Category Archives: Textiles, Tapestries & Weaving

No Plan to Live in Mexico: How I Got Here

The best plan might be NOT to have a plan.

I spent my working life doing goals and objectives, setting annual plans and then evaluating whether I met those targets. They became part of my annual performance review. Yet, the serendipity of how my personal life progressed was never a conscious decision. Sometimes I felt bad about that. I should have had more direction.

But I couldn’t have planned it better. How I came to live in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico, was pure accident.

Many I meet ask, How did you get here? Here’s a condensed answer.

Church of the Precious Blood, Teotitlan del Valle, built on top of Zapotec Temple, archeological ruins

Church of the Precious Blood, Teotitlan del Valle, built atop Zapotec temple ruins

My friend, Annie Burns, moved to Teotitlan from Pittsboro, North Carolina, in the early 2000’s.  She would return to visit with wonderful textiles to show and sell. At the time, there were probably three or four gueros living here. She kept inviting me to visit. Finally, I did, in 2005 with the wasband.

Teotitecas, parade of the canastas

Teotitecas, Parade of the Canastas each year in July

Annie introduced us to Josefina Ruiz Vazquez and her mother-in-law Magdalena. They had both lost husbands to illness that same year, son and father. Josefina and Magda are great cooks. Josefina, mother of three youngsters, was left with no means of support. Annie thought, maybe they could start a B&B. We were the first experiment in hospitality for gringos.

That’s how Las Granadas B& B in Teotitlan del Valle got started. Today, it is a shadow of its former self. Another friend, Roberta Christie, stepped in to make a huge difference by creating the infrastructure to make it happen. But I digress.

Rooftop View of Teotitlan del Valle from Las Granadas

Rooftop View of Teotitlan del Valle from Las Granadas

Years ago in San Francisco, I was a beginning weaver and experimented in natural dyes. My love of textiles informed my adulthood and as I traveled, I collected. During that first visit to Teotitlan del Valle, I thought I had landed in heaven. Teotitlan was filled with talented weavers and stunning textiles.

Federico Chavez Sosa at his loom in Teotitlan del Valle

Federico Chavez Sosa at his loom in Teotitlan del Valle

I was on a quest to find a family that worked only in natural dyes. I did research in advance and knew that while it was not widespread, there were a few working with plant dyes and cochineal. I set out to find them. It wasn’t easy. And, of course, I loved all those bright aniline dye colors, too.

Yet, it was a time when we were talking more about sustainability and consuming what was healthy, organic. Making a commitment to buying an organic textile was important to me and I didn’t want to compromise.

Dye demonstration with cochineal bug, acid and base

Dye demonstration with cochineal bug, acid and base

For the first few days in Teotitlan del Valle, I walked around meeting and talking with weavers in their workshops to learn more. There were many beautiful textiles and I was smitten. But I restrained myself from buying.

Everyone could give me a natural dye demonstration, crushing the cochineal bug in my palm, squeezing lime juice, adding baking soda. I watched the color change from orange to red to pink to purple, depending on proportions and chemistry. I wasn’t certain who was actually using the process to dye the wool.

Eric Chavez Santiago giving dyeing wool with wild marigold

Eric Chavez Santiago dyeing wool with wild marigold

Then, the only Internet connection in town was at the pharmacy across from the church. One day, as we left, we decided to make a right turn instead of our usual left to wander through the rug market.

I hear a voice say in perfect English, “Do you want to see my rugs?” Looking down to manage my steps on the cobblestones, I waved my hand and shook my head, no. The English was too perfect. Too slick, I thought. Then I looked up, saw these magnificent rugs and stepped into the space.

Chavez Family Weavers, portrait by Norma Schafer, 2012

Chavez Family Weavers, portrait by Norma Schafer, 2012

That’s when I met Eric Chavez Santiago and his sister, Janet. Both were university students, selling rugs in the market during Christmas vacation. Janet was huddled in the corner with a book on her lap, studying. I went to their family home and studio to see the complete collection, meet dad Federico Chavez Sosa and mom, Dolores Santiago Arrellenas.

