Category Archives: Cultural Commentary

Folk Art Makers in Oaxaca Artisan Villages: Kinship, Work and Compensation

I subscribe to a website named academia.edu that recently published a paper by Alanna Cant, an academic from Kent University, United Kingdom. Dr. Cant spent almost a decade studying and writing about the relationship between the owners of a large, successful wood carving and painting workshop in San Martin Tilcajete and the people who are employed there making alebrijes.

The article is important because it expands understanding about how folk art gets made and marketed, who gets recognition for the work, and a different form of compensation. It emphasizes how the importance of family relationships and kinship take priority over economic independence and personal recognition for artisan work.

Read it here: ‘Making’ Labour in Mexican Artisanal Workshops

We learn from this that making a name for oneself and making money is not the primary driver for most people who live in community.

It’s very important for us not to judge by our own standards, but to observe and understand the differences and similarities between cultures.

In many small villages throughout Oaxaca, in fact throughout Mexico, safety, security and economic well-being depends on mutual support. These practices are ancient and deep, embedded in tribal relationships rooted in loyalty and commitment. It is far more important for many talented crafts-people to support strong family relationships than it is for them to break away and start their own enterprise.

I’m not a cultural anthropologist, yet I extrapolate that this may be the norm in many villages of weavers, potters and embroiderers. Cooperatives are usually extensions of family units of parents, children, aunts, uncles and cousins — a social organization that differs in practice from co-ops in the USA. Producing quantities of artisan-made work depends on more than a few pairs of hands.

If you are a collector or appreciator of Mexican craft, this article may interest you. It will give you insight into the making of Mexican folk art and how indigenous communities are able to survive and support each other over 8,000 years of existence.

Their experience is very different from ours. Entrepreneurship and commercial success, too, comes at a cost as television and the internet make the world of things more important than the world of people.

 

Omar’s Discovery Tour: A First Visit to the USA

Omar Chavez Santiago is twenty-four years old. He is a weaver and natural dyer from Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico. Last year, he graduated with a degree in industrial engineering after studying for four years at Anahuac University in Oaxaca. He is at a cross-roads.

Fayetteville, Lillington, Coats, NC friends give Omar a warm welcome in Durham. Thanks Becky, Robin and Debbie for your support.

Does he pursue a professional engineering career and move to Monterrey or continue in the generations-old family tradition of his Zapotec culture?

On March 1, 2017, Omar went to Mexico City for an interview appointment at the US Embassy to follow-up on his visitor visa application to enter the USA. He is male. He is young. We didn’t know what his chances would be. Slim, I thought. Very slim. So few are allowed to enter.

I wrote my Congressman G.K. Butterfield ((D-NC) to ask if they would send a message and alert the Embassy staff that Omar would be there on March 1 to present a letter of invitation from me and Wendy Sease, owner of INDIO Durham. We invited him to give a presentation and sale of the family’s 100% naturally dyed wool rugs in early April.

List to this GistYarn Podcast with Omar Chavez Santiago

Omar, age 24, has been weaving since he was eight years old.

An alert is different from a request to approve. No one interferes with US Embassy immigration decisions. An alert just says, Look out for this applicant. I guess they did. At the end of the short interview, Omar was awarded a 10-year visa. Ojala.

Discovering La Superior Carneceria y Super Tienda, Durham

Three weeks later, the paperwork arrived in Teotitlan del Valle, and Omar arrived in Durham, North Carolina on March 28.

I started calling this Omar’s Discovery Tour because everything was new to him. Exciting. Inspiring. Being here gave him the chance to see that what Galeria Fe y Lola creates in Oaxaca is linked to the home goods fashion cycle in the USA, where most of their clients come from. It connected the dots.

A walk through Duke University with Jacob and Hettie.

He discovered that design and color preferences change according to season. Texture and palette compliment. He saw traditional and contemporary side-by-side. He saw cities and farmland. Innovation and comfort. The edges where his countrymen and women live beyond the chi-chi neighborhoods, shopping in grocery stores named La Superior Carneceria or Compare or Tienda Mexicana Guadalupana, where life is familiar and safe. He heard an earful about politics, leadership void and political discontent.

A walk through Duke Gardens with Jacob

Omar thinks we are organized, tidy, friendly, and open to opportunity. (Of course, we know this is NOT a universal truth in the USA.)

Lime bikes propagate in downtown Durham. Take a ride.

He likes that people here greet him with a smile, that cars stop for pedestrians, and he can ride a Lime Bike on the American Tobacco Trail all afternoon for a few dollars, followed by beer and bonding at Ponysaurus with Jacob and Kathryn. He likes that we recycle (some of us). And, he can put on his jogging shoes and run for miles on groomed paths and streets.

