Category Archives: Teotitlan del Valle

Oaxaca-Santa Fe Connection and the International Folk Art Market

The 2016 Santa Fe International Folk Art Market is over. Hard to believe it’s been ten days since I last wrote a blog post.

Moises Martinez Velasco (left) and Arturo Hernandez Quiero (right), Oaxaca weavers

Moises Martinez Velasco (left) and Arturo Hernandez Quiero (right), Oaxaca weavers

This is the second year I’ve come to Santa Fe, New Mexico, to volunteer for this amazing, often overwhelming experience of meeting hundreds of artisans from around the world. They come from as far as Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, remote regions of the Himalayas, Thailand and Africa, Algeria, South America, and more. There is hand-woven silk, cotton, wool and plant fiber dyed with indigo, cochineal and persimmon. They fashion silver and gold jewelry, dresses, bed coverings, hats and shawls.

Modeling a natural wool shawl woven by Arturo

Modeling a natural wool shawl woven by Arturo

Mexico is one of the most represented countries, and Oaxaca artisans are well-represented:

  • Odilon Merino Morales brought his family’s beautiful Amuzgo huipiles, woven on back-strap looms, many with natural dyes
  • Miriam Leticia Campos Cornelio and the Cornelio Sanchez family from San Antonino Castillo Velasco, Ocotlan, Oaxaca, who make incredible embroidered and crocheted clothing
  • Fernando Gutierrez Vasquez Family, from Tlahuitoltepec high in the Oaxaca mountains, who weave shawls and scarves with natural dyes
  • Arturo Hernandez Quero from San Pablo Villa de Mitla who weaves wool blankets, throws, shawls and ponchos using natural dyes
  • Moises Martinez Velasco from San Pedro Cajones, three hours from Oaxaca city in the mountains, where the family cultivates silk worms, spin the silk on a drop spindle needle, weave on back strap looms, and use all natural dyes
Moises demonstrates silk spinning with drop spindle

Moises demonstrates silk spinning with drop spindle

  • Erasto “Tit0” Mendoza Ruiz is a weaver of fine Zapotec textiles from Teotitlan del Valle, many with natural dyes
  • Flor de Xochistlahuaca cooperative makes traditional clothing from natural dyes and harvested cotton
  • Magdalena Pedro Martinez from San Bartolo Coyotepec who sculpts black clay into exquisite figures
Arturo demonstrates back-strap loom weaving at Malouf's on the Plaza

Arturo demonstrates back-strap loom weaving at Malouf’s on the Plaza

  • Agustin Cruz Prudencio and his son Agustin Cruz Tinoco carve wood figures and then paint them using intricate designs representing Oaxaca life
  • Soledad Eustolia Gacia Garcia fashions traditional Oaxaca jewelry using filigree, lost wax casting in gold, silver and copper. Her family workshop preserves Oaxaca’s Monte Alban traditions
  • Jose Garcia Antonio and Family are primitive folk artisans who make larger than life clay figures. He is blind and uses his memory and touch to represent Zapotec life
Don Jose Garcia and wife Reyna at Mexico City airport

Don Jose Garcia and wife Reyna at Mexico City airport

  • Isaac Vasquez and Family from Teotitlan del Valle brought hand-woven wool rugs in the Zapotec tradition
  • Jovita Cardoza Castillo and Macrina Mateo Martinez from Cooperative Innovando la Tradicion shipped lead-free elegant clay pots and dishes hand-polished to a brilliant sheen
  • Arturo Faustino Rodriguez Ruiz and Federico Jimenez create gold, silver and gemstone filigree jewelry, which can be seen at the Museo Belber Jimenez in Oaxaca
Alejandrina Rios and Tito Mendoza, Teotitlan del Valle weavers

Alejandrina Rios and Tito Mendoza, Teotitlan del Valle weavers

It was an intense three-days of volunteering with Arturo Hernandez and Moises Martinez. Being a volunteer assistant is more than writing up sales receipts.

