“Filigree and Finery: The Art of Adornment in New Mexico”

When: Back to Calendar December 1, 2013 @ 10:00 am – May 31, 2014 @ 5:00 pm
Where: The Museum of Spanish Colonial Art
750 Camino Lejo
Santa Fe,NM 87505
Cost: Free to Members; $5 Museum Admission to Non-members
Contact: 505-982-2226
Tags: $5 Museum Admission to Non-Members Free To Members

19th c. Manton de Manila, silk embroidery on silk, from China or the Philippines Early 19th c. New Mexican gold filigree necklace

19th c. Mexican, tortoise shell, gilt metal and pearl Peineta (decorative hair comb)

Late 18th c. Spanish, carved bone, painted and gilt paper fan

Filigree and Finery: the Art of Adornment in New Mexico


Click here for the YouTube Video, “Silver Paths, The Art of Filigree”, with information about how filigree is made.

Although Europeans often looked down upon the colonial settlers of the Americas, criticizing their lifestyle and comportment, they could not so easily dismiss their adornment. For here in the Spanish colonies, the colonists wore their wealth.  Despite laws concerning the use and wearing of luxuries, the Spanish colonists bedecked themselves, using precious metals in personal decoration for pageantry and a show of power. The jewelry rivaled that of Europe, and from the dexterous hands of indigenous weavers using new materials and dyes came sumptuous garments of silk and velvet.

While visiting New Spain in 1625, the English friar Thomas Gage stated: “Both men and women are excessive in their apparel….A hat-band of pearls is ordinary in a tradesman… ” Eighteenth century portraits document upper-class female sitters clad in European fashion, with loops and bowknots of gold and diamonds, pearl necklaces, bracelets, and earrings; gentlemen are shown suited in coats with diamond buttons, shoe buckles, and cravats set with an unimaginable number of precious and semiprecious stones.

And here in New Mexico, wills and inventories attest to the importance placed on being well-clad—a mark of distinction in a class-conscious society. Through the dirt streets of Santa Fe traipsed women in their silk shawls, crinolines, and filigree. The inventory of the estate of Juana Luján, who died in 1762, lists gloves of scalloped lace, a cape of Chinese silk with silver trim, silk stockings, silver filigree rings, a necklace of pearls and coral, and gold and pearl earrings. The trade caravans that came up the Camino Real brought silk shawls—mantones de Manila—from China via Spain’s port in the Philippines, as well as rolls of silk, linen and velvet fabrics.

Filigree jewelry, initially brought to New Mexico from further south in New Spain, was being produced here by the early 19th century. New Mexico was one of the only places in the country where one could buy delicate, hand-made, gold and silver filigree jewelry, and travelers to the city of Santa Fe remarked upon its quality as early as the 1840s. By the 1870s, New Mexican filigree had come into its own, and national magazines, such as Harper’s Bazaar, commented on its popularity: “the manufacture of this jewelry is becoming more important and filigree work in greater demand. Tourists invest in Mexican filigree jewelry because it is in itself quaint, pretty and rarely seen in the east…”

In the early 20th century, the traditional rebozos of the indigenous peoples of Mexico, which they had made for centuries, were recognized anew for their high quality and sophisticated weaving techniques and were popularized by celebrities and artists such as Frida Kahlo who started wearing them for formal occasions.  Today, the weavers of towns such as Tenancingo in the state of Mexico, and Santa María del Río in San Luis Potosí are known for their outstanding rebozos and have received both national and international awards and recognition.

Artists throughout the Americas have continued these traditions of elegant adornment. Silk shawls have been incorporated into popular culture through the medium of Flamenco, and Spanish workshops today specialize in the weaving of the delicate fringe. The rebozo has become a national symbol in Mexico as artists continue to weave finer and more intricate designs into both the body and the fringe. And in New Mexico, both weavers and filigree artists are continuing to produce beautiful pieces that recall and embellish upon historic precedents.

The exhibition “Filigree and Finery” will showcase both historic and contemporary examples of the fine art of elegant adornment in the Spanish world.

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