Being a Teotiteco Danzante for Dance of the Feather requires incredible concentration

Being a Teotiteco Danzante for Dance of the Feather requires incredible concentration

I saw the actual wool dyeing and weaving process. Eric explained how difficult the economy was. The market demand had softened since the 90’s when Santa Fe Style sent thousands of Zapotec rugs out of Oaxaca to the American southwest.

Of course, I bought rugs. Eric later told me, many came to visit them, said they would help and were never heard from.

Caracol rug design, communication symbol

Caracol rug design, communication symbol by color master Federico

Then, I went home to North Carolina, gave thought to how I might help this family. I wrote an arts education grant with the Carrboro Arts Center to the NC Arts Council. We got funding to bring Eric and Federico to North Carolina for workshops, expoventas (show and sale) and give a master class at NC State University College of Textiles. I helped get 10 year visas with assist from Congressman David Price‘s staff.

It was never the plan to live here. The idea was to visit once a year … maybe. Living in Oaxaca City was not considered. I fell in love with Teotitlan del Valle, her people and textiles.

The casita where I live in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

The casita where I live in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

The next year, Federico and Dolores invited us to build a casita on their land. It was a surprise and a gift. Because no foreigners (even people born in other pueblos) can own property in Teotitlan del Valle, we knew that this would be a vacation home that would always be owned by the family. This relationship is based on trust, respect and good will.

Because of this unique arrangement, this is not for everyone. Many immigrants who live in Teotitlan and other usos y costumbres pueblos rent.

But plans have a way of changing and nothing is for certain. The wasband and I had our differences. Our divorce was final in 2014. For now, this is where I live and this is how I got here. I never planned it this way.

Cane bobbins wrapped with red wool dyed cochineal

Cane bobbins wrapped with red wool dyed cochineal

Eric, who thought he might work in a bank after graduation, went on to become the founding director of education at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca, with our coaching help and his innate intelligence. This year, Eric is starting a new entrepreneurial venture at the Alfredo Harp Helu Foundation. Janet is a linguist educator at the Biblioteca Juan de Cordova. Youngest brother, Omar, will finish university in December and wants to take the family business to the next level. Federico and Dolores run Galeria Fe y Lola in Oaxaca City and continue to weave.

Goals? I have no idea what’s next.

Women’s Creative Writing and Yoga Retreat, March 2017

Natural dyes have strong color, as strong as synthetic dyes

With a great dye master, natural dyes have strong color, as strong as commercial dyes

Will you share your story? If you live in Mexico, how did you get here?

 

 

 

Que Supresa! Oaxaca in San Diego, California

As I drive south from my son’s home in Huntington Beach, California, on my way to visit Barbara and David, and dear friend Merry Foss in San Diego, I marvel at how the landscape looks like Mexico, how the climate feels like Mexico. Except there is development everywhere, new houses, shopping centers, freeway congestion. Infrastructure.

Pedro Mendoza and Carina Santiago from Teotitlan del Valle, in San Diego, CA

Pedro Mendoza and Carina Santiago from Teotitlan del Valle, in San Diego, CA

When I stop at the Pacific Ocean overlook, everyone around me speaks Spanish and I take up a conversation with a young mother traveling with two daughters from El Paso, Tejas (the J is a soft H. Tay-Hass). Oh, you might think that could be Texas. Sometimes I think we are borrowing the Southwest from Mexico and the day of reckoning will come when most of us will speak Spanish and justice will prevail.

Sisters Consuelo (left) and Violante Ulrich continue the Spratling silver tradition

Sisters Consuelo (left) and Violante Ulrich continue the Spratling silver tradition

At Barbara and David’s house, I expect a small gathering. I know my Teotitlan del Valle friend Merry Foss will be there with exquisite beaded blouses from the State of Puebla Sierra Norte made by a cooperative of indigenous women that Merry started six years ago.

Jacobo Angeles with copal wood carved and painted ram from San Martin Tilcajete, Oaxaca

Jacobo Angeles with copal wood carved and painted ram, San Martin Tilcajete

I know that friends Violante and Consuelo Ulrich who continue the William Spratling silver jewelry making tradition in Taxco will be here. (I take study tour goers to meet them in Taxco during the February Textile and Folk Art Study Tour to Tenancingo de Degollado. Spaces open.)