Life-size sculpture by Don Jose Garcia Antonio

Life-size sculpture by Don Jose Garcia Antonio

It means helping non-English speaking Oaxaca weaving friends show and sell their amazing textiles. I opened indigo, cochineal and marigold dyed silk and wool shawls to help people see the full beauty of the textiles.  On Sunday, I worked from 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. and helped them pack up what was left.

Women from Flor de Xochistlahuaca Amuzgo weaving cooperative

Women from Flor de Xochistlahuaca Amuzgo weaving cooperative

Santa Fe is also a place of reunion for me. Many friends who I’ve met in Oaxaca converge on Santa Fe for this market, and it’s a chance to catch up, have a meal or a glass of wine, and share stories.

Leslie (Denver, CO) and Kaola (Chapel Hill) joined me for a reunion

Friends Leslie (Denver) and Kaola (Chapel Hill) wear Amalia Gue huipiles, Guatemala

Special saludos to Ellen Benson, Ruth Greenberger, Sheri Brautigam, Norma Cross, Sara Garmon, Barbara Garcia, Susie Robison, Leslie Roth, Kaola Phoenix, Winn Kalmon and Dori Vinella. We converged from Philadelphia, Chapel Hill, Denver, Taos and San Diego to help sustain this tradition and see each other.

Gasali Adeyemo, from Nigeria, taught indigo batik at Museo Textil de Oaxaca

Gasali Adeyemo, Yoruba, Nigeria, teaches indigo batik at Museo Textil de Oaxaca

I’ll be here until Friday, when I go to Los Angeles and then San Francisco to see my family.  I’m certain there will be more synergies with Oaxaca as my travels unfold.

Jewelry from the Belber Jimenez Museum, Oaxaca

Jewelry from the Belber Jimenez Museum, Oaxaca

P.S. The International Folk Art Market needs more volunteers! Considering putting this in your travel plans for 2017.

The weekend started with a Oaxaca trunk show at La Boheme, Canyon Rd.

The weekend started with a Chatina, Oaxaca trunk show at La Boheme, Canyon Rd. thanks to Barbara Cleaver

On-going: Oaxaca One-Day Natural Dye Textile Study Tour

February 2017: Tenancingo Ikat Rebozo Study Tour

 

 

 

Gossip and Morning Refreshment: Following the Abuelitas

This morning I arrive at the daily market early, by 9 a.m. I had chicken soup on my mind and want to make some, so I first stop at a stall where I know that cooking teacher Reyna Mendoza buys her pollo. Criollo, advises the woman standing next to me in the aisle as she points to the small whole, white chicken, saying pollo, es pollo, (chicken, it’s chicken) a Spanish lesson for the güera. I smile and nod.

Buying roses, $2.50 a dozen . I always have fresh flowers.

Buying roses, $2.50 a dozen . I always have fresh flowers.

Criollo means natural or wild or organic. They eat maize, she says. She then points to the big, plump yellow chickens sitting with their big breasts, proud birds, twice the size of the criollos, and says, these came from Oaxaca and they eat commercial grain (in Spanish, of course). Then, the vendor and the shopper move into Zapotec, a language I don’t understand. Some chismes (gossip), I’m sure.

Mango vendor with an abundant supply.

Mango vendor with an abundant supply.

I love following the little grandmothers, the abuelitas, through the market, with their wool checked faldas (skirts) folded around their waist and tied with a handwoven red wool cinturon (belt) with tassle ends. In the old days, these belts were dyed with cochineal. Some still are.

Plaid wool skirt tied with a cummberbund, floral top, shawl for sun protection, basket to hold market goodies.

Plaid wool skirt, floral top, shawl for sun protection, basket for market shopping.

Plaid skirts, flowered blouses, sometimes aprons, always a traditional handwoven reed shopping basket balanced on the crook of the left arm, long hair braided with colored ribbons and tied together at the end or piled on top of the head like a crown, a rebozo (shawl) covering shoulders or head, sometimes the shopping basket. This is a passing generation.

Village tuk-tuk carries shoppers who don't carry baskets on their heads.

