How ATA Began

The first seeds of Andean Textile Arts were planted in 1976 when American anthropologist Ed Franquemont and ethnobotanist Chris Franquemont moved to Chinchero, Peru. Among their neighbors was a fourteen-year-old Quechua weaver, Nilda Callañaupa, whose family welcomed the Franquemonts into their community and began teaching them the local ways.

Like the other villagers, Nilda’s parents were farmers. As their Inca ancestors before them, they tended their flocks and harvested their crops—always with the greatest respect 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 Quechuan 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 in the cities. 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 Nilda faced while growing up. Like others her age, she wanted to explore new things, but she also felt a strong connection to the traditions that defined her cultural identity—especially the textile techniques that weaved her people’s stories into every piece. She was determined, as was her mother and several other local weavers, to recover ancient textile practices that for centuries had sustained her people economically, socially, and spiritually.


Chris and Ed Franquemont shared the young artisan’s passion for preserving her textile heritage and lent support in any way they could. This included helping to secure funding to open the Chinchero Center for Traditional Culture in 1980, which, in part, showcased the value of the area’s weavers. A year later, they helped pave the way for Nilda to visit the United States for the first time as a lecturer and demonstrator of Andean weaving.

The Franquemonts were not the only ones who wanted to help. On a 1982 trip to Peru, writer and weaver Libby VanBuskirk and her husband David met Nilda and learned of the local weavers’ efforts to revive Andean textile traditions. Returning to the U.S., they started to spread the word, through presentations and exhibits, that a Peruvian textile culture more than 2,000 years old was on the verge of being lost forever.


At the same time, Nilda and Ed Franquemont continued to travel to museums and colleges throughout the U.S., giving workshops, lectures, and demonstrations to educate the public on Andean textile techniques. Along with the work of the VanBuskirks, these grassroots efforts resulted in a growing community of friends and supporters who saw the importance of keeping a vital Andean textile culture alive.


By 1996, this early work reached a milestone when Nilda and the VanBuskirks established the Center for Traditional Textiles of Cusco (CTTC) as a special project of Cultural Survival, a U.S.-based nonprofit dedicated to defending the rights of Indigenous peoples. Three years later, the CTTC, with Nilda as its director, acquired legal status as a Peruvian not-for-profit organization.


Along the way, many others joined the Franquemonts and VanBuskirks to assist the Andean weavers. As the number of committed supporters grew in the U.S., those 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, in 2006, was renamed Andean Textile Arts (ATA).


We can’t thank enough all the individuals who formed the basis for ATA—people such as the Franquemonts, the VanBuskirks, Maria Tacco, Jannes Gibson, Susan Bruce, Alice Levy, Wade Davis, Tim Wells, and Betty Doerr. They inspire us as we continue to support the textile revitalization efforts of Andean organizations such as the CTTC.


Since 1976, it has taken a community to rescue a precious textile culture from extinction. First and foremost are all the Andean weavers, led by Nilda Callañaupa and others, who have worked so hard to reclaim their textile heritage. And then there is the extended community of friends and supporters in the U.S. and Canada who, over the years, have offered a hand when needed.


Our community today is stronger than ever. We believe that preserving Andean textile traditions is vital to sustaining the communities and cultures of the Andean people. You too can help. Please join our community by becoming a volunteer, attending our many educational events and tours, and donating.


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