Power of Mexican Textiles Shines at Bullock Museum Exhibit
The "Hilos de Tradición: Dresses of Mexico" collaborative exhibit at the Bullock Texas State History Museum showcases dresses from all states throughout Mexico. The Bullock Museum and Brownsville Historical Association teamed up to bring the rich stories of these dresses to Austin.
The lyrics of the Mexican folk song “La Llorona” flowed from singer Azul Barrientos’s lips and echoed throughout the corridors of the Bullock Texas State History Museum on a recent Sunday morning. Barrientos, wearing a green, handmade Oaxacan dress with gold embroidered birds, reflected the theme of both the folkloric songs as well as the museum’s latest exhibit “Hilos de Tradición: Dresses of Mexico.”
“Hilos de Tradición”is a collaborative exhibit between the Bullock Museum and the Brownsville Historical Association that showcases Mexican culture through the country’s dresses and textiles. Visitors can catch the exhibit at the Bullock Museum now until Feb. 26.
The exhibit highlights 37 dresses borrowed from the association and highlight the great diversity of styles throughout the country. With at least one dress displayed from each of the 34 states in Mexico, visitors can get a glimpse of the traditions and textiles of each region.
The bilingual exhibition brings Mexican culture to the heart of Austin, revealing the history of Mexico through its clothes from the earliest signs of weaving in 1400 BC to the Spanish encounter of indigenous embroidery in the 1500s. Today, many still pay homage to the cultural heritage by wearing traditional clothing that links Mexico’s past and present.
De Brownsville a Austin
“The way this collection came together for Brownsville is a really special story,” says Bullock Museum Curator Kathryn Siefker. A local women’s organization in Brownsville “spent decades collecting these outfits from Mexico and other countries as a way of bettering their knowledge and learning more about our neighbors.”
The collection formed part of the Costume of the Americas Museum in 2005, which included textiles from the different regions of Mexico, Central America, South America, and even Canada. In 2020, the museum merged with the Brownsville Historical Association.
While the historical association has loaned pieces to other museums through the years, “Hilos de Tradición” is the association’s biggest loan and Austin is the furthest place the pieces have traveled.
Originally, the Bullock Museum and historical association were in talks about a loan of three dresses for a smaller display, but it grew into about a year-long collaboration that resulted in the 37 dresses featured in the exhibit today.
“It was an enjoyable challenge,” Siefker says of making the exhibit possible. But the curating process wasn’t easy. “It was an emotionally gut wrenching experience to say no to some of the outfits during the selection process.”
“Hilos de Tradición” showcases the indigenous heritage, the colonial era, and the revolutionary eras of Mexico through its textiles.
The Adelita dress, displayed prominently in the exhibit, evolved from the dress worn by the soldaderas or women soldiers, also known as las Adelitas of the Mexican Revolution. This dress was originally a long-sleeve blouse with a high neck and a full printed cotton skirt. Different regions have their take on the Adelita dress.
In Jalisco, the Adelita dress features long sleeves, a high collar, and a large skirt. Colorful ribbons are sewn onto the dress and are braided into the headpiece that accompanies it. It is one of the most commonly known folklórico dance dresses. In Durango, the Adelita dress features a long-sleeve blouse with lace, a full skirt, and is made of vibrant satin or taffeta. It is also worn with a bullet belt and a pistol to pay tribute to the Adelitas. You can see both of these Adelita dresses at the exhibit.
Clare Cardwell, a 58-year-old educator from Houston was one of many visitors in the exhibit on a recent Sunday. “I think it’s a wonderful exhibition to show the different regions and see the similarities and differences,” Cardwell says. “I really enjoyed the history of the states and the descriptions.”
During a recent H-E-B Free First Sunday museum event, there were different activities throughout the day such as a coloring station for kids, which featured an “Hilos de Tradición” coloring book as well as live music and dance performances.
During Azul Barrientos’s live performance at the Bullock Museum, she sang traditional songs in Spanish such as “La Llorona,” “La Iguana,” and “La Bruja.” But the crowd listened in awe when she sang songs such as “La Fea,” in Zapoteco and “Xochipitzahuatl” (Flor Menudita/ Little Flower) in Nahuatl, bringing to life some of the indigenous culture behind the featured dresses.
Barrientos wears her handmade Oaxacan dresses with pride and usually gets her performance dresses from a family of weavers and embroiderers who keep the tradition alive today and are passing the torch to the next generation.
“The chiquitos are the ones who sell and put the merchandise on the internet now,” Barrientos says. The historical association hopes to create a traveling exhibit showcasing some of the outfits in their unique collection, the largest of its kind. The collection will only continue to grow as the historical association continues to receive and accept donations of traditional textiles.
“We’re really proud of it,” says Brownsville Historical Association Collections Manager Aubrey Nielsen. “Tradition comes in the form of textile and it tells stories.”
IF YOU GO:
What: “Hilos de Tradición: Dresses of Mexico” exhibit
Where: Bullock Texas State History Museum
When: Now until Feb. 26
Other: H-E-B’s Free First Sundays. Free admission into the museum for everyone on the first Sunday of each month. Activities from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
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