Monthly Archives: July 2019

Oaxaca Artisans in Santa Fe, New Mexico 2019 IFAM

Thursday parade features Mexican delegation with Teotitlan weaver Isaac Vasquez

The 2019 International Folk Art Market in Santa Fe, New Mexico, has come to an end. The three-day extravaganza is a chaotic mix of tribal, ethnic, indigenous creativity from around the world. It brings together many talented artisans who have no other paths to reach international markets.

Santa Fe is a destination for many reasons. This is where friends from all over the country converge to volunteer, too. A group of us planned a reunion around being here. We coordinated our volunteer time. We stayed at the same, small, old Route 66 motel that has been in service since the 1950’s. I imagine my dad may have stayed there as he pulled a trailer with all our family household belongings behind our 1953 Plymouth station wagon on the journey west from Detroit to resettle in Los Angeles.

Don Jose Garcia Antonio is blind, feels his way to sculpt Oaxaca life

The market officially begins on Friday night with a special opening night preview at $250 per person admission. I always volunteer, so I get to watch the passing parade of Texas and Oklahoma oil and gas heiresses and collectors dressed in their finest attire. It’s a cocktail party that goes from 5:30 to 10:00 p.m. The ticket gives one first pick. I volunteered with Santa Fe de Laguna, Patzcuaro, potter Nicolas Fabian Fermin, and I packed up lots of beautiful pots that night.

Weaver Pedro Mendoza, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, at Banamex Foundation booth

The frenzy continued on Saturday morning when the Early Birders got in at 7:30 a.m. After the late night on Friday of bubble-wrapping ceramics, I just couldn’t get going to get there before 10 a.m. when the event opened to general admission. With hundreds of artisans and thousands of people, it was a crush to get through the aisles to see all that was offered at this huge bazaar.

Yesenia Yadira Salgado Tellez, Oaxaca filigree silversmith

That didn’t give me much time to cover more than a fraction of the aisles, since I was meeting friends Jennifer and Mark Brinitzer, Ann Brinitzer and Katie and Don Laughland for an early lunch in the cafe. The women came with me on our 2019 Chiapas Textile Study Tour (a few places open for 2020) and we became fast friends.

Remigio Mestas is noted conservator of finest Oaxaca textiles, at Banamex Foundation

It was thrilling and heartfelt to see so many artisans I know from Oaxaca represented at this outstanding exposition. It takes years of making highest quality work to gain this level of recognition, plus it takes entrepreneurship and some luck to gain entry to this juried show.

Amada Sanchez, Pinotepa de Don Luis, Oaxaca, master weaver and dyer

It’s very expensive for artisans to participate, too. They must cover their own shipping, travel, lodging and food expenses and they give 20% of their sales to the IFAM organization for the opportunity to sell.

Weaver Porfirio Gutierrez Contreras and dye-master sister Juana, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca
Client wears fuschine-dyed huipil, Dreamweavers Cooperative, Pinotepa de Don Luis, Oaxaca

If they are part of a cooperative with many makers, the profits must be divided. As with the case of Dreamweavers Cooperative from Pinotepa de Don Luis, there were three representatives at the Folk Art Market — Amada, Teofila and Patrice. Patrice did a fundraiser and collected over $4,000 USD to cover some of the expenses. And, they had excellent sales. However, the net gets divided among 30 weavers and dyers, so each person might earn only a few hundred dollars.

Selvedge Magazine Latin Issue co-editor Marcella Echeverria, Mexico City

For individual artisans and families, the profits are much better but ONLY IF there are sales. If it is a slow year, there is an opportunity to sell at a discount (the artisan names the percentage) on Sunday afternoon, the last day of the show. Brisk sales one year does not guarantee success for the next. The risk is entirely on the shoulders of the artisan.

Odilon Merino Morales shows an exquisite hand-woven San Pedro Amuzgo, Oaxaca huipil,

Odilon Merino Morales from San Pedro Amuzgo on the Costa Chica of Oaxaca, Mexico, consigns what he doesn’t sell with Sheri Brautigam who runs the online Etsy shop, Living Textiles of Mexico. If you didn’t get to the show and want one of these incredible textiles, please contact Sheri. She also has pieces from Pinotepa de Don Luis’ Dreamweavers Cooperative.