Wow, there are REALLY good goat tacos here, just like in Mexico

It got to the point after the first week that he could rank order the best hamburgers in Durham after tastings at many restaurants. In retail shops, he was invited to sit down in a comfy chair or sofa, offered refreshment, and an invitation to kibbitz informally. He saw that deep friendships can be formed well beyond the inner circle of family.

A talk and cochineal dye demo at Echoview Fiber Mill, Weaverville, NC

Then, we went to Asheville and Weaverville, where the fiber arts community welcomed Omar for a cochineal dye demonstration and exhibition. We ate at Buxton Hall Barbecue and White Duck Tacos, and walked the downtown going in and out of fine art and craft galleries. He was mesmerized by the creativity. We slept in a cozy Arts & Crafts Cottage on the Blue Ridge Parkway hosted by Laura and Bryan.

100% naturally dyed churro wool rugs from Galeria Fe y Lola

Omar began to imagine that his dreams could become a reality. He began building new dreams. By the time he went home on Saturday morning after almost three weeks here, he was excited and inspired to create new designs, incorporate new business ideas, capture on cloth that which captured his imagination, and incorporate elements of traditional Zapotec motifs with new energy.

I wish we could give this opportunity to other talented young Mexicans who have dreams, who want to create and add value to their country.

Making the presentation at Echoview Fiber Mill, in collaboration with Local Cloth

Cochineal dye demonstration at Echoview Fiber Mill

I feel much this way when I go to Mexico. I see that families are tightly knit, where ancient ritual gives meaning to life, how reverence for the elderly shapes  continuity, how people take time to be with families and celebrate together.

Art at the Durham Museum Hotel

Travel broadens and opens us up to more than new experiences. It gives us something intangible, a new neural pathway to exploration, learning, becoming. It gives us an opportunity to befriend, to connect and to live expansively with meaning.

Taking a break at Ponysaurus Brewing Company, Durham

It was twelve-and-a-half years ago when I met Omar’s brother Eric and sister Janet in the Teotitlan del Valle rug market. They were both students, not knowing where their paths would lead. Omar was not quite twelve. Through mutual support and effort, our lives were changed.

Thanks to all who supported Omar with a purchase!

Laura and her family with Omar in Asheville

There are many people to thank for making Omar’s Discovery Tour possible: parents Federico Chavez Sosa and Dolores Santiago Arrellenas in Teotitlan del Valle; Wendy Sease, Hettie Johnson, Jacob Singleton, Kathryn Salisbury, Karen Soskin, Steve Haskin, Nick and Rochelle Johnson in Durham; Laura and Bryan Tompkins, Judi Jetson with Local Cloth, Grace Casey-Gouin at Echoview Fiber Mill in Asheville and Weaverville, and our friends everywhere.  Thank you.

We are talking now about when he may return.

 

North Carolina Hosts Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Weaver with Two Trunk Shows

Omar Chavez Santiago is a fifth generation weaver from Teotitlan del Valle who works in natural dyes. His family operates Galeria Fe y Lola in Oaxaca city. I asked my Congressman G.K. Butterfield (D-NC) to alert the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City that Omar was coming on March 1, 2018,  for his visa interview. Few are successful. Omar received a 10-year visitor visa. He is here and we are excited.

Omar Chavez Santiago explains natural dyes in Oaxaca, Mexico

Wendy Sease, owner of INDIO Durham, will host Omar this weekend for a Mexico Art & Textile Trunk Show. Thank you, Wendy. Please come!

FIRST TRUNK SHOW — INDIO DURHAM

SECOND TRUNK SHOW — ECHOVIEW FIBER MILL, WEAVERVILLE

Thanks to Judi Jetson from Local Cloth and Grace Casey-Gouin from Echoview Fiber Mill, for hosting us in the Asheville area. Please let your NC mountain friends know!

Preparing the cochineal dye bath, Teotitlan del Valle

Getting the most intense red possible! Straining the bugs.

Bamboo bobbins with natural dyed wool, ready to weave

 

Michoacan Folk Art + Textile Study Tour with Butterflies

Arrive Thursday, January 31 and depart Monday, February 11, 2019. Eleven nights and twelve days in the heart of one of Mexico’s greatest folk art centers. Sold Out. Taking a waiting list.

