I’m representing a California collector who wants to divest. We are starting today with alebrijes, those whimsical copal wood carved and brightly painted figures from San Martin Tilcajete, Oaxaca. Plus, a grouping of four bracelets — cuffs and bangles. Three gorgeous pair of sterling earrings. More to come as the week unfolds.
How to buy: send me an email with the Number of the Piece you want, along with your address, including Zip Code. I will ship to the USA and Canada. I will then send you an invoice for the cost of the piece plus the shipping charge and promise to get it out to you pronto!
1. Howling Coyote, 11×11-1/2″. Signed Candido Perez, San Martin Tilcajete. $125
#2. Piano-Playing Coyote (left), 10-1/2×3″, signed Miguel Diaz, $125 and #3. Catrina, ceramic, 8-1/2×3″, $95
SOLD. #4. Gold-plate gemstone bangles, set of 3, adjustable, carnelian, lapis, onyx (1 carnelian stone missing), $35
The on-going discussion endures about whether one bargains in Mexico with vendors for a lower price. Is it a cultural norm or expectation? Many say, Yes.
Colorful Oaxaca armadillo now tops my bookcase. I paid the ask price.
Others resist for obvious reasons. Why? The exchange rate is in favor of Europeans, Estadounidenses (those from USA) and Canadienses (those from Canada). Mexicans have always been undervalued for their labor.
Chiapas potter/clay sculptor. Small jaguars are 150 pesos.
They say the average daily Mexican wage is 150-200 pesos. I’ve also heard 88 pesos a day and 100 pesos a day. At today’s exchange rate of 18.2 pesos to the USD, 200 pesos is about $11 USD per day. In Chiapas, where I just returned from, skilled women weavers on the back-strap loom, creating garments with intricate supplemental weft, earn about 30 pesos per hour.
Here’s what my friend and colleague Sheri Brautigam, in her book Textile Fiestas of Mexico, says about shopping and bargaining:
“I know everyone likes to get a deal, but I feel this attitude takes advantage of the position of the artisan who made the item; it’s an exploitation model of the past.
For the most part, artisans are quite humble when they present their work, and they possibly have in mind the price they would like to get for their item. Often, almost immediately, they will bring the price down if they see you hesitate more than a few seconds. They want you to buy it. This is because local Mexicans are ruthless when they bargain, and the artisan — if she really is in need of making a sale for her survival — can be reduced to selling the item for barely the cost of the materials.”
hand-woven huipil takes three months to make.
There is more, of course. I suggest you get this valuable Traveler’s Guide to Celebrations, Markets and Smart Shopping.
The same applies to all artisan craft throughout Mexico, not just textiles. Pottery. Carved and painted wood figures. Masks. Guitars. Silver jewelry. Handcrafted food.
Organic pumpkin pie with corn meal crust, $3 USD, from Jorge Daniel Bautista, Union Zapata
Think about your position when you ask for a discount. You are the person NOT making 200 pesos per day. If an item costs 500 pesos and you want it for 400, in all likelihood it is priced fairly and the extra 100 pesos represents almost a full day of work to the maker. To you, it is a $5 difference. A cup of coffee at Starbucks.
We have this discussion among expats and visitors in Oaxaca all the time — to bargain or not? There is a private Facebook group, Clandestine Oaxaca Appreciation Society, where members address the question repeatedly.
Intricately embroidered blouse, San Bartolome Ayautla, 8 months to make
Many who are proponents of bargaining are like Accidental Tourists, armchair travelers who occasionally get out of their seats, embark on a vacation and think that bargaining is part of the entertainment. Anne Tyler’s protagonist in her novel hates traveling, and does so only “with his eyes shut and holding his breath and hanging on for dear life.” Yet, he enjoys “the virtuous delights of organizing a disorganized country” while pretending he never left home. Does this sound like anyone you know?
Why do artisans lower their prices?
