Colcha embroidery along the northern Rio Grande: The aesthetics of cultural inversion in San Luis, Colorado

Suzanne P MacAulay, University of Pennsylvania


During the Spanish colonial era, colchas referred to heavily embroidered wool bedspreads, wall hangings or altar cloths. Contemporary colchas are smaller-scale densely embroidered pictures often depicting genre scenes inspired by autobiographical elements, remembrances from the community's collective past, cultural enactments, and religious themes. The original concept of pictorial narrative colchas evolved out of economically-based stitching workshops which were sponsored by outside entrepreneurial interests. In order to investigate issues of colonial hegemonic strategies and art historical continuity and authenticity, the first part of this discussion outlines colcha's historical background from the Spanish colonial era to mid-twentieth century periods of renascence and transformation. The second part concerns the role of colcha embroidery within the framework of traditional and contemporary elements in San Luis culture. By analyzing iconography, by delineating the complexities of polymorphous artistic and cultural self-representation (as concretized within colcha-making), this dissertation explains how the creative and experiential activities surrounding the colcha artifact become active and substantive forces within the present sociocultural construct. The colcha art form, itself, is a key to understanding the type and extent of outside influence, and to gauge the integrative process of cultural inversion by which the San Luis stitchers absorb, internalize, or even subvert, elements emanating from the action of external forces upon their society. The idea of cultural inversion as applied to colcha embroidery intensifies the character of its multivalency so that cultural and aesthetic autonomy, self-representation, and outsider influences are all manifest in this particular interpretation of the art object.

Subject Area

Folklore|Art History|Cultural anthropology

Recommended Citation

MacAulay, Suzanne P, "Colcha embroidery along the northern Rio Grande: The aesthetics of cultural inversion in San Luis, Colorado" (1992). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9308619.