Tag Archives: Mexico

Dye from Murex Snails Colors Ancient Cloth Blue and Purple

Writing from Santa Fe, NM: I’m staying at the house of my textile designer friend Norma Cross, who creates felted fiber clothing using natural dyes, wool, silk, and cotton.

An array of natural dyes, including caracol and indigo, used to weave cloth

I brought with me a shirt made on the Oaxaca coast with threads colored purple from the caracol purpura dye. That led her to send me this article about the Phoenician history of harvesting the purple snail and dyeing religious and political garments with snail ink.

Linking Ancient Snails to Common Threads in Israel Today

Indigo, cochineal and caracol purpura huipil, Pinotepa de Don Luis

This process is still in practice today in Oaxaca, Mexico, along the Pacific Coast. The murex snail is now extinct in Morocco where the Phoenicians plied the waters during the Roman Empire. It is extinct now in most places around the world. There is a revival in Israel where the natural blue color is being used for religious garments as it once was in the 8th century.


Preservation of the snail and it’s priceless ink is alive and well in Oaxaca. Yet, the risk of extinction is high because of poaching. I hear that the resort hotels in Huatulco make a special cocktail using the purple snail. They buy the dye from people who illegally harvest it. And, people are unconscious consumers!

On our Textile Tour of Oaxaca’s Costa Chica, starting January 11, 2019, we will see some glorious handwoven cotton fabrics where the supplementary weft and embroidered threads of the joinery use the rare purple dye. The pieces are created in two neighboring villages, San Juan Colorado and Pinotepa de Don Luis, where we will visit artisans and see how they prepare the native cloth.

I hope you can join us.

Questions? Please contact me.

 

Tribute to Mothers: Feliz Dia de la Madre

Red roses for love, a Mother’s Day Gift to you

First, a bouquet of red roses for all mothers, daughters and foster mothers. For the women in our lives who give us strength, courage and determination to stand up with shoulders back, head high. For the women who came before us to open the path and show us the way. Saludos y felicidades, siempre.

Mother’s Day, dedicated to my own mother, Dorothy Schafitz Beerstein, b. February 14, 1916, d. November 15, 2015, and the remarkable women of Mexico.

Embroidered story rebozo by Teofila Servin Barriga, Patzcuaro, Michoacan

Rosa, center, and her nieces, Magdalenas Aldama

In Yochib, Oxchuc,talented weaver with impaired mobility, limited health care access

The girls who will become women, learning from the matriarch

The young women, keepers of tradition and culture

To those of us who explore and discover and support the makers

Cousins Maya and Alicia in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

The generations: Grandma Juana, Baby Luz, and Mama Edith

Grower of native corn, Mixe region of Oaxaca

My own mother, two years before her death at age 99 

For everything hand-made, here’s to the makers!

The women pottery makers of San Marcos Tlapazola

Intricately embroidered blouse, San Bartolome Ayautla, 8 months to make

To Lila Downs, who tells stories in song, with compassion

Frida Kahlo Calderon, our muse and heroine

Susie in Chiapas, thanks to the adventurers who visit

To the women who love and give care

Deceased potter Dolores Porras, inspiration for Atzompa

To Margarita, the basket weaver, Benito Juarez Market

Thank you to all the women who make a difference just by being you!

Heirloom Beans: Mexico’s Legumes Elevated to a Higher Power

The Hunt for Mexico’s Heirloom Beans, a New Yorker Magazine feature written by Burkhard Bilger and published 4/23/2018, starts and ends with eating.  Thanks to my Teotitlan del Valle friend Scott Roth for sending me this article, lengthy but worth the time to read.

For northern North Americans unfamiliar with bean culture, we think of this legume as filler, to be mashed, seasoned, dipped into with a tortilla chip, pushed aside or preceded with a Bean-O pill to cut intestinal gas.

Eat your lima beans, I remember my mother saying. Ugh. It wasn’t until much later, when I learned to cook fresh limas, that I began to appreciate the oft-maligned bean.

For Mexicans, where the bean originates, it is a staple of life, high in protein and flavorful in its pure and simple state of existence. Cook it simply in water and salt, says Rancho Gordo heirloom bean maven Steve Sando, and you will love the taste and texture.

Rafael Mier holds Jaguar Beans, a rare, ancient strain

Here in the south of the United States of America where I have lived for the past thirty years, the traditionalists gravitate toward black-eyed peas and collards. This is especially true during New Years, when the black-eyed pea is center stage on every table to signify a new year of abundance. I’ve even seen the tradition carried to snow-bound climes by southerners yearning for a bit of home. 

Out west where I grew up, my family’s preferred bean was pinto, always industrially grown and originating from a sixteen-ounce tin that my mother could easily open with her electric can opener.  With contents dumped into the Farberware two-quart saucepan, gas burner turned to high, the beans were ready to serve in minutes to accompany the chewy, gray-center ground sirloin she called hamburger, if they didn’t burn first.

Weighing native beans, Teotitlan del Valle Market

I used to think that black beans were a gourmet delight when I started living in Oaxaca in 2006. I used to think that big, plump beans were better than dwarf-like varieties. Little did I pay attention to the fact that the bigger the bean, the more likely they are to be genetically modified. I didn’t realize that there are almost as many varieties of beans in Mexico as there is corn, based on regional differences and genetic adaptation to soil and climate.

In December 2017, I wrote a blog post, Union Zapata Hosts Biodiversity Fair in Oaxaca. Native corn, squash and beans took center stage. I went there in search of red, purple, yellow, and blue corn. I left with a deeper appreciation for what it takes to sustain a traditional milpa — the bean, corn, squash native agricultural growing exchange that provides complex protein intake for indigenous people.

Here is my challenge: Think about your own experience about beans growing up. Add your memories in the comment section. Share your recipes. Treat yourself to some real beans!

Mexican yellow bean soup, Norma’s made-up recipe

Scott Roth with old Zapotec rug

 

Women’s Writing Retreat in Oaxaca, Mexico: Take a Discount and Express Yourself

This is our 8th year to offer the Oaxaca Women’s Creative Writing and Gentle Yoga Retreat from June 22-29, 2018. We want a full-house and are offering a 10% discount off the already high-value, low price of $895 for a shared room and $1195 for a single room. It’s not too late to get on board and join us.

Who is this for? Beginning and experienced writers, those who believe they can do it and need inspiration and coaching, note-jotters and margin-scribblers. Do you have an idea for a novel, a memoir, a prose poem, a travel piece or family history? This is the place for you.

See the complete course description HERE.

Send me an email with your interest HERE.

Please share with family and friends who would like this retreat.

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.