Master weaver Isaac Vasquez, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

The benefit of doing this is that the artisans do not need to pay the return shipping for unsold goods and it leaves the beautiful pieces in the USA for better access to those of you who missed the show and want to make a purchase.

Patrice Perillie, Amada Sanchez and Norma Schafer in our huipiles

I volunteered on Saturday afternoon from noon to 6:00 p.m. with the Dreamweavers Cooperative. I know these women well since I lead study tours to their remote village on Oaxaca’s Costa Chica.

The IFAM show is a destination and an adventure. Since I know many of the artisans, it is a special and heart-throbbing experience to meet them outside their humble homes and villages in the world of commerce. For some, this is their first visit to the USA. Their first flight on an airplane. Their first success at getting a visa to enter the USA and overcome the fears of border crossing and disrespect.

Hand-woven native green Oaxaca cotton, purple snail dye, indigo, cochineal

This is the moment to applaud what Oaxaca artisans have accomplished. There are so many more talented people whose work goes unrecognized and unrewarded. For those of us who love Mexico and appreciate the talent, history, culture and art, the process of bringing accomplished artisans to the world marketplace is an on-going effort.

Thanks to all who support and applaud what they do.

My pal Winn, volunteer extraordinaire, writing up a sales slip

In the vast New Mexico landscape, one can disappear, rediscover Georgia O’Keefe, experience Nuevo Mexico, land of enchantment, understand the history and artisanry of nearby Native Americans who live along the Rio Grand River. It is hot, dry, high desert with the kind of beauty that brings the romance of the Old West into one’s spirit.

View from Abiquiu, New Mexico

Look at the rain over purple hills, fields of sage and lavender, the dry withered look of dehydration — plants and people, wrinkles in the earth and on weathered faces. I imagine what it would be like to be an indigenous person here, too. I know the Oaxaca story well. There are many similarities — both experienced the Conquest, the attempt at culture annihilation, and the resurgence of identity amidst the face of adversity and hardship.

Again, let’s applaud the talent of our First Peoples.

Santo Domingo jewelry maker Warren Nieto

Mexico in Santa Fe, Nuevo Mexico—International Folk Art Market

Tonight the famed Santa Fe International Folk Art Market opens on Museum Hill to the thrill of all of us who embrace the work created by indigenous people as an expression of self, culture and community. It will continue through the weekend.

On Thursday afternoon, skirting a dramatic downpour of rain, the IFAM officially began with the Parade of Nations around the Santa Fe Plaza. Outstanding artisans from Mexico represented the best of the entire country and her dedication to craft preservation and culture.

From Oaxaca, Isaac Vasquez, and behind Don Jose Garcia and Teresita Mendoza Reyna Sanchez, ceramic sculptors from San Antonio Castillo Velasco

It takes a village. It takes the ingenuity, dedication, years of creative work without the promise of recognition. It takes collectors and appreciators who reward talent by purchasing amazing pieces. It takes the support of NGOs and individuals who give time, energy and resources to step in to help artisans, most of whom speak no English, or may speak some Spanish, and who prefer to communicate in their indigenous language, which is probably their first language.

The International Folk Art Market brings people together from all around the world to celebrate native craft and creativity. It offers a forum to appreciate, understand and applaud.

From Pinotepa de Don Luis, Oaxaca, Dreamweavers Cooperative—Txinda Purple Snail Dyes

The parade around the plaza brought tears to my eyes for many reasons. This joining, this coming together in celebration is a marvel. I recognized so many faces from the artisans I know in Oaxaca and Mexico. We waved. We embraced. The crowd responded.

The Market is juried and space is limited. Many talented people from Mexico apply and are not accepted. Space is limited. Most wouldn’t even dream of coming this far because it requires about $2,000 US dollars to fund the travel and expenses for one person. There is an application fee and artisans pay a percentage of sales to the organization, too. And, then, of course, there is the huge obstacle of getting a Visitor Visa to enter the USA.

From Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Porfirio Gutierrez and sister Juana Gutierrez

So this is a special group in many ways.

To be here is to have pride in Mexico, what her people do and create, the tenacity required to get this far, the savvy to be able to translate creative work into an application, the perseverance to risk ridicule and jealousy by peers who wish they could have achieved.

From Pátzcuaro, Michoacan, Nicolas Fabian Fermin and Maria del Rosario Lucas, potters

There are joys for all us derived from being in a community of like people from around the world.

Bienvenidos. Welcome to Santa Fe.

Taking Big Leaps–Dance of the Feather, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

Wednesday, July 10, 2019–This group of new dancers start their three-year commitment to church, community and family this year. The most touching moment for me was to be in the home of the Moctezuma, the lead character in the Danza de la Pluma just before they set out to the church plaza to dance for three hours until sunset on July 9.

Grandma raises her hand to make the sign of the cross in blessing

Here I witnessed loved ones bestow their blessings on him. It was like anointing their son and grandson with the benediction of all the generations who came before, offering God’s favor and protection. It was as if all the young men over decades who participated in this sacred dance were present, too. It is an honor and a commitment to perform this service. I am told it is life-changing.

The ritual is repeated year after year, but the first year is a special test for a new group of dancers for their faith, endurance, strength, passion, dedication, coordination and precision. It is also an important exercise in mutual support. Dancers are not individuals. They are part of a team, and it is their team effort that underlies the essence of how this Usos y Costumbres community self-governs.

The Dance of the Feather, which tells the story of the Spanish Conquest from the indigenous point-of-view, is meticulously choreographed. The village symphony orchestra/band knows exactly what to play as the story unfolds. As each step is taken down the cobbled streets to the church, there is a cadence that is repeated in the retelling.

Parents of La Malinche help her prepare

In the altar room at the Moctezuma’s home, family members help each member of the group dress in their costume. This takes time since each element of the dress is an elaborate undertaking.

Dad attaches silk scarves that will fly like wings
Doña Marina, age six, fortifies herself to prepare for three hours of dancing
Grandmothers peel onions and garlic for the barbecue stew

Behind the scenes, another type of choreography takes place. It is the work men, women and girls and boys who do the food preparation and service. Every bit is made by hand. The chickens are slaughtered, boiled and the meat is shredded for tamales.

Each made by hand memela is the blessing of a woman’s hand
Drinking tejate — muy rico — a pre-Hispanic tradition

The toro (bull) is slaughtered and prepared for barbacoa de res. The tejate is stone ground by hand, with home roasted cacao beans. Can I talk about the memelas? I’ve never tasted anything so good — comal toasted corn patties, slathered with bean paste, fresh salsa, shredded Oaxaca cheese, a drizzle of shredded lettuce.

Natividad serves memelas to a guest

We feed each other because we take care of each other. Our survival and continuity depends on it.

This is a hallmark for Teotitlan del Valle and other Usos y Costumbres communities in Mexico. They function so well because of this bond. Mutual support is about respect for heritage and relationships. You do it because it is a value to the self, the other and makes the whole stronger.

Moctezuma flanked by La Malinche (L) and Doña Marina (R)

The dancers who participate in the Dance of the Feather embody these values, embrace them, practice them and model them for others.

Taking big leaps — the strength and prowess of the dancers

The dancing will resume again in the church courtyard on Friday, July 12, at 5:00 PM. Check Oaxaca Events for schedule and other festivities around town.

Village officials and guests offer support — feather crowns on the patio during a rest

As I said goodbye to family members of the dance group, they asked me to tell you how important their culture is to them, how they want to communicate the beauty and friendship of Mexico, and how strongly they are committed to preserving traditions, and extend an invitation to visit.