Village tuk-tuk carries shoppers who don’t carry baskets on their heads.

This was not meant to be a long shopping trip. I left the house gate open because I intended to return immediately.  A quick pass through the market for organic chicken, chard, a dozen fresh long-stem roses (40 pesos a dozen, that’s about $2.50 USD), criollo eggs from the gallina (hen), a couple of squash and mangos (it’s the season).

Following the abuelitas as they take a respite

Following the abuelitas as they take a respite

As I was loading my car I noticed a stream of abuelitas entering the doorway of the convenience store across the street. Such a good picture, so I decided to hang out. A few more entered, one at a time.

Inside, a congregation of about six grandmothers. Good for the stomach, they say.

Inside the inner sanctum, a congregation of about six grandmothers.

More than coca-cola inside

More than coca-cola here. Time for a chat and refreshment.

It was by now 10 o’clock in the morning. I waited for them to emerge but they didn’t. And, I remember that this is the ladies’ social hour and the convenience store is where they congregate before going back home to work, prepare meals, do laundry and take care of the grandchildren. So, I decided I was done waiting and would join them!

It's dark inside with obscure lighting. In the shadows I can barely see faces.

It’s dark inside with obscure lighting. In the shadows I can barely see faces.

Believe me! A shot of mezcal at 10:30 a.m. can really get you moving. As I sidle up to the counter cum bar to join the ladies, they welcome me with warm smiles, ask where I live, how long I’ve been here, and admire my filigree Zapotec-style earrings and embroidered apron, sign that I am surely one of them. Or at least a trying hard wannabe. Then, invite me to take photos.

I get a Zapotec lesson, Xa-Yu (how are you?) and chichi-bay-oh (salud) as we raise the cup. I already know Zakchi! (hello, good afternoon). This is really a foreign language.

A convenient stop across the street from the market

A convenient stop across the street from the market

Rosa, as she introduced herself, buys my first drink. Good for the panza, she says, patting her belly. I agree. Mezcal is a medicinal when not abused! She offers me another. I smile and decline, realizing I need to drive home without bumping into any burros.

Next time, my turn to buy.

And, that’s village life in Oaxaca.

For sale, fresh cornhusks for tamales, anyone?

This is, too. Fresh native corn and husks for tamales, anyone?

Norma’s Simple Chicken Soup Recipe

  • 1 small, white organic chicken, cut up, skin removed
  • include neck and gizzards and egg sack
  • 1-2 chicken feet (just like grandma used to make)
  • 4-6 cups water
  • salt to taste
  • 1 serrano pepper, dried
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 2 whole onions, peeled
  • 1/2″ fresh turmeric, peeled

Add chicken and all other ingredients to 6 qt. stockpot. Bring to simmer on stovetop, cover and cook for 4-6 hours*. Chill. Remove fat. Muy rico.

These local, skinny free-range chickens are pretty tough, so to get the meat very tender, it needs to good for a really long time! It’ the feet that give the flavor.

Magic and Miracles. SKYnet, New Friend in the Casita

Three plus years ago I moved into the Teotitlan del Valle casita when it was ready for occupancy after living with my host family. The question that nagged at me then and before was how would I get reliable Internet connection to write, publish photos, work and maintain a lifeline to family and friends in the U.S.A.

Honestly, it’s been a struggle. This is how we learn patiencia here in Mexico. It’s a great teacher.

Small but mighty "dish" pointing south from the edge of the rooftop terrace

Small but mighty “dish” pointing south from the edge of the rooftop terrace

The casita and environs are beautiful. Tranquil. I live out in the campo amid corn and agave fields. The village is slowly moving out this way. Across the dirt road, donkeys bray. In the corrals on adjacent plots of land, neighbors keep pigs and goats. They talk, screech, squeal, bump against the patchwork wood structure, jiggle the aluminum roof.

View from the campo with Teotitlan del Valle village in distance

View from the campo with Teotitlan del Valle village in distance

Building projects encroaching on the farmland are announced by the sound of hammers, drills and heavy earth-moving equipment.

