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Friday, February 1, 2013

Fiesta, Fiesta in the Elayne Zorn Collection

On February 2nd 1989, anthropologist Elayne Zorn walked through the city of Puno, Peru equipped with her camera and recording device.  Every February, at an elevation of 12,556 feet, the Andean city is host to the Fiesta de la Virgen de la Candelaria, or Candlemas which is considered one of the largest festivals in South America.  Candelaria draws hundreds of dance groups and tourists every year to Puno, a city and region Zorn was very familiar with. Zorn spent many years and much of her professional career as a museum collector and anthropologist in the Andean regions of Peru and Bolivia. Although it was her interest in textiles and traditional weaving techniques that first brought Zorn to the Island of Taquile in Peru, she was also a musician and took a great interest in festivals.

Personally, I am also interested in festivals. Having studied and participated in street performance in the past I can say there is nothing quite like the thrill of an outdoor crowd. So as I was processing her collection I was immediately drawn to Zorn’s many photographs and audio recordings of the fiestas she attended. Many of the recordings Zorn made feature traditional Andean instruments including the charango, a stringed instrument, sikus, pan pipes and quenas, flute like instruments pictured below. 

Photo by Elayne Zorn. Puno, Peru, 1989. Elayne Zorn collection, Box 47 (S16285)

As a textile enthusiast, Zorn took hundreds of photographs of the traditional outfits worn by both woman and men on festival days.  Zorn writes in her book, Weaving a Future, that audiences at major Puno folklore events would distinguish Taquileans by their clothing, “which tells runa and mestizos the performers’ community of origin.”  (Page 51)

Photo by Elayne Zorn. Puno, Peru, 1989. Elayne Zorn collection, Box 47 (S16277)

Zorn’s collection came to the National Museum of the American Indian as a donation by her son and included both objects and archival materials.  The archival material, measuring about 11 linear feet and containing tens of thousands of photographic objects including negatives, slides and prints as well as audio and video cassettes, documents Zorn’s professional and student activity from 1975 until 2010. In addition to attending festivals, Zorn developed a long association with the community in Taquile,  and spent a significant amount of time conducting field research in Andean communities in Bolivia examining the relationships between tourism and textiles.

Photo by Elayne Zorn. Puno, Peru, 1989. Elayne Zorn collection, Box 47 (S16259)

The Elayne Zorn collection is a wonderful addition to the National Museum of the American Indian archive center. If you would like to learn more about the collection, the finding aid can be accessed here or the NMAI archive center can be reached at

~Rachel Menyuk, Archive Technician NMAI Archive Center

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