Church is symbol of faith — but the commitment comes from the heart
Clowning around with the Clown character — symbol of Aztec spy

There are two clown figures included in the Dance of the Feather. They serve multiple functions. Primarily they are the dancers’ helpers, holding crowns when a scarf needs to be retied, bringing water and rehydration drinks, communicating with the officials when a bio-break is needed. They also are jesters that provide fun, frivolity and antics to the story — a diversion of sorts.

They will tease and cajole audience members, like me. Jajajajaja. In the original story, they are the Aztec spies who disguised themselves to get close to the Spanish conquistadores and bring information back to the Aztec generals. There were two battles with the Spanish. The Aztecs won the first.

Parade of the Canastas and Dance of the Feather, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

Opening ceremonies for the Dance of the Feather in Teotitlan del Valle always begin with a 5:00 PM Monday convite starting in the plaza courtyard. Convite translates into banquet, invitation, feast. Here, it is a procession that by my definition is a Feast For the Eyes.

Today, Tuesday, July 9, Los Danzantes de la Pluma will begin their full presentation at 5:00 PM in the church courtyard. Tomorrow, on July 10, they will start at 12:00 PM noon and dance until about 8:00 PM.

When I’m here, this is a desfile that I do not want to miss. This year is special, too, because a new group of dancers begins their three-year commitment to church and community. They will dance at every community-wide celebration as part of their promise to participate.

We got back to Teotitlan from the city just in time for the festivities to begin. Young women and girls as young as three years old, dressed in traditional fiesta traje, gathered in the church plaza with their ornate decorated baskets to prepare for the parade through the streets.

La Malinche (l.) and Doña Marina (r.) flank Moctezuma

We were waiting for the Danzantes to arrive. They had left the home of the Moctezuma, the head of the group, and walked behind the band for about a mile to the church. You could follow their path by the sound. In full dance regalia complete with corona (crown), rattles, amulets, and a costume that combines Spanish and pre-Hispanic symbols, they were a sight to behold.

I’ve written a lot here about the syncretism between indigenous spirituality and mysticism combined with Spanish Catholicism which comprises modern Mexico — Mestizo culture. Malinche is the slave given to Cortes who was his lover-translator. Remember, she was a slave and had no choice! Doña Marina is the same woman after being baptized in the church. The conversion is an important part of Mexican mixed identity.

The procession winds through village streets for several blocks

My Note: The Dance of the Feather is a re-telling of the conquest story through dance. It is part of Oaxaca’s oral history. Zapotec, the native language, is not written. In traditional villages, it is part of the usos y costumbres laws and traditions. The dance has become commercialized and performed by professionals during the annual Guelaguetza in Oaxaca’s auditorium. Please don’t confuse the commercial folkloric dance, which requires expensive tickets, with its original purpose.

Canastas are heavy, difficult to carry

There were probably four hundred people assembled, including villagers who would follow the procession through the streets. Accompanying the procession were official representatives from each of Teotitlan’s five sections, each a sponsor for a group of young women, plus other patrons who provide the means to build and maintain their canasta baskets.

On-lookers and blocked traffic. Patience is a virtue.

All along the procession path, locals assembled in front of houses and on corners to watch and to pay respects.

The Dance of the Feather Begins in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

Today is the official start of Teotitlan del Valle’s Dance of the Feather, or Danza de la Pluma. It is a perfect example of how our village celebrates community with a promise and commitment by young people to their people, their church, their history and their culture.

The celebration honors the 16th century church, Templo de la Preciosa de Sangre de Cristo and its central part of village life.

16th Church rises above Zapotec temple base. Stones used for church walls.
Sacred mountain Picacho seen from church steeple
A beautiful day from the top of the Teotitlan del Valle church

5 PM on Monday there was a convite (procession) that began at the home of the Moctezuma and went to the church courtyard. It then processed through all five sections of the village and returned to the church. Highlights included young women dressed in traditional traje (garments) holding canastas (baskets) on their heads adorned with religious images.

Corona (crown) of the Moctezuma with turkey feathers, representing Quetzalcoatl

The young men and two girls who form this new Dance of the Feather group are dressed in their plumed headdresses, carry rattles, and wear clothing that suggests the syncretism of Mexico, the mix of indigenous, Aztec and Spanish conquerors. The dance itself is a representation of the conquest from the indigenous point-of-view.

