Rare Serape Exhibition at Bellas Artes

By Susan Page

The beautifully woven blankets known as serapes are a universally recognized symbol of Mexico. Widely used for centuries, the serape is an integral part of Mexican history and identity. Like American quilts or Navajo rugs, serapes are exquisite works of art, each piece the result of months of work by talented weaving families.

Art
Exhibition of Rare Historic Serapes
Thu, Feb 11, 7pm–Sun, Apr 24
Bellas Artes
Hernández Macías 75

Collections and exhibitions of serapes are somewhat rare. So the serape exhibition that will open in Bellas Artes on February 11 will be an unusual opportunity to view some of the finest historic serapes that survive today. They were assembled for this exhibition by folk art and antique dealer Mayer Shacter, who has been collecting vintage serapes for many years, and are all from his own collection. The serapes in this exhibition were all created during the Porfiriato, from 1880 to 1910, the last great period of serape making that ended abruptly at the onset of the Revolution.

History of the serape

When Cortez arrived on Mexico’s shores in 1519, the Aztecs were already weaving and wearing a blanket-type garment. Worn only by men, serapes were the counterpart of the rebozos and huipiles worn by women. They were the typical garment of workers, horsemen, and townsfolk alike. The more refined, beautiful, and expensive serapes were worn by hacienda owners and gentlemen at parties or as they ambled along broad avenues.

Scholars have divided the finest serapes into “classic” (pre-1850) and “post-classic” (post-1850), including the Maximiliano period and the Porfiriato period (1880 to 1910). The serapes in this exhibition are all from the latter period. Then came the revolution of 1910, when weaving almost ceased.

As Mexico began to stabilize in 1920, tourists discovered its exuberant, colorful culture and began to flock here in great numbers, searching for icons to bring home. Now the serape became a tourist item and weavers flourished again. Along with the sombrero, the serape became a national symbol of Mexico. Now serapes had to be affordable for tourists, so, though they were still beautifully designed and crafted, they became less intricate.

Weaving as a craft is disappearing from Mexico. There are exceptions, like Teotitlán del Valle where weavers still produce handwoven rugs, not serapes. But in most towns, families stopped weaving 50 years ago. This makes the serapes we have left even more precious. The time that goes into creating a serape means that the price of the finished piece must remain high. As the cost of a good serape began to exceed the demand, the craft fell away. The pieces that pass for serapes in tourist shops today bear little resemblance to the spectacular works of art created by skilled and devoted hands when the world was a very different place. A serape is a piece of Mexican history, a window into an era that vanished. Would it be an exaggeration to say that serapes are the Fabergé eggs of Mexico?

 

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