ITINERARY

Ceramic Catrinas, Capula, Lake Patzcuaro, Michoacan

 

Th-1/31, Day 1  

Arrive Morelia, overnight in Morelia

 

F-2/1, Day 2  

Visit Casa de Artesania in morning. Depart for Patzcuaro at 2 p.m. Stop in Capula on the way (B, D) overnight Patzcuaro, WELCOME DINNER

 

Sa-2/2, Day 3  

City and gallery walk, lunch and art history of region, discussion Purepecha indigenous community, visit famous graphic artist and silversmith, plus numerous galleries (B, L)

 

Su-2/3, Day 4  

Once Around the Lake – Pottery, markets and embroidery, Tzintzuntzan, village story embroidery, painted pottery. We will visit markets, archeological sites, potter Nicolas Fabian Fermin and needleworker Teofila Servin Barrida (B, L), overnight in Patzcuaro

 

M-2/4, Day 5  

Santa Maria del Cobre (B, L) day trip to explore the copper making in this Pueblo Magico and meet the best artisans, overnight in Patzcuaro

 

Tu-2/5 and W-2/6, Day 6 & 7  

 

After breakfast, travel to Pueblo Magico Uruapan, overnight in Uruapan for two nights. Visit Fabrica San Pedro for handmade blankets and La Huatapera in the Maseta Purepecha. (B, L)

Travel to Textile and Mask/Wood Carving villages including Anhuiran. Meet Cecelia Bautista and family rebozo weavers, makers of Paracho guitars and carved masks (B, L), Return to Patzcuaro with overnight on 2/6.

 

Th-2/7, Day 8  

Open day in Patzcuaro, evening special event, Patzcuaro overnight (B)

 

F-2/8, Day 9  

Depart from Patzcuaro in early morning, arrive to Monarch Butterfly Biosphere and Pueblo Magico Angangueo, overnight in Angangueo (B, L)

 

Sa-2/9, Day 10  

Day in Angangueo, depart to Morelia in late afternoon. (B, L)

 

Su-2/10,

Day 11

 

M-2/11, Day 12

Day on your own in Morelia. Grand Finale Dinner. (B, D)

 

 

Depart Morelia for flights home

Potters Nicolas Fabian Fermin and his wife Maria del Rosario Lucas

This is a preliminary itinerary, although the dates are firm. We reserve the right to adjust the itinerary based on availability of artisans.

Embroidered sampler, storytelling on cloth

The State of Michoacan is one of the most diverse for production of Mexican artisan crafts. Indigenous people here make more than thirty different types of handwork, making it one of the richest states in Mexico for appreciators and collectors of folk art.

Embroidered story rebozo by Teofila Servin Barriga

You will fly into Morelia, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. During our week together we will stay in two Pueblo Magicos and explore the history and traditions of the native Purepecha people. You will meet noted artisans who are recognized as Grand Masters of Mexican Folk Art and invited participants to the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market, and Feria de Artesanias at Lake Chapala.

Historic 17th C. Morelia church

These are potters, weavers, silver jewelry makers, mask and furniture wood carvers, luthiers (makers of guitars and violins), lacquer-ware makers, coppersmiths, painters and graphic artists.

Hammering and forming copper, Santa Maria del Cobre

As many of you know from participating in other trips with me, our goal is to also get out of the van, walk, explore and discover. This way, we have a deeply intimate experience with the artisans where they live and work: in their homes and studios, off the beaten path. Our goal will be to know those who have already achieved fame and meet those whose talents are yet to be widely promoted.

Completed copper vessel, sculptural beauty

In the process, we become 21st century explorers ourselves.

The market at Tzintzuntzan, Lake Patzcuaro

I have friends who live in Patzcuaro who are knowledgeable about the region. I will invite them to lead group discussions about regional artisans, folk art, ceremonial practices, and customs. One is a noted photographer and I will invite her to give us a visual overview of the region in our first days.

Hand-crafted guitar, Michoacan, Mexico

Our guide comes highly recommended, is bilingual and lives in the area. We will have luxury van transportation to take us to the areas on our itinerary. The places we will visit are safe and secure.

Intricately embroidered blouse, Lake Patzcuaro

Resources:

Fishing is the theme for pottery, jewelry in Patzcuaro

Cost:   Double occupancy (shared room with private bath), $2,795 per person                    Single occupancy (private room/bath) is $3,295 per person

All prices in USD. One-third of the total is due now to reserve. The remaining balance shall be made in two equal payments, the first on August 1, and the second on December 1, 2018.

  • Double room deposit to reserve is $932, remainder in two equal payments on August 1 and December 1 = $931.50
  • Single room deposit to reserve is $1,099, remainder of balance in two equal payments on August 1 and December 1 = $1,098

If you reserve after August 1 and before December 1, two-thirds of the deposit is due. If you reserve after December 1, full-payment is due.

Feathered rebozos of Anhuiran, Michoacan, competition winners

Trip is limited in group size.

