Wild Fibers - - TABLE OF CONTENTS - Story by Ellie Kemp Photo by Linda N. Cor­tright

In a cul­ture with a spec­tac­u­lar, cen­turies-old tra­di­tion of tex­tile pro­duc­tion, the ta­pes­tries of Mae­stro Máx­imo Laura stand out from the rest. Máx­imo Laura’s vi­brant pal­ette and unique weav­ing tech­nique trans­form a tra­di­tional twodi­men­sional craft into three-di­men­sional ex­pres­sion. His styl­ized rep­re­sen­ta­tions of An­dean iconog­ra­phy and mys­ti­cal ad­ven­tures bring new lev­els of mean­ing to age-old sto­ries and tra­di­tions. His artis­tic style merges the heart of his cul­ture with the bold­ness of Pi­casso and an un­der­tone of Aubus­son ta­pes­try. It re­flects a deep ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the many masters who have gone be­fore him but is so dis­tinc­tive it could al­most be re­garded as a sep­a­rate art form. Since his first solo show in the early 1980s in Lima, Peru, Máx­imo Laura’s weav­ings have trav­elled far be­yond his home­land and earned him many in­ter­na­tional awards. He has been named one of Peru’s Liv­ing Hu­man Trea­sures through a UNESCO pro­gram that iden­ti­fies those whose role it is to “pre­serve and el­e­vate the cul­ture of their home­land.” He has also re­ceived the Manos de Oro (Golden Hands) of Peru award, a recog­ni­tion that fills him with pride.

Own­ers of Máx­imo Laura’s work in­clude the World Bank in Wash­ing­ton D.C., the Smith­so­nian’s Na­tional

Mae­stro Máx­imo Laura wear­ing a scarf based on a ta­pes­try de­sign.

Mu­seum of the Amer­i­can In­dian, and the UNESCO Head­quar­ters in Paris.

Máx­imo Laura’s artistry is as strik­ing as his dark brows, his broad smile, and the coal black ponytail hang­ing un­fet­tered down his back. Both in char­ac­ter and ap­pear­ance Máx­imo Laura pos­sesses clas­sic artis­tic in­ten­sity, which is off­set by his soft, gen­tle de­meanor.

Why is Max­imo Laura’s work so dra­mat­i­cally dif­fer­ent from that of his peers? Why did he qui­etly re­ject the tra­di­tional aes­thetic of his peo­ple and forge a style of his own? Was it some­thing in his up­bring­ing? Some­thing about the cul­ture? Prov­i­dence? Per­haps it was a com­bi­na­tion of all three. Grow­ing up amid yarns and cus­toms Máx­imo Laura’s child­hood was steeped both in An­dean lore and the prac­tice of weav­ing tex­tiles. Born in 1959, in Ay­acu­cho, the cap­i­tal of the an­cient Wari Em­pire in the cen­tral high­lands of Peru, Máx­imo Laura rep­re­sents the fam­ily’s fifth gen­er­a­tion of weavers.

Renowned for its finely wo­ven and so­phis­ti­cated ab­stract ta­pes­tries, the Wari Em­pire (500 to 900 CE) added its own in­flu­ence to a style that be­gan evolv­ing 2,000–3,000 years ago, as ev­i­denced by weav­ings pre­served from the Para­cas and Nazca cul­tures. As one society evolved into the next, cul­mi­nat­ing with the Inca (the last pre-Columbian cul­ture), each one added its own in­gre­di­ents to the bub­bling brew of Peru­vian folk­lore. This rich her­itage man­aged to sur­vive de­spite near oblit­er­a­tion by Span­ish con­quis­ta­dors.

Mod­ern-day Ay­acu­cho re­mains a cel­e­brated cen­ter for tra­di­tional mu­sic and craft, par­tic­u­larly tex­tiles. Máx­imo Laura re­mem­bers with child­like en­thu­si­asm go­ing with his mother to a ma­jor craft mar­ket to sell hand-wo­ven rugs, bed­cov­ers, and wall hang­ings when he was a young boy.

Max­imo Laura’s home was a hive of cul­tural ac­tiv­ity, much of it in­volv­ing his father Don Miguel, a re­spected vi­o­lin­ist and mas­ter weaver. Pre­par­ing the yarn for weav­ing was a con­stant en­deav­our that ab­sorbed adults and chil­dren alike. Máx­imo Laura re­calls how he and his sib­lings played around his father’s loom when they were small, ob­serv­ing ev­ery stage in the process of turn­ing muddy scraps of wool gath­ered from the fields into yarn ready for weav­ing. Some­times the fam­ily would buy an en­tire fleece and his mother would pre­pare and spin the wool. “She would wash the skeins in small quan­ti­ties at home,” he re­calls. “If there was enough wool, we would go to the river sev­eral kilo­me­ters away and stay from morn­ing un­til dark. By the end of the day, the wool was dry and we would re­turn home. It was al­ways an ad­ven­ture to wash wool in the river.”