The season is slow and sales haven’t been good
They need money for food, to pay rent, to buy gasoline, to buy raw materials, to pay for school books and bus fare — in other words, cash flow
There’s a family emergency, and since this is a cash economy, they need cash
They may have lower self-esteem because they are the underclass, treated to believe that what they make has little or no value
What do you think?
Why do tourists bargain?
I think about this question in terms of cultural, political and socio-economic disparities. It might include being unconscious about where we are and our relationship to the people around us. We might conjure up the stereotypical image of Mexico thirty or forty years ago and apply it today. Perhaps, we are totally unaware of the daily or artisan wage. We might say, Oh, it’s cheaper to live here, they don’t need as much. We assume that the government takes care of its poor. (There is no social security in Mexico.) We like the power that the exchange rate gives us and the ability to strike a deal.
What is the value of a natural dye wool rug, 8 weeks in the making?
What about the foreign community from the USA and Canada who live in Oaxaca full-time or for many months of the year? We might say:
Tourism drives up local prices, from artisanry to rents
We learn to identify higher prices and walk away from them
We understand that if we buy five or 10 items, we can ask if there is a discount
We know that if we use a credit card, the merchant/vendor is paying 16% tax at a minimum
We ask if there is a discount for cash
We want to buy local and direct from the artisan, so we don’t pay overhead
We want the price to be in pesos, not US dollars
We are careful because we are retired, on a fixed income, and while we love the art, we can’t usually afford it
Art is subjective, and the price is based on what the seller and buyer agree to
What do you think?
I’ve been thinking about bargaining in today’s Mexico consumer environment where class and race drives business and success. Is it institutional racism to bargain and drive a hard bargain with an indigenous person who has few resources, little or no education, and limited health care access?
Juana and her granddaughter, Luz Angelica. Her future?
Only each of us can answer this for ourselves. Are we willing to look at our own buying behavior and make adjustments? What is our personal view of cultural sensitivity?
Magdalenas Aldama is an hour-and-a-half from San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas, on a winding road deep into the mountains beyond San Juan Chamula. Its isolation is protection from the forces of modernization. The Spanish had difficulty getting there to evangelize. Traditions run deep and strong.
Rosa, center, wearing neighboring Chenalho dog paw embroidered blusa
Being remote is a double-edge sword. It guarantees lack of access to education and decent health care. It ensures sustaining traditional practices like building with wattle and daub, creating garments with the back strap loom.
Welcome to Magdalenas Aldama, where liquor is not permitted, per Zapatista custom
This is the same story for many villages tucked into the swales of eight thousand foot mountains around the city.
Close-up textile texture of supplementary weft on back strap loom
On our quest to explore the textiles of the Maya people surrounding San Cristobal de Las Casas, it is important to meet and know the people where they live and work. This is a cultural journey to appreciate artisania, to give support and to put funds directly into the hands of the makers.
Women at the Magdalenas expoventa, photo by Carol Estes
Magdalenas Aldama women weave some of the most beautiful blouses and huipiles in Chiapas. They are intricate textiles with ancient pre-Hispanic Maya symbols that have spiritual and physical meaning. It can take six to eight months to weave a traditional Gala Huipil used for special occasions.
A ceremonial Gala Huipil, cost is 3500 pesos, 8 months to make
Typical Maya symbols incorporated into the cloth — a story of life:
The milpa — corn fields, squash and beans
The sacred forest — pine trees
The Four Cardinal Points — sun, moon, earth and sky
The making of cloth on a back strap loom, Magdalenas
During our van ride we talk about what to look for in a quality garment as we approach Magdalenas. We are sewers, embroiderers, collectors, knitters, appreciators of the creative work that women do.
How are the seams finished? Are the seams raw and unraveling?
Is the embroidery done on cloth that is made on a back strap loom or is it done on cheap commercial polyester or a poly/cotton blend?
Are the embroidery stitches small, tight, evenly executed?
