Women's Activism NYC

Matilde Painemil Millanao

1953 - Today

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Matilde Painemil Millanao is a Mapuche textile artisan with more than 50 years of experience in the art of ñimin weaving. Recognized as a Traditional Master Artisan by the Ministry of Cultures, Arts and Heritage, with her work she preserves and transmits the history, tradition and identity of her people. Originally from the rural sector of Padre Las Casas, in the Araucanía region, she learned to weave by watching her sister. At night she dreamed that she was the one who braided the sheep's wool and at the age of 10 she began to do it awake. She delicately dyed the fleece with clay and aniline, and used the koliu (spindle) to hand-spin her designs. Gradually she began to make blankets, headboards, rugs and tapestries. Inspired by the 'meliwitralmapu', which in the Mapuche cosmovision is the representation of the earth and its four cardinal points, she makes her work respecting the ancestral designs. She masters several ñimin that are woven on the Mapuche loom, such as wangülen (star), lukutuwe (place where one kneels) and xunkay (union of families). Over the years she has passed on her knowledge to her daughters-in-law, nieces and granddaughters. She has taught them to preserve the double-sided technique, the spinning and twisting of the fabric. In 2023 she was distinguished as a Traditional Master Artisan for her “total mastery of the production process of a craft discipline, whose knowledge has been passed down for at least two generations, and the craft is her main means of livelihood.” Recipient of the 2008 Seal of Excellence for Handicrafts and the 2017 Seal of Excellence for Indigenous Handicrafts, in addition to the “UNESCO Recognition of Excellence for Handicraft Products of the Cono Sur: Argentina, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay”, Matilde believes that her gift was given to her from the spiritual world and is convinced that being a Mapuche weaver is one of her missions in this life.

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