Then, I turn the corner. Que Supresa! Que Milagro! I  see part of my extended family from Teotitlan del Valle and Oaxaca.

Shopping for Oaxaca embroidered blouses

Shopping for Oaxaca embroidered blouses

I had no idea that Pedro Mendoza and his wife Carina Santiago and their son Diego would also be there with their terrific handmade rugs. Carina runs Tierra Antigua Restaurant and Pedro is a weaver/exporter.

Or, that friend Jacobo Angeles drove a truck up from Oaxaca filled with alebrijes made by him and family members in San Martin Tilcajete, in Oaxaca’s Ocotlan valley.

Ortega's Folk Art, Tonala, Jalisco, Mexico

Ortega’s Folk Art, Tonala, Jalisco, Mexico

And, then there are ceramics from Mata Ortiz, and hand-carved whimsical wood figures by Gerardo Ortega Lopez from Tonala, Jalisco.

If you can get to San Diego this weekend, there’s a great Expoventa (show and sale) at Bazaar del Mundo, where you can meet all these artisans and buy directly from them.

Mata Ortiz pottery from Chihuahua, Mexico

Mata Ortiz pottery from Chihuahua, Mexico

Both Pedro and Jacobo tell me that tourism has dropped substantially in Oaxaca in the last month our of fear about the clashes between the federal government and the striking teachers. While Oaxaca’s economy depends on tourism, the teachers have legitimate grievances that need to be addressed. It’s complicated!

Hand-beaded blouses from Puebla, Merry Foss artisan cooperative

Hand-beaded blouses from Puebla, Merry Foss artisan cooperative

Some artisans who have visas and have come to the U.S. to do business for years, are able to cross the border and try to make up for what is lost in the local economy. Instead of talking about building walls, United States leaders need to talk about building bridges.

Mexican doll collection, home of David and Barbara

Mexican doll collection, home of David and Barbara

In the meantime, it takes people like David and Barbara, Robin and Linda, and members of Los Amigos del Arte Popular de Mexico who keep the folk art traditions of Mexico in the forefront, who host artisans for private sales, who promote that Mexico has a rich artistic and cultural heritage that remains vibrant only through support and understanding.

Oaxaca clay nativity scene, private collection

Oaxaca clay nativity scene, private collection

If you personally or an organization you are involved with would like to host an artisan visit to the United States, please contact me. I can facilitate. This means a lot to people to keep their family traditions alive and income flowing.

Pacific Ocean overlook, sunny Southern California day

Pacific Ocean overlook, sunny Southern California day

I’m returning to Oaxaca next week. I’ve been traveling for over a month. This is a great interlude to visit with family and friends. I seem to be happy wherever I am these days! I hope you are contented, too.

Pond sunset, end to a perfect San Diego day

Pond sunset, end to a perfect San Diego day

 

Chatino Textiles from Oaxaca at Santa Fe Trunk Show

The Santa Fe International Folk Art Market runs from Friday night to Sunday afternoon the second weekend of July each year. Festivities start days in advance with galleries and retail shops all over town featuring artisan trunk shows from various parts of the world. (Mark your 2017 calendar for July 14, 15, 16)

La Chatina! Vintage blouses. Photo from Barbara Cleaver.

La Chatina! Vintage blouses, embroidered + crocheted. Photo from Barbara Cleaver.

Barbara Cleaver brought a collection of vintage Chatino blouses to La Boheme clothing gallery on Canyon Road, and anyone with a connection to Oaxaca showed up to see what was in store.

Chatina blouse detail. Photo from Barbara Cleaver.

Cross-stitch Chatina blouse detail. Photo from Barbara Cleaver.

Barbara, with her husband Robin, run the Hotel Santa Fe in Puerto Escondido, and are long-time residents of both Santa Fe and Oaxaca. The coffee farm they manage is not far from the Chatino villages near the famed pilgrimage site of Juquila.

Chatino people have close language and cultural ties to the Zapotec villages of the Oaxaca valley. Their mountain region is rich in natural resources and many work on the organic coffee farms that are an economic mainstay. About 45,000 people speak Chatino. Hundreds of indigenous languages and dialects are still spoken in Oaxaca, which make it culturally rich and diverse. This is reflected in the textiles!

