The Verde Valley Archaeology Center has been working on creating digital images of their textile collection through their grant funded Dyck Textile Imaging Project.
The project started in late 2022 after VVAC received a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). The project centers around creating a digital record of the museum’s textile collection.
The museum's textiles were acquired from the Dyck Cliff Dwelling Site located in Rimrock along Beaver Creek. The land was owned by Paul Dyck, a painter who fostered close relationships with many different Native American individuals and tribes. He purchased the ranch in Rimrock in 1938 where he painted in his studio, worked on the ranch and devoted his work to the study of the Plains Indian people.
The site was excavated from 1962 to 1972, revealing over 50,000 artifacts from the Sinagua, or Hisatsinom, people who lived in the Verde Valley from the late 11th to early 14th centuries.
The preservation of cloth is very rare, making VVAC’s textile collection an important resource for studying textiles of the early people of the American Southwest.
“It’s so terribly unusual for cloth to be preserved and yet here we have hundreds of cloth objects that are intact,” said Jeffrey King, VVAC’s Director of Collections. King also noted that the textiles are some of the most complex weaving he has ever seen.
“Objects are almost less important than the record of those objects,” said King. “If you don't know where they are, and you don't know what they are, what was the point of accessioning it in the first place?”
Cotton cloth is perishable by nature, despite being cared for in humidity and temperature controlled conditions. The museum had some textiles on display and already saw a noticeable deterioration of the colors from exposure to light.
“In spite of ourselves, these things won’t last forever, but electrons can,” said King, estimating that they will photograph around 1000 to 1500 textile objects for this project.
The grant allowed VVAC to purchase high quality photography equipment that would capture the most precise details of the textiles.
Around the time that the center was awarded the grant, three volunteers stepped up, two with a background in weaving and another with photography skills.
Jerry Morris, Imaging Specialist, created his own system to photograph the textiles, finding no outside resources on how to perform digital textile imaging.
Morris has photographed around 600 to 700 textile fragments so far, and hopes to continue digitizing the entirety of the museum’s collection after the grant ends.
Morris photographed shoes for the catalogs of Sears, Penny’s and Ward’s back in NYC in the 1970s where he learned to pay close attention to detail and how to style objects. Morris shared that it’s not as much about pushing the shutter as it is making sure that everything is placed well.
Morris lays the textile flat in his homemade photo lab, laying a color standard and ruler next to the textile to maintain scale. He said that the process is fun, allowing him to learn a lot while he gives back to the community.
The images will go into the center’s database and a selection of them will later be put online for people to view and reference. The center hopes to have all of the textiles from the Dyck Site photographed by the end of this year and the first group of textile fragments available online by the end of October.
“Preservation of cloth is so extraordinarily rare in the archaeological record,” said King. “We've got no end to pot sherds, lots of projectile points, but cloth goes away very quickly. Here we have a whole spectrum of very different weaving styles, dyes and designs that were all made for particular purposes.”
While he hasn’t tested this theory archaeologically yet, King believes that there is good evidence that bits of cloth from the site were deliberately preserved.
It is believed that the inhabitants of the cliff dwelling grew their own cotton in the Beaver Creek floodplain to use for their weaving. They then spun it with spindle whorls and wove it using either non-loom or loom-woven techniques.
Volunteer Linda Douville, Textile Scholar on the project, does close identification, categorization and writes descriptions to be paired with the photographs. She observed that in spite of the fact that many of the textiles were utilitarian in purpose, they are very complex and finely woven.
Volunteer and Master Weaver Adele Furby states that she sees about five different colors in the textile collection, including the natural color of the cotton, red, slate blue, dark brown and black. They have not yet done chemical analysis to know what the dyes are made of.
Furby sees many patterns built on the diagonal line as well as squares, triangles, hooks and intersecting hooks. One type of twill weave that’s used is the diamond twill, or bird’s eye twill, which creates a diamond shape with a dot in the middle. Furby agrees with Douville that the craftsmanship is absolutely remarkable.
Furby also noted that the pieces are in such good condition for their age, saying that textiles don’t last without conscious preservation efforts. She believes the longevity can also be attributed to the fine craftsmanship, dry climate and being stored in a cave with minimal light.
The vivid colors of the Dyck textiles is another unique quality they have. One brightly colored textile, a slit tapestry band, was previously on display but is now seeing conservation care after a deterioration of color.
This band portrays an emergence story in the ancestral Hopi tradition. Hopi maidens ascend a reed from the inner world into the fourth world. They are wearing squash blossoms, or hair whorls, that young, unmarried women wore to signify that they’re ready for marriage.
Weaver Ahkima Honyumptewa, of the rattlesnake clan from the village of Paaqavi on the Hopi reservation, is replicating this textile to be put on display once complete.
Two examples of slit tapestry are present in the Dyck collection. This technique involves the wefts of a color block turning back at the edge with no structural connection to the adjacent block, creating slits or vertical holes in the fabric. This example contains the natural white of the cotton along with orange-tan, brick red and gray-brown colors.
Some textile samples were replicated, serving as templates of weaving patterns for generations to follow.
“That's preserved behavior,” said King. “Behavior is something you can't dig up, but we can find evidence of it. The complexity of these textiles preserves so much information about these peoples’ understanding of chemistry, dyes and agriculture. All of these things speak to behavior, and behavior is what we're all about. It tells people quite a bit about their own lives as well as the lives of the people who lived here 1000 or 1200 years ago.”
“Everyone involved in this project, myself included, did not anticipate the extent of time, thought and consideration that has gone into every step along this way for the project,” said Monica Buckle, Executive Director at VVAC.
Buckle shared the realization that the project is only just scratching the surface of their textile collection.
“We have years more of work to do,” said Buckle. “We're already starting to see parallels with different cultures outside of the greater American Southwest.”
While the grant is for a two year period, Buckle hopes to extend the research to explore all of the possible relationships and connections between cultures with similar weaving patterns.
“This project would not be made possible if it was not for the immense talent of Jeffrey King, our Director of Collections, Kathryn Turney, our Director of Archaeology, Diane Graceffa, Collections Manager, Jerry Morris, Imaging Specialist, Adele Furby, Master Weaver, and Linda Douville, Textile Scholar,” said Buckle. “All of these people have come to the museum wanting to contribute their talent, service and time for this project. If it wasn't for their ability to serve as volunteers, we could not be doing this project and the extreme breadth of research with it. It's a wonderful blessing to have so many people who are dedicated and lift up this organization.”