Preserving a fragile heritage of the Malayan culture


Museo Ixchel del Traje Indígena | The Ixchel Museum has its own building, the first in Guatemala to be designed and constructed to specifically store, conserve, and exhibit textiles; it was opened to the public in November 1993.


Unlike ceramics and pottery, textiles from the pre-Columbian era have not survived to the present day, due to the humidity of the air and the dampness of the Mayan tombs.  Textiles had, for Mayans, an essential social role, which continues to this day to impregnate the culture and society and to forge the Mayan identity.  This cultural heritage is crucial for Guatemala and, although it lives on in rural areas, it is threatened by modern lifestyles. 


Ixchel was the Mayan goddess of fertility and weaving. The Ixchel Museum of Guatemala City has the largest collection of Mayan fabrics and a collection of textiles from approximately 120 indigenous communities is in display.


The Museum has more than 6’000 pieces including huilipes (blouses), su’t (kind of multipurpose fabric) worn by women and men, and cortes (skirts) dating from the late 19th and early 20th century. Under the John Paul Getty Foundation and thanks to a grant from the government of Finland, the Ixchel Museum has done much work in the conservation and storage of its textile collection; but there was still important work to be done. 


The most fragile textiles that needed conservation were the su’t, multipurpose cloths used for ceremonial purposes and for everyday tasks. The Ixchel Museum has a collection of about 1,800 su’t, among which there are some 600 fragile and unique su’t, most of which had a ceremonial use.  


The quality of the preservation project of the Ixchel Museum retained the Board’s attention and a first contribution of USD 20,000 was approved in 2010, followed in 2011 by an additional attribution of USD 20’400.  This allowed for the entire su’t collection to be cleaned, identified, described, labeled, inventoried, photographed and prepared for long-term conservation.  The project covered all preservation activities, including the installation of the required shelving.


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