Andean Textile Dyes

The O’Donnell Institute, UT Dallas, and the Dallas Museum of Art are currently collaborating on scientific study of Andean textile dyes.

Andean people, Sleeved tunic, A.D. 1460-1530
Dallas Museum of Art, The Roberta Coke Camp Fund
Image courtesy of Dallas Museum of Art

An investigation of Andean textile dyes involving the development of novel analytical techniques

The aim of this project is to develop robust analytical protocols for the characterization of the dyes used in Andean textiles to improve our understanding of how they were fabricated and to inform how best to conserve them. The project will develop skills in the application of a wide range of complimentary analytical techniques and in the development of novel techniques.

Textile dye identification has been undertaken in the past, although the last comprehensive survey of Andean textile dyestuffs was carried out more than twenty years ago, using High Pressure Liquid Chromatography (HPLC). Recent studies of textile dyes—focusing upon Navajo textiles—have turned to Surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy (SERS) as an alternative technique.

However, there remains strong potential for the application of many other techniques and for the development of completely new methods of analysis which could lead to important contributions to the field.

The project will begin with a detailed survey of the conservation literature on the topic. Technical analysis will then focus upon the Andean textile collection at the Dallas Museum of Art, which includes almost 700 Andean textiles spanning over 2000 years of production. The textiles originated in cultures from the south, central and north coasts, including the Paracas, Nasca, Moche, Chancay, and Chimú.

Andean people, Tunic with profile heads and stepped frets, A.D. 850-950
Dallas Museum of Art, The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc., in honor of Carol Robbins' 40th anniversary with the Dallas Museum of Art
Image courtesy Dallas Museum of Art
Courtesy Dallas Museum of Art
Associate Objects Conservator Fran Baas carrying out textile conservation treatment

The collection also includes textiles from primarily highland cultures, such as the Wari (Huari) and Inka (Inca), which survive often through trade or deposition in coastal locales.

The textiles consist primarily of cotton or camelid fibers, or a combination of the two materials. The dyes and pigments may be painted onto or woven into the textile design, providing highly complex and diverse materials.

A comprehensive program of chemical and physical analysis will be developed and it may well become necessary to develop novel analytical approaches to ensure a complete understanding of the dyes in these textiles. Identification of the materials and techniques used in the creation of these works will contribute to a deeper understanding of their chronological and geographical origins.

Fran Baas, Associate Conservator of Objects, Dallas Museum of Art

Kimberly Jones, The Ellen and Harry S. Parker III Assistant Curator of Arts of the Americas, Dallas Museum of Art