Special Colcha Embroidery Exhibition Coming to the Valley

Tina Valdez, The Vega, 1976. Colcha embroidery. Courtesy of Sangré de Cristo Heritage Center.Photo by The Range.

San Luis Valley Colcha Embroidery will open next Saturday May 7 at The Range in Saguache. The exhibition brings together artworks on loan from artists, families, and museums across Colorado and New Mexico. There will be a reception in honor of the artists on Saturday May 7 at 1pm during Saguache's Cinco de Mayo Fiesta.

Colcha embroidery is practiced in the San Luis Valley as a traditional art informed by Spanish Colonial culture with Indigenous and Anglo-American influences. Colcha embroidery artworks from the region often illustrate personal histories and local landscapes, capturing complex memories of the Valley. Periodic efforts to pass on the tradition through workshops have created a dynamic conversation around colcha embroidery in Southern Colorado, with influential connections to communities in Northern New Mexico, where the art form originated in the early 19th Century.

Many contemporary San Luis Valley colcha embroidery artists respond to changing technologies and cultural trends, integrating available materials that embody the textures of their era. Some artists in the exhibition use hand woven sabanilla cloths and plant dyed thread made from Navajo-Churro sheep wool, long used to create textiles in the region. The colcha embroidery technique employs a single needle and thread, laying long stitches secured to cloth with tacking stitches. The term colcha refers to the Spanish word for bed covering. It is common in the historical and the modern San Luis Valley style to fill the entire surface of the fabric with embroidery.

Groups including Artes del Valle Cooperative, The Ladies Sewing Circle of San Luis, and Saguache Colcha Embroiderers operated in the 1970’s and 80’s, providing instruction and support for dozens of artists across the Valley, and influencing family and friends to take up the art practice. One such artist is Josephine Lobato from San Luis, who after decades working in colcha embroidery was named a National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellow in 2019. Today colcha embroiderers meet monthly in San Luis, coordinated by artist Marcella Pacheco. Artists Patsy Garcia and Delores Worley of Saguache continue to share stories of working with their group more than 40 years ago, offering vivid insight into one of the most treasured arts in the community.

Donna Madrid Hernandez of San Luis reflects on how the colcha embroidery tradition in her town influences her, writing that “it makes me happy, relaxes me, and takes me back to when I was a child, thinking of my grandmother’s friends and how they spent time doing colcha embroidery. All the buildings and churches now in frames make my heart sing because I was a part of those structures. I look at Las Posadas (an artwork by Josephine Lobato) and think about how for nine days before Christmas we would go out each night and ask for posada, a place for the Virgin Mary to rest. Walking house to house in the snow and the cold, I just can’t explain the beauty and the memory that has forever impacted my life. I love doing colcha embroidery and have so many more projects to do.”

San Luis Valley Colcha Embroidery will feature over sixty artists.

In conjunction with San Luis Valley Colcha Embroidery, temporary photo murals by Edica Pacha celebrating San Luis colcha embroiderers will be on display in Alamosa. These murals are hosted by Ef’s Restaurant on Highway 285 and the A & J Solar building next to Zapata Park.

These murals will be on view through the summer of 2022.

Partner organizations participating in the exhibition include Alamosa Public Library, Chicano Humanities and Arts Council (CHAC), Chicano/a Murals of Colorado Project, HEART of Saguache/KV, History Colorado, MSU Denver Chicana/o Studies, Northern Saguache County Library District, Sangre de Cristo Heritage Center, and Sisters of Color United for Education.

Support for San Luis Valley Colcha Embroidery is provided by a Colorado Creative Corps ARP grant funded by the National Endowment for the Arts and a Saguache County sales tax grant. The Range would like to give special thanks to Diversions Needlepoint in Englewood, Colorado for providing colcha embroiderers with supplies. Inquiries about San Luis Valley Colcha Embroidery can be sent to [email protected]

San Luis Valley Colcha Embroidery will be on view from May 7 to June 19, 2022 at 307 4th Street in Downtown Saguache at The Range gallery. There will be open hours during the exhibition on Friday, Saturday, and Sundays 10am-4pm. Ring the bell or call 646-734-1373 to visit the exhibition outside of these hours.