A procession around the church courtyard before entering the church for blessings.

On Tuesday (today, July 9) at around 4:00 p.m. or 5:00 p.m. (I’m told), the dancers will begin in the church courtyard. On Wednesday, they will start around noon and continue until about 8:00 p.m.. Festivities continue throughout the week with a carnival fair surrounding the market.

The Mexican ram

By luck and serendipity, several events happened before the official celebrations begin. It happened because we set out from my casita Saturday on foot instead of traveling by car. In the church courtyard, a group of musicians were forming. They invited us to join them on the church rooftop for a symphonic concert. We climbed up the narrow, winding carved stone bell-tower where they would play to mark the official start of the celebration.

360 degree views of the Tlacolula Valley and Teotitlan lands
A slice of life from the winding stone church stairwell — escalera de caracol

From the top of the church, one can see and be heard for miles. Everyone knows what these annual rituals mean. It is embedded in life here.

Traditional and ancient Zapotec flute, sounds like a clarinet … sort of

After walking down to Tierra Antigua for lunch, we made a stop at Casa Viviana before heading home. Viviana Alavez is a Grand Master of Oaxaca Folk Art, known for her ornate hand-made beeswax candles. My friend Chris wanted to buy some to take to her new home in Ajijic. The longer, thicker ones weren’t available. They are for the Danzantes celebration, we were told.

Chris and Ben at Casa Viviana candlemakers

As we were leaving, my friend Natividad appeared in the doorway with her baby daughter Esmeralda. I asked her what was going on down the street under the big tented courtyard — always a signal for a fiesta. It’s the home of the Moctezuma, the lead character/dancer for the Dance of the Feather, she said and invited us to come over. Another grand surprise, my comadre Ernestina was there with daughter Lupita, and lo and behold, Viviana was participating in the food preparation, too.

Making masa mixed with cacao for tejate — at it for five hours

We were invited to the Sunday morning mass to bless the dancers at the church and then come back to the house for breakfast. What a surprising and great day!

Breakfast is hot chocolate and sweet bread — dunk in the chocolate for yummies

This is the early part of the celebration, when the family and closest friends come together in private ceremony. The abuelas enter the altar room to offer their special benedictions to the young people — another way to carry-on tradition, handing it from generation-to-generation, in a tribute to succession and respect.

Home altar here is more important than the church for Zapotec ritual of thanksgiving and appreciation. After the church ceremony, the head of household gathers everyone in the altar room for prayer in both Spanish and Zapotec, thanking God for family, community and continuity. This is cultural preservation at its best!

The cooking fires — how food is made in Teotitlan del Valle
Amulets, rattles and feathers on the altar, an offering to God, community and church

We then sit down to a breakfast of homemade everything — in abundance: black beans seasoned with epazote, hot chocolate, bread, fresh from the comal stone-ground tortillas, salsa. Later for lunch at 5 p.m. there will be Seguesa de Pollo, a tasty stew of organic chicken mixed in a seasoned mole amarillo (yellow chile sauce) thickened with toasted and rough ground maize (corn).

It takes a village to cook for the minions, including famous Viviana (right).
Eating Seguesa de Pollo. We use tortillas for spoons here!

Let the festivities begin.

The abuelitas — the little grandmothers, friends for a lifetime
At 4 a.m. men start the toro slaughter, to become barbacoa and consumé on Wednesday
We know where our food comes from — teaching the children (Arnulfo, left, Rodolfo right)

It is an honor and privilege to live here and participate in these rituals. Tomorrow I leave to attend and volunteer at the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market in New Mexico, and meet up with long-time friends. Then, I’ll continue on to California to visit my son, sister and brother. I’ll keep you posted along the way.

Thank you for reading and following! I’ve been writing this blog for 12 years. It’s been an amazing process, always filled with new experiences to share.

Teotitlan del Valle daily market from the church steeple