Is the weaving even and are the supplementary weft threads densely packed?
First stop is to the home of Rosa and Cristobal. They were activists in the Zapatista movement, working for land reform, indigenous rights, access to services, and justice for Maya people. Twelve women in the extended family gathered in the smokey kitchen to prepare our lunch: handmade tortillas, sopa de gallina (free range chicken soup).
Mary Anne enjoys sopa de gallina chicken soup, a rich broth
Babies are tied to their backs with rebozos. Toddlers and youngsters played around their mothers’ skirts. The wood fire was pungeant, smokey, making it difficult to see or breathe.
The best corn tortillas, organic, criollo
After an expoventa in the adjacent barn, we went to the plank wood house of Don Pedro and his son Salvador, just a few blocks away to see their fine handwoven ixtle bags. Women in the family brought traditional Magdalenas huipiles and blusas, woven pocket bags, belts and embroidered skirt fabric.
Young nursing mother waits for a sale
Over breakfast this morning we share our impressions of the experience.
Don Pedro’s wife, wearing traditional huipil (blouse) and falda (skirt)
Lanita commented that this is a culture where back strap looms are everywhere. Women can do it a bit at a time, between caring for children, cooking, tending the kitchen garden, after chores are done.
Tortilla making by hand, a woman’s fingerprints in dough
Carol appreciates that joy is possible in any circumstance. We see the power of a community of women, and as women travelers, we, too, become a community of women. We made connections. There are ore things that make up the same among us that make us different.
Children entertaining themselves. No television here.
Mary Anne notes that she learned more about the social justice issues of the Zapatistas. They are not a bunch of rebel revolutionaries.
Woman against adobe wall, photo by Carol Estes
Cath says that this trip is more than about textiles, although this is a good place to start. To be here is to look beyond the fibers, to look at the totality of life and ask, Where did this cloth come from? Who made it? What does it mean? Where is the woman who designed it?
Norma examining weaving detail, photo by Carol Estes
Textiles are a way into being part of another culture. We could dig in, experience, open up to what else it is we can see and discover. We were excited to find cooperatives where innovative design uses traditional fabric woven on the back strap loom.
Weaving is a way of life, while tending the flock and children
Most importantly, we provided direct support to women, men and families whose work we appreciate, admire and regard with respect.
Don Pedro and son Salvador weave the finest ixtle bags, photo by Carol Estes
Portrait of Patricio, who shows us the way, nephew of Tatik Samuel Ruiz
The idea was to drive to Aguacatenango which is about thirty minutes beyond the pottery village of Amantenango del Valle. We were a good hour or so beyond San Cristobal de Las Casas. Few tourists come in this direction.
The church at Aguacatenango, Venustiano Carranza
The idea was to pull up at the church, park the van, gather under the big tree and wait. Perhaps some of the village women would show up with their beautiful embroidered blouses to sell.
I did this with our group last year. I hoped the serendipity would repeat. It was fun meeting local women whose skillful sewing resulted in blouses covered in intricate needlework. Within five minutes, perhaps thirty or forty women clustered around us. Word spreads fast in a small pueblo.
A gathering of women embroiderers. Photo by Carol Lynne Estes
This year was a special treat. Not only was it a glorious day, the workmanship was especially fine.
A particularly fine blouse with finished seams, all hand-stitched
Our only problem was that most of the blouses were too small. One woman insisted that her blouse was a large and when I said it was too small for me. We went back and forth about this a couple of times.
Lanita snags this amazing blouse covered in French knots.
Finally, I thanked her, complimented her work, and told her it might be size large for women in the village, but it was a size small for us gringas. I’m tall here and I’m a chaparrita!
We did our best to try on and buy. Most things did not fit. Photo by C.L. Estes
Then, Cynthia discovered Francisca Hernandez, one of the better embroiderers. Francisco invited Cynthia to visit her mother’s house. We have larger sizes there, she said. Cynthia came over and said, Can we do this? I said, Yes. How far is it, I asked. Only three blocks, she said. Sure, why not?
