Meet Smithsonian Expert Nilda Callañaupa Alvarez

Nilda Callañaupa Alvarez


The art of Peruvian weaving dates back over 2000 years. It is integral to Inca culture, and, too often, it disappears with the elderly artisans who once mastered it. When you travel on our Smithsonian University Travel Program to Peru, you’ll meet Nilda Callañaupa Alvarez. Her organization, El Centro de Textiles Tradicionales de Cusco, is inspiring young Peruvians to embrace the techniques of their past as both modern art and a means of commerce.

WorldStrides: What inspired you to start El Centro?

Nilda Callañaupa Alvarez: I am a weaver and lover of textiles and fibers. I am proud that I learned skills and knowledge from my Chinchero grandmothers and their ability to lay out and weave complex designs, carrying on ideas passed from their mothers and grandmothers. I learned how to spin yarn when I was five years old, to weave my first patterns when I was six, and to make belts and mantas when I grew older. My passion is one of the reasons. The other reason was to give young people the opportunity to stay in our communities and, through textile production, create an income and keep our traditions alive.

WorldStrides: What advice do you have for students who are interested in preserving community traditions?

Nilda: I see a rich opportunity for young students to experience [the work required to preserve community traditions]; [I see] an inspiration for their future. I suggest they should absorb as much as they can from cultural traditions, like weaving, through participation.

WorldStrides: Tell us something that especially fascinates you about Peruvian culture?

Nilda: It is multicultural and has very lively traditions. The history is interesting and there is a strong identity in each of the different regions.

WorldStrides: When you go home each day, what makes you most proud?

Nilda: To see the capacity of the weavers to produce amazing textiles! Little by little, they are getting some respect. The work of the Center is not just to preserve and to study Peruvian textiles, their symbolism and significance, etc. Our goal also is to assist families to create a larger market for their textiles and a new economy for their communities.

Nilda Callañaupa Alvarez was born in Chinchero, a village outside of Cusco, Peru in 1960. Her family descended from the Inca. A native Quechua, Spanish and English speaker, Nilda is a spinner, weaver and knitter. She has a master’s degree in tourism from San Antonio Abad University of Cusco. As Director of El Centro de Textiles Tradicionales de Cusco (CTTC), she leads Andean weaving workshops, gives lectures, sits on panels, and attends conferences across the globe. Nilda and other weavers from the CTTC came to Washington, D.C. to participate in the 2015 Smithsonian Folklife Festival, focused solely on Peru.

The CTTC is a non-profit organization established in 1996 to aid in the survival of Incan textile traditions and to provide support to weaving communities. Working with the Center, Quechua weavers and their families in the region of the former Incan capitol are engaged in skills-building, community networking and market development. By researching and documenting complex styles and techniques of Incan ancestors, the Center helps to ensure that 2,000-year-old textile traditions will not be lost for future generations.

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