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.

 

A Story About Five Wool Rugs for Sale with 100% Natural Dyes, Oaxaca, Mexico

Omar Chavez Santiago went back to Mexico on Saturday but he left these five beautiful hand-woven tapestry rugs (tapetes) behind for me to sell for him and his family.

Omar’s family from Galeria Fe y Lola, use 100% churro sheep wool that is hand-spun on the drop spindle (malacate) in the Mixtec region of Oaxaca, high in the Sierra Madre del Sur about six hours from the city. Here, many women each raise a few sheep and twice  year when the fleece is thick enough, they shear them and spin the wool by hand.  They then collect the balls from among the group for the Chavez Santiago family to buy enough to work. Hand-spun wool, a rarity now, is more costly but is the strongest fiber for rug weaving.

Listen to this GistYarn podcast with Omar Chavez Santiago

#1, 4×6 ft, Mountains and Rain tapestry rug, $1,325

#1. Detail. Cochineal, indigo, natural sheep wool

That’s one reason why these wool rugs are collector and heirloom pieces. 

The other reason is because the family uses ONLY 100% natural dyes. That means they prepare wool that they dye themselves using local plant materials and cochineal. This is a completely vertical process all done in the family home studio. They do not work in synthetic or chemical dyes at all — so everything from them is designed to be environmentally sustainable and healthy.

#2. A Thousand Stars, 4×6′, $1,325. All natural dyes.

#2 Detail. Cochineal, indigo, wild marigold, zapote, pomegranate

Many in Teotitlan del Valle know how to give the cochineal dye demonstration, squeezing lime juice or baking soda on a bit of ground bugs to show visitors how the color explodes and changes.  This does not always mean that the makers use natural dyes in their tapestries. Only about a dozen families actually work with natural dyes because it it more expensive and time consuming.

SOLD. #3. Relampajo, 2-1/2×5′, $550. Indigo and wild marigold

After buying the handspun balls of wool, Omar, his mom Lola (nickname for Dolores) and his dad Fe (nickname for Federico), make the skeins of wool, wash and mordent the wool, then prepare the dye baths.  They will grind dried cochineal bugs, grind and ferment the Oaxaca-grown indigo, prepare other plant materials like wild marigold (pericone), pomegranate, pecan shells and leaves, zapote negro, tree moss, huizache (acacia vine seed pods), palo de aguila (alderwood) and other dye sources. They have developed formulas to get over 40 shades of red, purple, orange and pink from the cochineal insect itself.

They are weavers, chemists, herbalists and artists.

SOLD. #4. Mariposas, 2-1/2 x 5′, Cochineal and wild marigold. $550.

This is #slowfiber and #smallbatches. It can take a week to dye enough yarn for one medium-sized rug. Another week to dress the loom and attach the warp threads. The weaver creates his or her design and executes it, standing at the two-pedal loom for several months working a six-hour day, six days a week. That’s about all the back can take!

When you visit a weaver, ask to see the dye pots. Weavers who work in small volume production have small inventories and are more likely to use natural dyes.

#5. Campo Rojo. 2-1/2×5′. $550. Cochineal, marigold, natural sheep wool.

In the fiber world we ask #whomademyclothes. The #fashionrevolution brings our attention to asking if what we buy is #fastfashion and disposable or made to last with excellent quality.  This is not just about clothes. It is about supporting makers who are using ethical practices, paying fair wages and selling at fair value for time and materials.

It can take 90 days to weave a rug made in this way. If it costs $500 USD, please do the math. That’s a little more that $5 USD per hour.

One of the most gratifying things for me living in Mexico is the opportunity to buy direct from the maker. I know my purchase is meaningful and valued. This is also an important reason that I organize textile study tours — to bring visitors directly to the women and men who make the clothes and home goods and jewelry, and all the beautiful artisan work that Mexico is famous for.  Afterall, in the end, it’s all about the relationship, not the thing!

I hope you will consider purchasing one of these beautiful rugs from Galeria Fe y Lola. Funds go directly to the family. Then, you will know the answer to #whomademyrug

How to Buy: Send me an email with your name, the item you want to buy, and your mailing address. I will respond with availability, send you a PayPal invoice (or you can mail me a check) that includes the cost of the rug and mailing.  Fixed price shipping is $35 per small piece and $60 per large piece anywhere in lower 48 states. Inquire about mailing prices to Canada.

 

 

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.

 

Mexico Jewelry Collectible and Vintage Pop-Up Sale

This Pop-Up, Mash-Up Sale features collectible Mexican sterling silver necklaces, earrings and bracelets. They are from a California collector I am representing. All pieces are handcrafted and personally selected for quality and beauty. Many are vintage or close-to-it!

Perhaps there is something here that strikes your fancy.

How to buy: Each piece is numbered and priced.  Send me an email (normadotschaferaticlouddotcom). Include:

  1. The number of the piece you want.
  2. Your name, mailing address and zip code

I will send you a PayPal invoice and add the mailing cost to your bill. I will mail within 48 hours to the USA or Canada.

#1. Patzcuaro, Michoacan necklace. Vintage. Rare. Substantial. 17″ long. $425 USD

#1A. Handmade sterling silver chain with sturdy hook clasp

#1B. 15mm sterling silver pearls. 11 fishes, each 1-1/2″ long, dangle from red beans

#2. Vintage turquoise and sterling silver bracelet 7″ long, Mexico, stamped. $125 USD

SOLD. #3. Flexible 17″ solid sterling silver collar sits comfortably on neck, a showpiece, intricately carved, easy to wear. $195 USD

#3A. Substantial, not heavy to wear, marked sterling Mexico

#4 (left) Famous Oaxaca designer Kandart earrings, 2-1/4″ long, Ask for price.              #5 is SOLD. (right) Fish Earrings, 2-1/4″ long, $125. Both 925 sterling.

#6. Mazahua, State of Mexico, Garnet & Coral Love Birds. 3-1/2″ long. $165 USD.

SOLD. #7, Oaxaca-New York designer Elena Solow designed these about 10 years ago. Green and chartreuse glass, with sterling silver. $135 USD.

SOLD. #8. Friday Kahlo Style, smaller version, 1-1/2″ wide x 2-1/2″ long. Sterling. $185 USD

#9. Oaxaca designer Kandart sterling silver necklace. Ask for price.

#9 is a solid sterling silver necklace that rests comfortably on the collar-bone. Each piece is hand-made using the ancient lost-wax casting technique preferred by the ancient Maya and Mixtec people who were skilled in jewelry making. The piece is rare and no longer being made. The silversmiths returned to their native France and are creating other unique pieces. Please send me an email if you are interested in acquiring this stunning expression of Mexico of wearable art.

 

Mexico Mash Up Today– Silver Jewelry and Alebrijes for Sale

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

#5. 10 bangles, sterling silver, alpaca + white, black, turquoise enamel, 2-1/2″ inside diameter, $120

#6. Vintage Sterling Bubble Cuff (L), adjustable, $135 and #7 Sterling Ball Cuff, marked Stefano 925, $135, adjustable

SOLD. #8. Federico Jimenez pitcher earrings with turquoise, Frida Style. $275

Federico Jimenez mark, sterling silver, #8 Frida Style

#9 detail, Melesio Rodriguez earrings, $150

#10, Oaxaca sterling filigree by designer Mario Perez, $225