Gath­ered from sheep and al­pacas, the lo­cal wool came in a va­ri­ety of nat­u­ral shades: white, black, beige, brown or a mix­ture of all. As the chil­dren grew— from the age of about six and up—it was a nat­u­ral pro­gres­sion for them to help pre­pare the yarn, in­clud­ing col­or­ing it with chem­i­cal or plant dyes. “Dye­ing was al­most a party for the chil­dren. We would crowd into the kitchen around the dye bath, which was made of old oil drums set on rocks over an open fire, burn­ing wood or dried plants. We waited for the wa­ter to boil, and then helped pre­pare the dye, anx­iously watch­ing for the col­ors to ap­pear.”

The chil­dren also helped warp the loom. “Wrap­ping the warp thread was al­most a game. We learned to feed the threads, care­fully knot­ting each one and get­ting the ten­sion just right.”

The urge to in­no­vate

Máx­imo Laura took com­mand of the loom by the age of about ten. For him this was no longer play. This was about mak­ing a liv­ing, and he adopted his father’s work ethic, ris­ing early to work his first weav­ing and fin­ish­ing a saleable prod­uct be­fore lunch—pro­duc­tiv­ity Don Miguel re­warded with pocket money.

Máx­imo Laura’s first piece was a rec­tan­gu­lar weave about 50 by 140 cm, a sim­ple de­sign with wide hor­i­zon­tal bands at the ends and a stylised Ti­ahua­naco

(pre-In­can) fig­ure in the cen­ter.

He car­ried on us­ing that de­sign and oth­ers like it for sev­eral years, learn­ing ev­ery as­pect of the weaver’s craft in his father’s work­shop. Don Miguel al­ways worked from the raw fleece—spin­ning, dye­ing, weav­ing, and fin­ish­ing. He pro­duced func­tional items: rugs, blan­kets or bed­cov­ers that would of­ten be used in the fields. The items he sold were rarely bought with cash: they were paid for in ma­te­ri­als or food. None­the­less, his work was highly re­spected. Don Miguel was a mas­ter weaver, with his own ap­pren­tices and com­mis­sions, and his own style. Máx­imo Laura de­scribes it as hav­ing a “rus­tic beauty,” us­ing a lim­ited pal­ette and based chiefly from tra­di­tional de­signs such as the geo­met­ric shapes and an­i­mal mo­tifs so of­ten as­so­ci­ated with Peru­vian tex­tiles.

While Máx­imo Laura was still at se­condary school (age four­teen to fif­teen), he be­gan in­tro­duc­ing new ideas to his father’s work­shop—de­vel­op­ing new color com­bi­na­tions, mak­ing small changes to the de­signs, and im­prov­ing the qual­ity of the weav­ing. How­ever, by the time he left home in 1975 to study at the Univer­sity of San Mar­cos in Lima, Máx­imo dreamed of be­com­ing a writer or a poet and im­mersed him­self in study­ing His­panic lit­er­a­ture, sell­ing his weav­ings to pay his tu­ition.

When Máx­imo Laura was com­ing of age, Peru was em­broiled in a cul­tural rev­o­lu­tion marked by twenty years of bit­ter blood­shed. Be­gin­ning in 1980, the no­to­ri­ous bat­tles be­tween the Com­mu­nist guer­rilla in­sur­gent group Shin­ing Path ( Sen­dero Lu­mi­noso), the Tú­pac Amaru Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Move­ment (MRTA), and the govern­ment of Peru touched ev­ery corner of the coun­try. Young Máx­imo Laura’s de­sire for self-ex­pres­sion found its voice within the threads of his loom.

Meet­ing Kela Cre­maschi, an Ar­gen­tinian tex­tile artist, was piv­otal to Máx­imo Laura’s ca­reer. As his teacher in Lima, she opened his eyes to the ex­pres­sive po­ten­tial of weav­ing as an art form. He devoured his­tor­i­cal and an­thro­po­log­i­cal ac­counts of Peru’s past and “col­lected” tra­di­tional An­dean mo­tifs found on ev­ery­thing from build­ing fa­cades to match­boxes.

