The Passing of Walter “Chip” Morris, Chiapas Textile Icon

Chip Morris was one of those iconic figures who is largely responsible for the development of textile education in Chiapas, Mexico. He is known for preserving and promoting Maya highland weaving. He was there for a lifetime, co-creating the famed weaving cooperative Sna Jolobil and establishing San Cristobal de las Casas as a textile lover’s travel destination.

I got news of his passing yesterday from my pal Sheri Brautigam while I was in transit from my Durham home to Mexico City.

Walter “Chip” Morris, 1953-2019, RIP

From Kiki Suarez, founder of Kikimundo, famed folk art gallery in the San Cristobal de las Casas historic center:

When I arrived in San Cristobal in 1977, the Maya fabric here was already in decline, and neither I nor any tourists knew much about quality and we bought mediocre embroidery; we did not know about the quality of what was possible. The weavers themselves followed the tradition but many did not know the meaning of their patterns. A young gringo Hippie arrived, settled in San Andres Larrainzar, learned Tzotzil (and probably spoke it better than Spanish), and rescued the meanings in the ancient textiles, which were already at the point of disintegrating.

This man was Walter F. Morris, who we called Chip. I learned a lot with him. Together with Luis Contreras and Pedro Meza, he formed the Sna Jolobil cooperative in the city, still known today as the sourced for the highest quality Maya fabric. He took the Maya textiles to the great museums. He wrote his book, Living Maya, with Carol Karasik, that included the extraordinary photographs taken by Jeffrey J. Foxx, and then translated into Spanish.

Then, other books followed, always with the faithful and capable Carol: about how the Maya fabric here in many remote communities in the Maya highlands continues to develop instead of disappearing, how Maya women and men are preserving their dress instead of giving over to western styles — a rare phenomenon in the world.

The tours and talks by Chip that I attended were wonderful. I remember the first years here when I saw women walking from village to village, carrying their textiles on their heads. I remember how Chip was looking for, discovering, teaching the weavers themselves the meaning of their patterns, rescuing old huipil designs. I remember an old huipil from Chamula that had designs that were taken from the murals at Bonampak. Chip helped them appreciate the value of their own art that they often sold for nothing or almost nothing.

Then, he joined the fabulous Pellizzi Collection for a small salary. The Maya textile was his life and his passion and his destiny and vocation, and perhaps everything else in life could not compete with this. If today there are so many cooperatives and young people who play with new designs of the traditional Maya textile, I think this is why Chip Morris started — to leave this legacy. Unfortunately, for many years, for personal reasons, he began to withdraw from social spaces, and today many who work in the same field do not even know about him.

That’s why I write this: Let them know! This is the heritage he leaves in San Cristobal, and with many weavers and people in many communities.

Chip transcends his personal struggles for his great effort and work to rescue and recognize the Maya fabric, another textile artist, Olga Reiche, from Guatemala, wrote to me today. And, so it is …

I did not know Chip personally. I met him a couple of times in Tenejapa during my tours with Patrick Murphy, when he was guiding tourists to the cooperative operated by Maria Meza across from the zocalo. I knew that he was ailing. Most of us did. As Kiki says, we honor the contribution he made to Maya textile knowledge. We go to Chiapas because of what he accomplished. Descansé bien.

We recommend Chip’s book, Maya Threads: A Woven History published by Thrum’s Books, for our Chiapas textile study tour participants. I hope you have a chance to read it.

I’m taking a wait list for the February 25-March 4, 2020 Chiapas Textile Study Tour. Let me know if you want to go.

11 responses to “The Passing of Walter “Chip” Morris, Chiapas Textile Icon

  1. As a correction for the post at the top- he was born in 1952, not 1953.

  2. I took the picture of Chip that was posted above. A man named Ed Carter and I were perhaps his best friendsespecially during the later part of his life. My wife and I bought his house and I am sitting at the kitchen table in his house as I write this. Chip came to Chiapas in June of 1972 and began living in native communities shortly thereafter. Chip wrote his own material. Carol edited his writings, later. She was not involved with the direct text writing “Living Maya” which was published in 1987. Since he died I have heard a lot of rumors about ghost writing and other crap which is people who still are alive talking garbage to benefit themselves.. If anyone has any questions about Chip or what really happened please email me at John Hodgson

  3. As always, a beautifully written tribute, Norma. Thank you. xoBetsy

  4. Thank you for posting this Norma. Chip was the Titan of Mayan Textiles. Colin and I did a trip with him to Tenejapa and Cancuc and it was day we’ll never forget! Through a relay system of taxis to various festivals (where he shared pox with the locals), he introduced us to a rare and beautiful world of textiles and their makers. Everyone revered him. This big bear of a guy could lovingly run his sausage fingers over the design of a shirt and tell the story of the young boy who wore it. A brilliant scholar, his contribution and passion for Mayan textiles will be with us for many years to come.Rest In Peace, Chip.

  5. Your blog is just amazing . What a gift to the world

  6. So sorry. Younger than me. I also have his book & appreciate the history I now have with it. Wonderful book.

  7. Sorry for your loss. I have the Maya Threads book. I look forward to revisiting it. Thanks for the background information.

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