. Currently she is developing a new project, UnLocking Race, which will promote conversations about RACE in communities in metropolitan Washington, DC. She is Board Secretary of the Humanities Council of Washington DC and serves on the board of the Guatemalan Human Rights Commission.

Sheba Velasco is a master back strap loom weaver from Nebaj, Guatemala. Sheba learned to weave from her grandmother at age 7 and has continued to keep the tradition as an interpreter with the National Museum of the American Indian in both New York City and Washington, DC. She has participated in workshops at Maya Weekend at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology and Anthropology and the National Museum of American History. She has also traveled around the world teaching people about Mayan culture. A resident of Virginia she continues to keep her culture alive by speaking Ixil, her native language and weaving and wearing her traje or traditional dress.

This program was presented as a partnership between the International Hajji Baba Society and The Textile Museum.

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