Secundino Bazan Mendoza is eighty-five years old. He is the subject of today’s Oaxaca, Mexico portrait photography session along with his wife Rosa Rosa Bazan and adult daughter Ester. This was pure serendipity.
Secundino is a weaver of traditional blankets and serapes. He shears the local sheep raised in Teotitlan del Valle, preferring them to those raised in the highlands because the fleece is thinner and softer. He cards and then washes the wool in the stream that runs through town, rubbing it against the river rocks to soften it even more. Then he spins it himself and weaves it. The wool is undyed and Secundino weaves a traditional early Zapotec design that is not used much today.
(Portraits of Secundino by Norma Hawthorne in natural light with reflector.)
When U.S. importers came to Teotitlan del Valle in the 1960’s and 70’s, they found great weavers like Secundino who were making horse blankets, serapes and ponchos. The importers wanted to meet the marketplace home decor demand for Santa Fe Style. They asked the weavers to make floor rugs and employ Navajo designs. The village became even more well known and prosperous. Over the years, many local families began exporting their own rugs, working with dealers in the U.S., and becoming entrepreneurs in their own right.
Secundino Bazan Mendoza never changed. He kept weaving the blankets and serapes using undyed natural wool. He would weave two mirror pieces on his one small loom and stitch them up the center the way it was done a hundred years ago. The way his father and grandfather taught him. He may be the only one in the village still doing it this way. He can complete two or three blankets a year now.
(Above: Rosa and Secundino in front of Norma’s blanket. Photos by Norma Hawthorne.)
That’s why when I heard that Secundino had another blanket on his loom I asked to buy it. And, when I ran into Ester, his daughter, at the church on Good Friday she told me it was ready. Then, she asked me if I wanted to come to her father’s house to take a photo of him and the rug. The family became our unplanned for Day 7 photo shoot. This was going to be our selecting and editing day for the entire week. So we did it all!
(Above left: Jessica Santiago Guzman checking the camera settings. Above right: Maria and Jesus, daughter and grandchild of Secundino and Rosa. Both photos by Norma Hawthorne.)
We met Ester in front of Las Granadas B&B at eleven o’clock in the morning Teotitlan time (an hour difference from Oaxaca, which went on Daylight Savings last week — let the confusion begin). Then, we commandeered two tuk-tuks (moto taxis) to take our group of six up the steep hill on the other side of town to Secundino’s humble home.
Two years ago, Secundino fell and broke his hip. The family thought he would never be able to stand and weave again. His recovery was one year long. Now, he is able to weave in twenty-minute stretches, taking long rest breaks, for about four hours a day. It takes him three or four months to weave a complete blanket.
I hope you agree with me that we have captured a tradition that is passing in Teotitlan del Valle, and in addition to taking glorious photos we have documented a weaving way of life that will become part of history.
Thank you to instructor Matt Nager, and participants Richard Carter and Jessica Santiago Guzman for capturing these moments. And, special thanks to the family of Secundino Bazan Mendoza for inviting us into their home and giving us the treasure of their time and patience and willingness to be photographed.
(Above left and center photos by Richard Carter. Above right photo by Norma Hawthorne.)