Andean Textile Arts is an organization dedicated to supporting the people and communities of the Andes in their efforts to preserve and revitalize their textile traditions. ATA formed as a U.S. 501(c)3 non-profit foundation in 2000.
The seeds of Andean Textile Arts were planted in the 1970s when American anthropologist Ed Franquemont and ethnobotanist Chris Franquemont moved their family to Chinchero, Peru. In their new home, they fell in love with the breathtaking majesty of the Andes and the equally beautiful spirit of the local Quechua people. Among their neighbors was 14-year-old Quechua weaver Nilda Callanaupa, whose family welcomed the Franquemonts into their world and began teaching them the local ways. Like many of the other villagers, Nilda’s parents were farmers. Like their Inca ancestors before them, they tended their flocks and harvested their crops—always with the greatest reverence for the goddess Pachamama (Mother Earth). Nilda’s mother was also a weaver, whose hardworking hands danced with spindle-spun yarns to create vivid designs passed down for generations.
But their way of life was in danger. Modernization was well underway in Peru and other Andean countries. Many young people were leaving their childhood homes for new opportunities. And a prejudice against “the old ways” was setting in. Consequently, villagers were reluctant to wear their intricately crafted traditional clothing, fearing discrimination. Knowledge of traditional dyeing, spinning, and weaving was also quickly fading and, along with it, a livelihood many Andean people—especially women—depended on to survive.
This was the changing world young Nilda faced while growing up. She too wanted to go to school and explore many new things. On the other hand, she also felt a strong connection to the traditions that defined her cultural identity—especially the textile techniques that wove her people’s story into every piece. She joined with her mother and several other weavers from her community who met in each other’s homes, determined to recover ancient textile practices that for centuries had sustained their people economically, socially, and spiritually.
Chris and Ed Franquemont also shared the young artisan’s passion to preserve her community’s textile heritage and they wanted to help. While Nilda was attending the university in Cusco, Peru, the couple helped her get a grant to study at a California textile school so she could learn more about the textile trade. Working with Ed Franquemont, Nilda began to lead lectures and workshops across the U.S., where she made friends and gained support for her cause. These early efforts paid off. Along with Nilda and the weavers, the Franquemonts founded a cultural center in Chinchero with preservation of textiles as its focus. In the 1980s and 90s, Nilda, the weavers and their supporters also formed a young weaver’s group to learn and preserve traditional designs and techniques from Chinchero. A movement had started. Despite some initial setbacks, a major milestone was reached when enough funds were collected to open the Center for Traditional Textiles of Cusco in 1996, a Peruvian nonprofit with Nilda as its director.
As the number of committed supporters of Andean textile revitalization grew in the U.S., the Franquemonts and others closest to the cause decided to formalize their support. In 2000, they formed a U.S. 501c3 nonprofit under the name Center for Traditional Textile of Cusco Inc., which later became Andean Textile Arts (ATA).