Project Tunic: Runways & Wari @ the Cleveland Museum of Art

By Susan Schaul

Wari: Lords of the Ancient Andes, a 150-piece exhibition of ceramics, textiles and ornaments from a previously unknown pre-Inca civilization in Peru, dated 600-1000, opened at the Cleveland Museum of Art (CMA) on 10/28 and will run through Sun 1/6.

“These aesthetic objects are beautifully composed and geometrically created. They portray warmth yet come across like modern art,” said Caroline Goeser, director of education and interpretation at CMA.

The Inca Empire, starting in the early thirteenth century, existed several hundred years after the Wari civilization. The Wari developed a complex society. They had no previous empire upon which to base their complex culture, whereas it is thought that the Inca borrowed some ideas from the Wari. Researchers and historians are beginning to uncover the Wari mystery through their artifacts preserved at ancient burial sites that offer insight into their remarkable existence. Their achievements are deemed even more stunning because there is no evidence of any written language in the Wari society.

The Museum is making the Wari exhibit come alive with creative programming. Seventeen area fashion designers responded to a competitive challenge, Project Tunic. They submitted designs to create their own tunics, jewelry, garments and accessories based on the Wari civilization. Like the hit TV show Project Runway, Project Tunic will showcase fashion design with models walking the runway, judges judging the fashion, winners being chosen, and awards being presented.

Susan Bergh, organizing curator of the exhibition; Tina Cassara, professor of textiles at the Cleveland Institute of Art; Valerie Mayen, former Project Runway contestant and owner of Yellowcake; and Jessica Noelle, fashion blogger of Midwest Muse will all judge the fashion design competition. The top three winning designs will be on display in the Museum Atrium.

Valerie Mayen, owner and fashion designer at Yellowcake in Gordon Square, and one of the judges for the fashion show, commented on NEO’s fashion scene: “There is a small community of budding talent. There is no lack of creativity, most designers here are entrepreneurs working out of their homes.” Mayen designs clothing that she would like to wear. She focuses on coats that are well-designed, flattering, and sustainable.

Fashion is the theme at the Cleveland Museum of Art’s MIX First Friday Happy Hour event on Fri 1/4 from 5 – 9pm. Project Tunic will be part of this MIX event. Fashion designs from the Textile Art Alliance, Yellowcake, and the Virginia Marti College will also be featured.

The participating local designers who are showing their artwork based on inspiration from the Wari exhibit include: Jasmine Andaya, Debbie Apple-Presser, Jacqueline Dukes, Erica French, Shayna Fuller, Maya and Seema Ionna, Tracy Jackson, Victoria Johnson-Parratt, Elizabeth Snodgrass, Kristin Stewart, Mary Louise VanDyke, Miranda Marti, Eileen Coen, Eileen Simon, Carol James, Tina Greenslade, and Sandra Zodnik.

Come see the Project Tunic runway fashion show at MIX — the Cleveland Museum of Art’s First Friday Happy Hour event on 1/4 from 5-9pm. For more information, please visit

[Sketch by Shayna Fuller]

From Cool Cleveland contributor Susan Schaul, who says the act of writing is like assembling a jigsaw puzzle. The challenge lies in getting the pieces to fit together and make sense.




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