Expanded for DMA Members: Lola Cueto and the Modern Tapestry

Lola Cueto’s tapestry Tehuana (Fruit Seller), on view in Flores Mexicanas: Women in Modern Mexican Art

Dolores Velásquez Cueto, better known as Lola, began taking drawing and painting classes at the National School of Fine Arts in 1909, when she was just 12 years old. Two years later, against the backdrop of the Mexican Civil War, she became a student at the school full time, taking classes alongside such notable artists as David Alfaro Siqueiros, who himself was only one year older than her. Cueto was a voracious student, studying printmaking and other mediums at the National School, while also studying painting at the Open-Air Painting School in Santa Anita under the acclaimed painter Alfredo Ramos Martínez. She also began to teach drawing at a night school for workers, and her interest in education would continue throughout her life.

Cueto’s early work was praised by critics, raising her profile in the flourishing art scene in Mexico City. In 1919 she married fellow art student Germán Cueto Vidal, who would become one of the most well known experimental sculptors of the period. Their home was one of the city’s cultural hubs, where prominent artists and other cultural figures came to socialize.

Although Cueto continued to work in other mediums, she was increasingly drawn to tapestries, no doubt influenced by a childhood passion for embroidery. At the same time, she was part of a contemporary international trend—inspired in part by the Bauhaus—that sought to modernize historic artistic traditions using new techniques and technology. In her early tapestries, for example, Cueto used a sewing machine to create dense, precise embroidery with mercerized and silk threads.

Lola Cueto, Tehuana (Fruit Seller), 1926, embroidery, Colección Andrés Blaisten, México

Cueto produced tapestries inspired by European sources, such as her famous series based on stained glass windows in the cathedrals in Chartres and Bourges, which the artist saw while living in Europe from 1927 to 1932. Many of her tapestries, however, draw on popular Mexican imagery, such as this fruit seller from Tehuantepec, in the southern state of Oaxaca. Celebrated for their independence and grace, native women in Tehuantepec wore distinctive garments that were adopted by a number of female artists, including María Izquierdo and Frida Kahlo.

Lola Cueto, Oaxacan Indian Woman, 1928, tapestry, Colección Andrés Blaisten, México

Made while Cueto was living in Europe, this tapestry depicting an indigenous Oaxacan woman seems to draw a direct connection between the lush landscape and the woman’s cultural identity. The cream-colored fabric of her garments and the green of her jewelry are echoed in the dense foliage and in the mountains in the distance. The work recalls a larger ideology embraced after the Mexican Civil War that saw Mexican national identity as being drawn not just from the nation’s cultural traditions, but also from the unique qualities of its natural landscape.

Dr. Mark A. Castro is The Jorge Baldor Curator of Latin American Art at the DMA.


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