An embroiderer blouse making with a bundle to show us.
We were hooked.
Down the street three blocks to larger sizes
Eight women from the USA and Canada followed Francisca down empty streets in midday. We passed a house with corn drying on the roof. We passed women and children peeking out of doorways. Behind us trailed women and girls from the village interest in what we were up to.
Close up of corn drying on the rooftop
These were long blocks.
We entered a humble home after climbing through a stick and wood fence where Francisca’s mother and father welcomed us. We walked across an uneven stone path.
Out came the larger embroidered blouses. We tried them on, standing next to bags stacked four high, fill with corn cobs. The space was dark and narrow, illuminated by one raw bulb. The French seams were perfect, all hand-stitched, finished perfectly.
Out came the larger sizes, each one equally as beautiful
We formed a ring around Francisca and her mom. A ring of village women, two deep, looked on.
Francisca’s mom. Note the exquisite bodice work.
Francisca gave us a demonstration of how she makes French knots. Nudos de francesa. Catherine, president of her embroidery guild, was mesmerized since the technique was different and equally as beautiful. I promised to return in two weeks with our next group.
Bagged corn cobs. Photo by Carol Lynne Estes
Being open to serendipity provided us with a memorable experience and a connection none of us will forget.
Arrive on Friday, January 11 and depart on Monday, January 21, 2019 — 10 nights, 11 days in textile heaven!
Trip is limited to 11 participants.
This entire study tour is focused on exploring the textiles of Oaxaca’s Costa Chica. You arrive to and leave from Puerto Escondido, connecting through Mexico City or Oaxaca.
Ji Nuu Cooperative women, San Juan Colorado, hand-spinning native cotton
We go deep, and not wide. We give you an intimate, connecting experience. We spend time to know the culture. You will meet artisans in their homes and workshops, enjoy local cuisine, dip your hands in an indigo dye-bath, and travel to remote villages you may not go to on your own. This study tour focuses on revival of ancient textile techniques and Oaxaca’s vast weaving culture that encompasses the use of natural dyes, back-strap loom weaving, drop spindle hand spinning, and glorious, pre-Hispanic native cotton.
Indigo, cochineal and caracol purpura huipil from Pinotepa de Don Luis
Villages along the coast and neighboring mountains were able to preserve their traditional weaving culture because of their isolation. Stunning cotton is spun and woven into lengths of cloth connected with intricate needlework to form amazing garments.
Fine Amusgo back strap loom weaving with supplementary weft
Amuzgos visit includes a natural dye demonstration with indigo and nanche
A noted cultural anthropologist who has worked in the region for the past fifteen years will guide us. Our driver knows the region intimately.
Friday, January 11: Fly to Puerto Escondido—overnight in Puerto Escondido
Saturday, January 12: Puerto market tour, afternoon on your own with a presentation about Costa Chica Textiles and Cultural Identity, followed by a welcome dinner — overnight in Puerto Escondido
Sunday, January 13: Depart after breakfast for Tututepec to visit a young weaver who is reviving his village’s textile traditions, visit local museum and murals — overnight in Pinotepa Nacional
Monday, January 14: After breakfast we will go to the mountain weaving village at the end of the road, San Juan Colorado. Here, we will visit two women’s cooperatives working in natural dyes, hand-spinning, with back strap loom weaving. We will also go to the home of a mask maker who also deals in antiquities. Our afternoon will be spent in the weaving center of Pinotepa de Don Luis, where we will visit a women’s cooperative and the homes of each weaver. Overnight in Pinotepa Nacional.
Tuesday, January 15: In the morning after breakfast, we will visit the Pinotepa Nacional market. Then we travel to San Pedro Amuzgos where we will spend the day with Arte Amuzgo Cooperative and Odilon Merino Morales for demonstrations, lunch and an expoventa. — Overnight in San Pedro Amuzgos.
