Arid Lands Newsletter--link to home pageNo. 39, Spring/Summer 1996

The Sonoran Peoples' Tapestry

Words & Drawings by Matilda Essig / Weaving by Ann Keuper
Photographs by Merrill Parsons

 small photo of tapestry

The Sonoran Peoples' Tapestry Project is a multicultural collaborative art project that seeks to express both the cultures and environments of the Sonoran Desert Bioregion.

The vision for this project arose during the planning stages of the 1995 conference "A Celebration of Desert Cultures," convened by The International Sonoran Desert Alliance (ISDA) in Caborca, Sonora, Mexico. Its purpose was to promote a greater understanding of both the cultural and the biological diversity of the Sonoran Desert Bioregion, an area that extends from southern Arizona to the northern gulf of the Sea of Cortez, including U.S., Mexican, and Native American communities.

The question we posed ourselves was this: How can we employ the arts to encourage cross-cultural awareness and understanding among the diverse ethnic groups that live in the western Sonoran Desert. The answer was this: By employing the weaving techniques of Ann Keuper.

By using gut to incorporate objects not traditionally thought of as weavable (rocks, shells, feathers), Keuper was able to respond to the challenge of combining a limitless diversity of materials. As an artistic metaphor, her weaving expresses the notions of community, cooperation, strength, innovation, and diversity.

As a collaborative venture, conference goers were asked to contribute for inclusion in the tapestry objects that represented their homes or ways of life in the desert. The intentions were both to explore a variety of perspectives on what it means to be a desert dweller and to foster a sense of individual participation in the creation of a greater whole. The resulting piece was to be symbolic of the ISDA's effort to define and preserve the cultural and natural integrity of the region. That this idea was enthusiastically embraced by all in attendance reinforced the notion that a shared desire for expression and appreciation of different values and belief systems does exist.

The vast array of materials and accompanying stories that were received inspired another aspect of the collaboration: the drawings of Matilda Essig. While the tapestry integrates many pieces into a whole, the drawings focus on the individual character and history of each contribution. Larger than life and with extensive detail, these images are intended to encourage the viewer to explore the tapestry's beauty and diversity on an intimate scale.

In the final phase of this project, the tapestry and drawings will travel throughout the bioregion to locations from whence came it's ingredients, where it will continue to weave the dialogue of cultural and environmental appreciation of our home in the desert.


drawing of ear of cornCorn
Pictured item contributed by Carlos Nagel, Friends of PRONATURA, Tucson. "Corn is the life stalk of our world, particularly since it is native to the central highlands of Mexico, symbolizing an important part of our survival. It has been a staple food for thousands of years of human civilization, transcending cultural limits through time."
Saguaro Boot
Pictured item contributed by Wendy Burroughs, wildlife rehabilitator, Tucson. "When a bird pecks a nest hole into a saguaro, the cactus exudes a sap to wall off infection, which hardens into a solid structure - the boot. Started by flickers and woodpeckers, it will go on to house screech owls, kestrels, sparrows, cactus wrens, etc. When the saguaro dies and falls to the ground, cactus mice, snakes, insects, and scorpions will make their home inside."
drawing of saguaro boot
house key woven into tapestryKey
Pictured item contributed by Nereo de la Peña, painter and sculptor, Caborca, Sonora, Mexico. "A key for your tapestry, symbolizing confidence and friendship.
Cowboy and Indian
Pictured item contributed by Anne Coe, artist, Apache Junction, Arizona. "These plastic toys represent the crazy funky real eccentric part of the west that is dying out as we get more urbanized."
plastic cowby and Indian toys woven into tapestry
starfish and shell woven into tapestryStarfish and Shells
Pictured item contributed by Matilda Essig, artist, Tucson. "This starfish was washed up on the beaches of Puerto Peñasco after a violent storm. It symbolizes the wealth of marine life in the Sea of Cortez that is vitally connected to our desert ecosystem."
Feather and Peyote Pin
Feather from a military macaw, a bird found in southeastern Sonora, northeastern Sinaloa and southwestern Chihuahua, Mexico. Peyote Pin was an anonymous contribution from a Native American.
bone and feather pin woven into tapestry
beaded turtle woven into tapestryBeaded Turtle
Pictured item contributed by Shelby Tisdale, anthropologist and museum consultant, Tucson. ...Made by an elderly Cocapah woman from the West Reservation outside of Somerton, Arizona. Turtles represent the Colorado River. It could also be representative of the desert tortoise. The beadwork is representative of the arts and crafts of the Cocopah in the U.S. and the Cucupa in Mexico."

bar denoting end of article text

For more information about this project, contact Matilda Essig or Ann Keuper at:
1830 E. Broadway #109
Tucson AZ 85719 USA

About the Arid Lands Newsletter

Link to ALN home page Link to index page for back web issues Link to index page for pre-web issue archive Link to this issue's table of contents