The Pre-Colombian Art Museum in Cusco is a small but visit-worthy addition to any tourist itinerary. Basicly, this museum should be on everyone’s list of things to do in Cusco.
A Beautifully Curated Museum
The collection at Cusco’s Pre-Colombian Art Museum is well-preserved, beautifully presented, and extremely well organized by era and by tribe. The maps in each room allowed us to follow the progress of each successive group of people that conquered the tribe before it. For North Americans who did not study South American history in school, it was eye-opening to learn about how much there is to learn about the time before the Inca, not just the time before Spanish colonists arrived in 1492.
These pre-Incan cultures were rich in ceramics and in wood carvings as was evident in the displays.
The museum had an impressive collection of nose rings and of weapons made from metal. However, my favorite was the jewelry made from shells. These shells are the famous Spondylus that helped spawn an entire trade network up and down the ancient coasts of modern day Peru and Ecuador.
While the museum opened at 8 am, no one else knew that but us; we basically had the place all to ourselves! We recommend arriving early to take advantage.
The museum also offered a bonus we hadn’t expected, The Center for Traditional Textiles of Cusco. Located just off the inner courtyard, this community project provides space to fiber artists to demonstrate their craft and to sell their handiwork. Unfortunately, their operating hours are slightly different. That meant we had time to go have a coffee in the nearby plaza while we waited until 10 am.
When we returned, two artists were hard at work. A gentleman was sitting in a chair up against the wall and was knitting a cap using five needles and several different colors of yarn. A woman was seated on the ground in front of a large backstrap loom, working on a piece about the width of a table runner, but potentially much longer. Both were dressed in brightly colored, local costume. I know that their items of clothing and the style of weaving gave clues to their home villages. I I ever have the chance to stay longer in Peru, I would love to learn more about each region and the weaving techniques they practiced.
Inside the store, we spoke for a long time with the shopkeeper. We learned that the Center purchases pieces directly from each artist. Therefore, artists don’t have to wait for their piece to sell before they see any profit. Each piece is marked with the name and the picture of the artist who made it as well as their date-of-birth and the community where the artist comes from.
Please consider visiting the website as they have stunning pictures of the art work, the artists, and the communities supported by our purchases. Each community has a very different style of work and all are worth seeing. Prices on the site are in US Dollars.
I like finding places like this. Although the artwork is often more expensive than that found in touristy stores, I know that each artist will make a fair wage. I might have found cheaper items on the streets of Cusco. Certainly not with guarantees of a living wage for the artist. For me, this kind of non-profit organization is part of the answer to some of the questions that I asked about community tourism in general. Especially, how can a community get maximum benefit from the tourism industry and still manage to retain true to itself and its people?
It is a question I will continue to ask as we travel throughout South America.
When I originally wrote this article back in the day, I was a military wife living in Buenos Aires, Argentina. My husband was on an exchange assignment of about 15 months. We had yet to know that we would be moving to Ecuador for three years! In short, we were trying to expose our boys to as much of South America as we could afford in so short of an assignment. At the time, I published on DailyKos under the pen name of AngelaJean. The above article is an edited version of that original piece.