Wednesday, January 16: We’ll explore this ancient Amuzgo village and discover other weavers and cooperatives to visit, perhaps taking a side-trip to Santa Maria Zacatepec where women embroider small animal, floral and people figures on natural cotton cloth. — Overnight Amuzgos
Thursday, January 17: We’ll take the road to Xochistlahuaca, a famed Amuzgo weaving village across the border in Guerrero state (yes, it’s safe in this part of the state). We will visit a noted weaving cooperative that works in light weight gauze cotton using natural dyes. We’ll also meet other weavers who use rare coyuchi and native green cotton. Overnight in Ometepec.
Friday, January 18: Return to Puerto Escondido with a stop in the weaving village of Jamiltepec where graphic designs embellish necklines with intricate embroidery. Overnight in Puerto Escondido.
Saturday, January 19: This is a day on your own to explore the area, return to the Puerto Escondido market, take a rest from the road trip, enjoy the beach and pools, and begin packing for your trip home. Grand Finale Dinner. Overnight in Puerto Escondido.
Sunday, January 20: Attend the annual Dreamweavers Expoventa featuring the Tixinda Weaving Cooperative from Pinotepa de Don Luis. Other regional artisans are also invited, making this a grand finale folk art extravaganza — a fitting ending to our time together on Oaxaca’s coast.
Monday, January 21: Say our goodbyes and depart for home.
Note: Itinerary subject to schedule change and modification.
Our 2018 Costa Chica study tour
Take this study tour to learn about:
the culture, history and identity of cloth
beating and spinning cotton, and weaving with natural dyes
complete guide services including cultural anthropologist expertise
Winter on Oaxaca’s coast, warm and temperate
The workshop does NOT include airfare, taxes, tips, travel insurance, liquor or alcoholic beverages, some meals, and optional local transportation as specified in the itinerary. It does not include taxi or shuttle service from airport to hotel. We reserve the right to substitute instructors and alter the program as needed.
Odilon’s aunt, from San Pedro Amuzgo, joins cloth lengths
Embroidered collar, native white cotton dyed with caracol purpura snail dye
Cost to Participate
$2,895 double room with private bath (sleeps 2)
$3,395 for a single supplement (private room and bath, sleeps 1)
Who Should Attend
Explorers of indigenous cloth, native fibers
Textile and fashion designers
Weavers, embroiderers and collectors
Home goods wholesalers/retailers who want a direct source
Photographers and artists who want inspiration
Anyone who loves cloth, culture and collaboration
Reservations and Cancellations. A 40% deposit is required to guarantee your spot. The balance is due in two equal payments. The second payment of 30% of the total is due on or before October 1, 2018. The third 30% payment is due on or before December 1, 2018. We accept payment with PayPal only. 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.
Ancient design revived by Luis Adan on the back strap loom
Health and Well-Being: If you have mobility issues or health impediments, please let me know. Our travel to remote villages will be by van on secondary roads with curves, usually not for more than an hour or so. When you tell me you are ready to register, I will send you a health questionnaire to complete. If you have walking or car dizziness issues, this may not be the trip for you.
Breakfast at the cooperative–sopes, eggs with hierba santa
Norma Schafer and Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC has offered programs in Mexico since 2006. We have over 30 years of university program development experience. See my resume.
Study Tours + Study Abroad are personally curated and introduce you to Mexico's greatest artisans. They are off-the-beaten path, internationally recognized. We give you access to where people live and work. Yes, it is safe and secure to travel. Groups are limited in size for the most personal experience.
Programs can be scheduled to meet your travel plans. Send us your available dates.
Designers, retailers, wholesalers, universities and other organizations come to us to develop customized itineraries, study abroad programs, meetings and conferences. It's our pleasure to make arrangements.
Our Clients Include
*Penland School of Crafts
*North Carolina State University
*WARP Weave a Real Peace