In the cool of early morning, campesinos pick alfalfa. Brahmin cattle pull hand-hewn wood plows to prepare the fields for planting. The rainy season has started. Ojala.

There is no land line that comes this far out.  Telmex service is non-existent in these parts.  You need a landline to have traditional Internet service. Fiber optics? Hardly.

I’m lucky to have electricity and many of the comforts we take for granted like electrical outlets, lights, a washing machine (no dryer but the sun), running water that sometimes runs out when the water tank drains to empty, usually functioning flush toilets, a gas stove, refrigerator, ceiling fans.

Screen shot. Five bar connection, first draft

Screen shot. Five bar connection, first draft

Some years ago, to solve the Internet access problem, I got a ZTE wide band device that connects to my computer USB port to pick up a radio signal through the Telcel cell tower. Most of the time, it took 30 minutes to download one or two small file jpg photos when it worked. Cost: exorbitant. Reliability: Questionable.

Last year, I brought my jailbroken iPhone 4s to Oaxaca and converted it to a local smart phone to get and receive emails. To write blogs, take care of life and upload photos I went to the city or to local restaurants with decent wifi service.

Now, no more. Welcome my new friend to the casita: SKYnet. This is a satellite telecommunications that provides internet service. No TV or cable. Only Internet. The system was installed this last Thursday night.  I’ve had uninterrupted connection even through two giant rain-thunder-lightening-wind storms. I’ve had a Skype call with my son (no pixellated image). And, it’s FAST.

The "dish really looks like a small square plate.

The “dish really looks like a small square plate. Whole deal: 24” high.

Installation cost: 2,800 pesos (about $150USD at the current exchange rate) for the fast service level. Monthly fee is 580 pesos or about $32 USD. For rural villages without access to communication, this is a blessing.

I’m thinking you might hear from me more, from here on.

Years ago, when I worked with the graduate master’s and doctoral engineering programs at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., Dr. Hermann Helgert, a electrical engineer and telecomm expert predicted that it would only be a matter of time before rural parts of the world would have interconnectivity.

If you go to the SKYnet Facebook page, you’ll see all the small, remote mountainous Oaxaca villages that have access now, too. Ojala!

People say that Internet access is a great social and economic leveler and will help improve literacy and education. What do you think?

 

Women Weavers’ Cooperative Vida Nueva, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca: Part Two

This post continues the narrative about women weavers in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca. See Part One for my introduction.

Honoring Mother’s Day: For all women who gave and received life!

***

Vida Nueva (“New Life”) Cooperative at the International Folk Art Market

Twenty years ago, Vida Nueva cooperative was founded by six single women from the same extended family group, three of whom where sisters. Some of the women had husbands who never returned to Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, after migrating out for work. Some had not married. Some were widows. They needed to support their families and weaving had the biggest potential economic reward for their labor.

But, weaving was not women’s work.

Pomegranate dyed wool

Pomegranate dyed wool

The traditional role for women was (and still is, for the most part) to stay at home, keep house, tend the children, cook and raise small animals like chicken, sheep, pigs and goats.

Twenty years ago, weaving and then selling/marketing the product was not a usual role for women, plus it was unheard of to go to the city to develop customers. Most women of the time went barefoot, wore indigenous dress and did not go beyond the family compound expect to daily market. Entering the city was foreign, uncomfortable, intimidating.

Cleaning the finished rug

Cleaning the finished rug

Since the height of the Bracero program, when men migrated to the U.S. as temporary farm workers, and women learned to weave out of economic necessity, the number of women who now weave is substantial.  Today, most women work alongside husband, father or brother, to weave in a family centric enterprise. A few also participate in selling and receive recognition for their contributions.

It took a while for Vida Nueva to get started, but they had the help of a non-governmental agency, Grupo del Apoyo a la Educacion de la Mejor (now defunct). Through donations and business development guidance, Vida Nueva began producing rugs for sale in 2001. Their first clients, arranged by the NGO, were adult Spanish language students who were visiting Oaxaca from the United States.

