Wari: Curating Alpacas

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Wari: Curating Alpacas

This is the first in a series of blogs exploring our fall exhibition, Wari: Lords of the Ancient Andes, the first North American exhibition to explore the art of the Wari, a cosmopolitan society that existed in the Andes Mountains of Peru between 600 and 1000 AD and is widely regarded today as ancient Peru’s first empire.

On October 28, the Cleveland Museum of Art will host some very unique visitors for the opening of Wari: Lords of the Ancient Andes: alpacas! Why alpacas? Many of the tunics featured in this exhibition were made with alpaca wool, sheared from animals just like the two that will be hanging out on the museum lawn on Sunday.

At Majestic Meadows Alpacas

When I started looking for alpacas to bring to the museum, I was surprised to find out how many alpaca farms are in the area. In fact, Ohio has the most alpaca ranches in the United States! Around seventy of those alpacas live at Majestic Meadows Alpacas in Medina. Jeff and Faye Farley, the owners of Majestic Meadows, raise primarily huacaya alpacas, which have fluffy, crimped hair. (The other breed, the suri, has long, straight hair that looks like dreadlocks.)

A huacaya male alpaca

Jeff and Faye are bringing two young huacayas for the exhibition opening. I took a trip out to the farm to prepare for their visit and meet some of the herd. It was my very first time being anywhere near a real alpaca. Up close, they’re even more adorable than in pictures, and their fleece is unbelievably soft to the touch. (It’s also hypoallergenic, so if you’re allergic to wool, try an alpaca fleece sweater instead.) I was a little nervous at first, having never been near an alpaca before, but they are actually quite friendly and gentle. Many of the Majestic Meadows alpacas are quite comfortable around people. Some are even trained to walk on a harness, like a dog walking on a leash.

A female huacaya alpaca in the barn

Most of the alpacas were “teenagers” or adults. But there were some special new additions to the farm, too. When I first arrived, two small alpacas were standing in the barnyard. Despite the sunshine, one of them wore a tiny black cape over its shoulders for warmth. This cria (as baby alpacas are called) had been born the day before at an unusually early hour and had almost frozen in the chilly air. While not as lively as the other cria, born the same day but at a later, warmer hour, this little one had managed to stand and even run a little bit. Good progress after a rocky start to life!

The crias are too young to join us on October 28, but two of their bigger herdmates will be here to meet you. Visit them on the museum lawn and then come inside to see the beautiful tunics made from alpaca wool in Wari: Lords of the Ancient Andes.

-- Bethany Corriveau
Audience Engagement Specialist