Pre-Columbian Peru­vian de­signs (from the Chavín, Nazca, Para­cas and Ti­ahua­naco tra­di­tions) started to find their way into his weav­ing, along with vi­brant color com­bi­na­tions, new ma­te­ri­als, unique tex­tures and a de­vel­op­ing blend of un­con­ven­tional tech­niques.

So be­gan what Máx­imo him­self has char­ac­terised as an “ob­ses­sive, fever­ish” per­sonal in­ves­ti­ga­tion of An­dean de­signs and con­tem­po­rary vis­ual arts—in­spir­ing the devel­op­ment of his own work—as well as con­sis­tent ef­forts to pro­mote An­dean de­sign more widely.

Over the past thirty-five years, those ex­plo­rations have ranged far and wide. Máx­imo Laura’s ta­pes­tries over that time have nat­u­rally re­flected evolv­ing cen­ters of in­ter­est. What he him­self sees as con­stants in his work are its rich

and com­plex pic­to­rial de­signs (some 2,500 at this stage, draw­ing of­ten on leg­end and tra­di­tional spir­i­tu­al­ity), the vari­a­tions in weave to build up mul­ti­ple lev­els of tex­ture, and the dra­matic and some­times ex­plo­sive use of color.

The re­sult is a highly in­di­vid­ual per­sonal style. Máx­imo Laura’s work ap­pears very mod­ern and far re­moved from the sim­pler craft weaves of his youth. Yet they in­cor­po­rate the hand-weav­ing tech­niques, sym­bols, and spir­i­tual con­cerns of Peru­vian tra­di­tion.

Artis­tic meets spir­i­tual in­tegrity

At first glance, Máx­imo Laura seems to have re­jected his cul­tural be­gin­nings in Ay­acu­cho and moved de­ci­sively into the mod­ernist camp. But art is more than a brushstroke on a can­vas or a thread on a loom: it de­mands ruth­less self-re­al­iza­tion. Find­ing his own artis­tic and spir­i­tual path was part of the phi­los­o­phy im­parted by his father. It was an up­bring­ing that Máx­imo Laura feels taught him to be “hard­work­ing, re­spon­si­ble and pas­sion­ate,” equip­ping him with a solid sense of tra­di­tion while giv­ing him, li­cense to de­velop his own voice as a con­tem­po­rary artist.

Máx­imo Laura ex­plains his sense that ev­ery one of us, what­ever our walk of life, has an “ex­clu­sive re­spon­si­bil­ity” to be what he calls “chil­dren of this or­der, an ex­pres­sion of our time.” Through his art, he seeks to speak to a con­tem­po­rary au­di­ence about con­tem­po­rary is­sues, draw­ing on the world­view of his an­ces­tors as one he feels re­mains valid for hu­man­ity to­day. His ta­pes­tries re­flect a very per­sonal at­ten­tion to mankind’s in­ter­ac­tion with the nat­u­ral world that is highly top­i­cal to­day while evok­ing pre-Columbian be­liefs about the ten­sion be­tween the phys­i­cal and spir­i­tual spheres: in op­po­si­tion yet in­ter­con­nected. His is a call, he says, for “bal­ance, har­mony, and spir­i­tu­al­ity.”

Tra­di­tional sym­bols and tex­tile tech­niques give Máx­imo Laura a nat­u­ral lan­guage for con­vey­ing these ideas. They are “in­ex­haustible” sources of in­spi­ra­tion. Máx­imo Laura says An­dean tra­di­tions “are so pow­er­ful, such a time­less source, that it is hard to let go. I have tried to seek out new hori­zons, only to re­turn to my past, my source, my ori­gins.” But to be rel­e­vant to a twenty-first cen­tury pub­lic, age-old forms of ex­pres­sion need an aes­thetic that spans the ages.

Máx­imo Laura’s dis­tinc­tive ta­pes­tries, still wo­ven by hand on tra­di­tional looms, speak to us in an an­cient voice that has been uniquely trans­lated for the

wF con­tem­po­rary world. For more in­for­ma­tion about Máx­imo Laura in­clud­ing tours and work­shops, please visit: www.puchkaperu.com, www.max­i­mo­laura.com, www.museo­max­i­mo­laura.com

Photo cour­tesy of Máx­imo Laura

Yacumama II (Wa­ter God­dess II)

Photo cour­tesy of Máx­imo Laura

Ta­pes­tries by Mae­stro Máx­imo Laura. Left: Rit­ual para el ár­bol sa­grado (Rit­ual to the Sa­cred Tree), Right: Poema A La Flor,

(Poem to the Flower)

Mae­stro Máx­imo Laura work­ing at the loom.

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