Tag Archives: Oaxaca art

ONE Space Open, Oaxaca Documentary Film Workshop: Interview Subjects Confirmed

Norma Hawthorne announces that she has confirmed the interview subjects for the Feb. 19-26, 2010 documentary film making workshop to be held in Teotitlan del Valle.  There is still one space open and it is not too late to register and attend.

Interview subjects are:

1)  Magdalena (Magda) is an elder of the Zapotec village of Teotitlan del Valle. She is the mother-in-law of Josefina, the proprietor of Las Granadas Bed and Breakfast. Part of Magda’s daily life is preparing organically grown corn (maize) to make masa and tortillas.  This is a rich, cultural tradition.  Embedded into this practice are issues about traditional, locally grown corn vs. bio-engineered corn imported at a lower price; the traditional role of food and women preparing it; and family relationships in a multi-generational living compound.
2) Pantaleon Ruiz Martinez is a 34-year old Zapotec artist who is a renown weaver, painter and jewelry designer.  He translates indigenous life, dreams, images and ancient symbols into his art.  His images incorporate mythical animal and human figures, and he uses sweeping strokes of paint applied by hands and fingers to his canvas.  Paint pigments incorporate the natural dyes derived from local plant materials.  He has exhibited widely in the U.S. and throughout Mexico.

3) Arte y Seda is a family-owned weaving cooperative that focuses on cultivating silk worms, feeding them the mulberry leaves from the trees grown in their courtyard, spinning the cocoons, dyeing the silk yarn with natural colors, and then weaving the fine silk threads into magnificent garments, scarves and shawls.  Silk cultivation and weaving was introduced by the Spanish centuries ago.  The family of Aurora Contreras has been working with silk for several generations.  Today, she and her husband Reynaldo Sosa continue the tradition in the original style, preparing their own natural vegetable dye materials.  The silk worms are dormant now and the mulberry trees on the property will be leafing out during our visit, however, there are lots of photos of the worms that can be used to augment the interviews, spinning and weaving.

Workshop participants will work in pairs to produce a 5-6 minute documentary video, learning all the storytelling, interviewing,  b-roll skills and editing techniques necessary to produce a short film.   This program is perfect for social cause advocates, artists, budding film makers, and anyone who wants to tell a visual story using video.

Oaxaca Weaving Workshop: Day 4

On the last day of the workshop, Karen worked with Federico and Janet to complete her tapestry, a glorious rainbow of red, warm yellow and orange, cream and blue. She cut the piece she will use for a wall hanging off the loom, and learned how to finish off the rug in the traditional Zapotec technique of rolling the warp threads into fringes and then tying them off.

As an instructor with her father, Janet Chavez Santiago had this to add about the four-day experience: It was a great experience for me to do the workshop with Karen. It was very satisfying to see how she learned and how she was able to create a beautiful finished product — her rug! The dyeing day was perfect. Karen said she appreciated the process of our work and how we take the time to dye the wool by hand using natural materials. I was very happy that I could teach her the mordanting process, and dyeing with acid, alkaline and a neutral base. The indigo was a challenge because it is a difficult process, but we did it and without mistakes and she was able to see the different blues and how the color changes when it comes in contact with the air. I am very excited about the next workshop we have scheduled to start on August 11. It’s full with five people and it’s going to be wonderful, too.

We are now accepting reservations for workshops starting November 22 and December 13. See the website or blog post: Oaxaca Weaving Workshop: Dancing on the Loom, for more details.

Experimenting with Cochineal: A Pinch of This and a Tad of That

In July 2007, when Andrea Donnelly, a textiles student,  came to Teotitlan from NC State University to do a natural dyeing residency with Eric Chavez, I listened to their conversations and took notes.  Erick talked about how few people are coming to their home in Teotitlan since the teacher’s strike, so he appreciated that Andrea came to study and workshop with him and his father Federico.  Eric explained that he has experimented with cochineal and is able to get over 95 different shades ranging from dark purple to bright orange, reds, and pinks, by manipulating the Ph of the dye bath.  The color intensity and shading depends on whether he uses lime juice or vinegar and the quanitity of cochineal.  An acid solution will result in a brighter color, he says.  Eric is experimenting, measuring the Ph of the dye bath, and recording recipes (chemical formulas).  Another variable is the shade of natural wool a weaver chooses to dye.   Brown, black, white, and beige wool will absorb dyes differently and add to the variation in color.

We estimate that only about 10% of the village weavers are actually using natural dyes because they are so expensive and labor intensive, and those who do usually estimate the ingredients each time they dye, much like our great-grandmothers used to cook — a pinch of this and a tad of that.  

The way to create color using synthetic dyes is much simpler — one doesn’t need a mordant because there is sulfuric acid (toxic) already added to the dye mixture.  In natural dyeing, Eric and Federico use alum and cream of tartar to “fix” the dyes.  Ancient Zapotecs used only natural dyes from palnt materials.  Eric has researched this and says that the written  records that explained methods to extract dye from palnt materials were destroyed in the Spanish conquest.  He wanted to preserve this part of his culture, so began experimenting using modern chemistry techniques. 

In previous entries, I’ve talked about the toxicity of chemical dyes and their environmental impact.  When a weaver dyes 20 lbs. of wool at one time, standing over the dye pot, breathing the vapors,  not using a mask, this will cause itchy throat, watery eyes, and inflamed lungs.  Respiratory problems are not uncommon.  This is one reason why Eric wanted to learn more about natural dyes — to lower the health risks of his people. 

As Eric continues, he explains that there are other natural options for mordants that come from the plants called tejute (Teh-hu-tay) and pericone, in addition to using alum and cream of tartar.  There is an old Zapotec recipe for using tejute that is most effective.  You chop the plant, add it to cochineal along with oak tree bark and then boil it for the dye bath.  Pericone is used to make yellows, and results in the same coloration as the yellow one can extract from moss.  These plants are almost extinct.  The cooperative, Bii Dauu, runs an organic farm near the reservoir outside of Teotitlan and they are growing percone and tejute to reintroduce and preserve it.

When the Spaniards came to Mexico they hoped to find gold, but they discovered cochineal instead.  The Spanish imported 70 tons of cochineal a year for sale on the world markets.  Cochineal was used to dye the red coats of the British Army and the lipsticks made for Europe’s royalty.  The cochineal bug has a short life span as a parasite on the prickly pear cactus.  It is picked, dried, ground and then mixed with various ingredients to create many shades.  Cochineal mixed with baking soda yields purple, with lime you get red or orange, with vinegar — orange, mixed with pomegranate seeds and skins yields green and beige.