April 11, 2021 Taos, New Mexico

The Harwood Museum of Art

Masthead image Menu
Sunday, June 2, 2019 - Sunday, February 2, 2020

Embroidered History: Colchas and the Stitch that Defined a Region

Gallery: Hispanic Traditions Gallery
Frances Graves, Virgin on a Crescent Moon c. 1940 Colcha (wool), gift of Eugene Williams Wayne Graves, Untitled (Snake Colcha) c.1931 Colcha (wool), gift of Wallace Bacon in memory of Ben Hazard
Click an image to enlarge or view slideshow

Spanning continents and centuries, the Northern New Mexican colcha is a journey of craft, culture, and geopolitics that is defined by the hands of New Mexican women.  Colchas are embroidered textiles or blankets whose origins have been traced as far back as the 16thcentury when New Mexico was New Spain, and expeditions packed with Iberian textiles were making their way up the Rio Grande Valley. This larger conquest of land influenced generations of embroiderers who defined a stitch, also called colcha, that flourished in the late 18th and early 19th centuries throughout the Espanola Valley, reaching up into Truchas and down into Santa Fe.  This exhibit shares locally made colchas, highlighting the 20th century works of Frances Varos Graves and her masterful assemblies redefined as the Carson colcha.

The landscape of the Espanola valley and its outer reaches was once filled with churro sheep. The wool of the churro lent itself to embroidery with its long straight fibers low in lanolin. Colchas were exported at high prices across New Spain and celebrated on altars of chapels in area villages.  With the onset of westward expansion, a number of factors altered the colcha tradition. The introduction of commercial yardage and yarns influenced the styles and compositions as well.  Always being located at the farthest reaches, northern New Mexican women had to be resourceful and the colcha tradition was further defined by utilizing scrap materials and recycled textiles.

The 20th century saw a resurgence of the colcha tradition, with a combination of traditional and modern techniques and materials. The styles and patterns also adjusted, as works were created for sale as much as for ‘fine art,’ to be sold at Spanish Market and collected at local museums.  

The colchas in this exhibition are from the museum's collection, borrowed from a local collection and from the New Mexico Museum of Art.