Barbara has personal relationships with the women embroiderers of the region and what she brought to show was the real deal!

Chatina woman wears extraordinary embroidered blouse. Photo from Barbara Cleaver.

Chatina woman wears extraordinary embroidered blouse. Photo from Barbara Cleaver.

The blouses are densely embroidered with crocheted trim.  The older pieces are fashioned with cotton threads and the needlework is very fine. Newer pieces reflect changing times and tastes, and include polyester yarns that often have shiny, gold, silver and colored tinsel thread.

We see this trend in other parts of Mexico, too, including the more traditional villages of Chiapas where conservative women love to wear flash!

The shoulder bag — called a morral — is hand-woven and hand-tied (like macrame), and equally as stunning.

Fine example of Chatino bag from Barbara Cleaver

Fine example of Chatino bag from Barbara Cleaver

UPDATED INFORMATION

A follow-up note from Barbara Cleaver about the bag:

The Chatino bags have a proper name in Spanish, which is "arganita."

Morral is also correct, in the sense that all Mexican bags are

generically called that. Also, the knotted part ( where they stop weaving and start 

knotting the woven part), is then often embroidered. In Karen Elwell's photo,

the birds in the knotting are embroidered over the knotting, rather

than being created by the knotting.
Underside of knotted and embroidered Chatino bag, from Barbara Cleaver

Underside of knotted and embroidered Chatino bag, from Barbara Cleaver

To enquire about purchasing any of Barbara Cleaver’s Chatino clothing and accessories, please contact her at  Mexantique@aol.com

Chatino shoulder bag, called a morral. Photo by Karen Elwell.

Chatino shoulder bag, called a morral. Photo by Karen Elwell.

Karen Elwell, whose Flickr site documents Oaxaca textiles, says that the flowers and birds border (above) are machine stitched and the parrots and flowers (below) are hand-knotted from the warp threads of the woven bags. (See Barbara Cleaver’s more exact explanation above.)

Barbara has many examples of these. I was just too busy looking to take good photos!

Invitation to La Boheme trunk show, pre-Folk Art Market.

Invitation to La Boheme trunk show, pre-Folk Art Market.

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

 

 

 

Getting Ready for Guelaguetza 2016: The Show Must Go On

Recognizing the upcoming annual Oaxaca celebration of Guelaguetza, a unique interpretation of Zapotec mutual support, sharing and indigenous community sustainability, I have changed the blog banner.

In show biz, the standard is The Show Must Go On when something can interrupt a performance. (I grew up just outside of Hollywood; I know what this means.)

Official Guelaguetza Site

The start of Guelaguetza in Oaxaca is just a few weeks away, to be held on two Mondays, July 25 and August 1.  Performances are always morning and late afternoon, twice daily for these two days.

Guelaguetza, Oaxaca 2016

Guelaguetza, Oaxaca 2016

On July 2, 8, 9, starting at 7 p.m. there are planned parades to celebrate, entertain and attract tourists to Oaxaca. They start at the Piedra de la Cruz, corner of Garcia Virgil and Xoloti, at the plaza where El Quinque restaurant and 1050 Grados ceramics gallery are located. The parade route is traditionally down the Alcala tourist walking avenue, also called the Andador. The convite ends at the Zocalo.

The Zocalo is now a campground for protesting teachers. With the CNTE Section 22 teacher’s union and federal government polarized in their discussions with no mediation or negotiated settlement in sight, we wonder about whether these events will be held, and if so, at what cost.

The federal government says the show will go on.

Like all Oaxaqueños and everyone who loves Oaxaca, we wish for a peaceful, respectful, speedy resolution.

Leaps and bounds above the others, this dance sizzles.

Leaps and bounds above the others, this dance sizzles.

Ticket prices for the Guelaguetza are steep and not all are able to enjoy access. Yet, it is a spectacular interpretive folk art extravaganza that is a sight to behold. It is designed as a tourist attraction that has a much deeper cultural meaning and is controversial because of its exclusivity.

Dance of the Flor de Piña is one of the most popular at Guelaguetza

Dance of the Flor de Piña from Tuxtepec is one of the most popular at Guelaguetza