Ceramic artist Manuel Morales plays a vintage ocarina

What the Trip Includes:

  • 10 nights lodging in excellent accommodations
  • 10 breakfasts
  • 7 lunches
  • 2 dinners
  • Bi-lingual guide services
  • Michoacan van transportation specified in the itinerary

Famed Anhuiran rebozo weaver Cecelia Bautista Caballero (right)

What the Trip Does Not Include:

  • Airfare
  • Airport transfers to/from hotel
  • Tips, taxes, alcoholic beverages, meals not included in the itinerary
  • Travel insurance

Reservations and Cancellations.  We accept payment with PayPal or a personal check payable to Norma Schafer OCN/LLC and mailed to our agent in Southern California. Let us know how you wish to pay and your preferred type of room — shared or single. We will send you an itemized invoice when you tell us you are ready to register. After December 1, 2018, refunds are not possible. You may send a substitute in your place. If you cancel on or before December 1, 2018, we will refund 50% of your deposit.

Horsemanship and a parade, Patzcuaro

Who Should Attend • Textile and fashion designers • Weavers, embroiderers and collectors • Wholesalers/retailers who want a direct source • Photographers and artists who want inspiration • Anyone who loves cloth, culture and collaboration

Terrain, Walking and Group Courtesy: We will do a bit of walking. Being here is a walker’s delight because there are pedestrian streets, although there are also hills. The altitude is 7,000 feet PLUS. If you have mobility issues or health/breathing impediments, please let us know before you register.

This may not be the study tour for you.

Purepecha, the people and the language

Traveling with a small group has its advantages and also means that independent travelers will need to make accommodations to group needs and schedule. We include plenty of free time to go off on your own if you wish.

Historic church, Patzcuaro, Michoacan, soft color of age

Women of Chiapas Photo Essay

International Women’s Day was Thursday, March 8, 2018.  It’s days later and I now find time to acknowledge, honor, recognize, applaud some of the women we met along the way during our two back-to-back Chiapas Textile Study Tours in February and March this year.

Women make, sell, suckle babies in Magdalenas Aldama, Chiapas

I don’t know all their names.

The Virgin of Guadalupe is a Zapatista icon in Chiapas, role model for justice

Their hands, feet and faces are universal stories of women who work hard with little recompense.

Shop keeper, San Juan Chamula, Chiapas

Their garments tell the stories of culture, history, creativity and subjugation by Spanish conquerors who imposed clothing style as indigenous identifier.

Maria and her niece, Aguacatenango, Chiapas

Most are women who weave or embroider.

Maruch is her Tzotzil name, Maria is her Christian name, San Juan Chamula district

Some are women who craft pottery — cooking vessels and decorative jaguars, many of them life-size.

This is Esperanza sculpting a clay jaguar, Amantenango del Valle, Chiapas

A few are famous. Most are not.

Grand Master of Mexican Folk Art Juana Gomez Ramirez, Amantenango del Valle

They are mothers, daughters, grandmothers, aunts, cousins, nieces.

Rosa, center, and her nieces, Magdalenas Aldama

Some, like Rosa and her husband Cristobal, participated in the 1994 Zapatista uprising to stand for indigenous rights. The movement paved the way for a stronger voice for women.

Producing handmade paper, Los Leñateros, San Cristobal de Las Casas

They carry babies on their backs, harnessed by robozos.

Market day, San Juan Chamula, Chiapas

They use rebozos shifted to the front of their bodies so infants can suckle. They use rebozos to carry market vegetables and fruit to the cooking fires.

Lourdes, research coordinator, Museo Textil Mundo Maya

Few are professionals like Lourdes who translates Spanish to English for us, educated in sophisticated cities far away.

Maria Meza, weaving cooperative director, Tenejapa, Chiapas

Others head cooperatives, organizing the business of textile making and selling to sustain families.

A metaphor for indigenous women worldwide, essential and faceless

Some are faceless. We see their progeny.

Manuela Trevini Bellini with PomPom Shawl at her shop Punto Y Trama,

A few are expats from Italy, France, Canada, the United States or Japan, who migrate to the promise land.

Women’s hands make organic tortillas from native corn

We see hands making tortillas, tending the cooking fire, soothing a child’s cry, serving a husband dinner.

Pioneer Swiss photographer, Gertrude Duby Blom, at Na Bolom

Most of all, we know that women’s work begins early and ends late, is continuous, often self-less and usually in the service of others.

Andrea Diaz Hernandez weaves this for eight months, San Andres Larrainzar

Take a moment to consider what women around the world give as we regard those whose photos we see here.

In Yochib, Oxchuc, impaired mobility, health care access hours away

Take a moment to give thanks to all the women in the world. We are more similar than we are different.

Meet the Women of Chiapas: 2019 Textile Study Tour

What will become of the next generation of women?