Take a One-Day Natural Dye Weaving & Textile Study Tour

The cooperative meets regularly, makes decisions together, created a mission statement, a vision, goals and objectives for the organization that includes a marketing plan, and have built distribution markets over time. They also put money aside each year to invest in an annual community project that can benefit everyone in Teotitlan del Valle.

Using the stone metate to crush indigo to powder for dye

Using the stone metate to crush indigo to powder for dye

Not all the rugs woven by Vida Nueva are made with natural dyes. Most are woven with synthetic colors because most buyers don’t want to pay the price for a naturally dyed rug and prefer bright, electric colors. But, the cooperative will do custom orders for naturally dyed rugs and from time-to-time, may have some on-hand.

Today there are 12 cooperative members, two of whom are married. Their clientele has developed by word of mouth over the years, and they also have been invited to participate in shows/sales in the U.S.A. including the International Folk Art Market and the Feria at Lake Chapala, Mexico Arts Show. 

Vida Nueva Women’s Cooperative Contact Information

Pastora Gutierrez
Centenario 1
Teotitlán del Valle, Oaxaca
estrelladelvalle@hotmail.com

Telephone: 951 524-4250

Some Useful Resources

 

Women Weavers in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca: Part One

Recently, I spent the day with a University of Michigan, public policy and economic development researcher, who asked me to introduce her to the Zapotec weaving culture of Teotitlan del Valle. Her expertise is India. Now, she is exploring how India and Mexico intersect and diverge in their support of artisans, particularly weavers.

Handwoven indigo rug with dye prepared by Juana.

hand-woven indigo rug with dye prepared by Juana Gutierrez

During our almost 10-hour day, we visited with five weaving families who work in natural dyes, two of whom are official cooperatives, registered with the government. One of these cooperatives, Vida Nueva (New Life), is solely woman-operated. Our time with spokeswoman Pastora Gutierrez enlightened my knowledge about how women came to become weavers in Teotitlan del Valle.

Federico Chavez Sosa at his loom in Teotitlan del Valle

Federico Chavez Sosa at his loom in Teotitlan del Valle

Weaving on the fixed-frame pedal loom is mostly men’s work. The looms are big and heavy. It takes upper body strength to operate them. When the Spanish friars introduced this tapestry loom (along with churro sheep) to New Spain with the conquest, they trained men to use it, just as men traditionally worked this loom in Europe to create textiles for warmth.

Oaxaca tapestry looms turned out blankets, ponchos, sarapes and other articles of functional cloth for insulation used by people and horses.

Started in the early 1940’s, during World War II when men were overseas, the United States Bracero program opened the opportunity for Mexican men to work legally as temporary, seasonal agricultural laborers. From 1948 to 1964, more than 200,000 Mexican worked in U.S. agriculture each year.

Hand-woven tapestries with spinning wheel

Hand-woven tapestries with spinning wheel

Talk to anyone in Teotitlan del Valle and you will meet someone who participated in this program or has a relative who did. I am told the impact on Teotitlan del Valle was huge and saw the exodus of many of its young and middle-age men. They worked in the fields and orchards of America to earn a living to support their families.

Many men didn’t return.

This is when most women learned to weave.

Young women, who always did the cleaning, carding and spinning of sheep wool, learned to dress the loom and weave tapestries. Many began producing sellable textiles by age 11. Mothers, aunts, sisters, nieces and cousins came together to make this a family endeavor until the men returned, much like the sewing bee in small town USA. The making and selling of textiles remained closely within the family group.

Old sarape design, now a floor rug

Old sarape design, now a floor rug

By the mid-1970’s, Teotitlan del Valle weaving shifted from blankets and clothing to ornamental floor rugs, brought on by the market demand of Santa Fe interior design style. Importers developed relationships with village weavers who became exporters. Many were men who had learned a little English working in the Bracero program and had returned to the family and village infrastructure.

Resources

Book: Zapotec Women by Lynn Stephen, Duke University Press