Curated by
Mariah Sacoman
Former Curator,
Contemporary Hispano/
Latino Collections

Click on objects to see image


hether intensely spiritual or brazenly secular, paño art draws on the deepest emotions of prisoners whose artistic expression is limited only by the materials at hand. The word paño (Spanish for cloth or handkerchief) has come to mean the art form itself -- a ball point pen or colored pencil drawing on a handkerchief. This exhibition opened July 21, 1996 at the Museum of International Folk Art and closed January 7, 1997.

Scholars have yet to determine the origin of paño art, but some believe that it emerged in the 1940s among Chicano prisoners in the southwestern United States who drew on the handkerchiefs or torn bed sheets. Today paño art is associated with Chicano inmates around the country, both male and female, who neatly fold paños into envelopes and mail them to loved ones.

Paño artists take much of their imagery and inspiration from the larger visual arts vocabulary of Chicano art conspicuous in murals, posters, low rider cars, graffiti, and tattoos. The art form evolves as prisoners talk paño techniques, share their information on materials and style, and trade patterns drawn or traced from magazines, newspapers and catalogs.


©1997 Museum of International
Folk Art, Santa Fe, New Mexico