As if it weren’t enough to lose El Maestro Francisco Toledo this week, news comes this morning from dear friend Patrice Perillie that Margarita Avedano Lopez, founder and president of Tixinda Mexican Dreamweavers Cooperative, has died.
The cooperative, one of the most famous on Oaxaca’s Costa Chica, is in the Mixtec weaving and dyeing village of Pinotepa de Don Luis, about an hour up the mountain from the Pacific Ocean.
Margarita’s brother, Don Habacuc Avedano, is one of the few remaining men who harvest the rare caracol purpura snail for its incredible purple dye, which Margarita used in her weavings.
We know this village intimately because we visit it as part of our Oaxaca Coast Textile Study Tour. We know Margarita for her outstanding collection of regional textiles that she sold in the village market, and for her extraordinary prowess as a back-strap loom weaver and dyer.
True, there are others to carry on. Yet, recognizing women in this region who preserve culture and tradition through artisan craft is essential. The work of Margarita, known as Tia Tere, deserves special acknowledgement because of her dedication to traditional methods: weaving the posahuanco (wrap-around skirt) using natural dyes such as indigo, caracol purpura and cochineal, and carding and hand-spinning (with the drop spindle) native coyuchi and white cotton into the finest threads.
As the generations age and pass from us, how do we keep their memory and their talent alive, going forward? To honor Margarita, it is imperative that our appreciation for Oaxaca traditions carry forward. It is essential that we continue to support handcraft. I feel privileged to have known her and to have acquired cloth that she wove and fashioned into fine garments.
Descanse bien, Margarita Avedano Lopez. We will miss you immensely.
The 2019 International Folk Art Market in Santa Fe, New Mexico, has come to an end. The three-day extravaganza is a chaotic mix of tribal, ethnic, indigenous creativity from around the world. It brings together many talented artisans who have no other paths to reach international markets.
Santa Fe is a destination for many reasons. This is where friends from all over the country converge to volunteer, too. A group of us planned a reunion around being here. We coordinated our volunteer time. We stayed at the same, small, old Route 66 motel that has been in service since the 1950’s. I imagine my dad may have stayed there as he pulled a trailer with all our family household belongings behind our 1953 Plymouth station wagon on the journey west from Detroit to resettle in Los Angeles.
The market officially begins on Friday night with a special opening night preview at $250 per person admission. I always volunteer, so I get to watch the passing parade of Texas and Oklahoma oil and gas heiresses and collectors dressed in their finest attire. It’s a cocktail party that goes from 5:30 to 10:00 p.m. The ticket gives one first pick. I volunteered with Santa Fe de Laguna, Patzcuaro, potter Nicolas Fabian Fermin, and I packed up lots of beautiful pots that night.
The frenzy continued on Saturday morning when the Early Birders got in at 7:30 a.m. After the late night on Friday of bubble-wrapping ceramics, I just couldn’t get going to get there before 10 a.m. when the event opened to general admission. With hundreds of artisans and thousands of people, it was a crush to get through the aisles to see all that was offered at this huge bazaar.
That didn’t give me much time to cover more than a fraction of the aisles, since I was meeting friends Jennifer and Mark Brinitzer, Ann Brinitzer and Katie and Don Laughland for an early lunch in the cafe. The women came with me on our 2019 Chiapas Textile Study Tour (a few places open for 2020) and we became fast friends.
It was thrilling and heartfelt to see so many artisans I know from Oaxaca represented at this outstanding exposition. It takes years of making highest quality work to gain this level of recognition, plus it takes entrepreneurship and some luck to gain entry to this juried show.
It’s very expensive for artisans to participate, too. They must cover their own shipping, travel, lodging and food expenses and they give 20% of their sales to the IFAM organization for the opportunity to sell.
If they are part of a cooperative with many makers, the profits must be divided. As with the case of Dreamweavers Cooperative from Pinotepa de Don Luis, there were three representatives at the Folk Art Market — Amada, Teofila and Patrice. Patrice did a fundraiser and collected over $4,000 USD to cover some of the expenses. And, they had excellent sales. However, the net gets divided among 30 weavers and dyers, so each person might earn only a few hundred dollars.
For individual artisans and families, the profits are much better but ONLY IF there are sales. If it is a slow year, there is an opportunity to sell at a discount (the artisan names the percentage) on Sunday afternoon, the last day of the show. Brisk sales one year does not guarantee success for the next. The risk is entirely on the shoulders of the artisan.
Odilon Merino Morales from San Pedro Amuzgo on the Costa Chica of Oaxaca, Mexico, consigns what he doesn’t sell with Sheri Brautigam who runs the online Etsy shop, Living Textiles of Mexico. If you didn’t get to the show and want one of these incredible textiles, please contact Sheri. She also has pieces from Pinotepa de Don Luis’ Dreamweavers Cooperative.
The benefit of doing this is that the artisans do not need to pay the return shipping for unsold goods and it leaves the beautiful pieces in the USA for better access to those of you who missed the show and want to make a purchase.
I volunteered on Saturday afternoon from noon to 6:00 p.m. with the Dreamweavers Cooperative. I know these women well since I lead study tours to their remote village on Oaxaca’s Costa Chica.
The IFAM show is a destination and an adventure. Since I know many of the artisans, it is a special and heart-throbbing experience to meet them outside their humble homes and villages in the world of commerce. For some, this is their first visit to the USA. Their first flight on an airplane. Their first success at getting a visa to enter the USA and overcome the fears of border crossing and disrespect.
This is the moment to applaud what Oaxaca artisans have accomplished. There are so many more talented people whose work goes unrecognized and unrewarded. For those of us who love Mexico and appreciate the talent, history, culture and art, the process of bringing accomplished artisans to the world marketplace is an on-going effort.
Thanks to all who support and applaud what they do.
In the vast New Mexico landscape, one can disappear, rediscover Georgia O’Keefe, experience Nuevo Mexico, land of enchantment, understand the history and artisanry of nearby Native Americans who live along the Rio Grand River. It is hot, dry, high desert with the kind of beauty that brings the romance of the Old West into one’s spirit.
Look at the rain over purple hills, fields of sage and lavender, the dry withered look of dehydration — plants and people, wrinkles in the earth and on weathered faces. I imagine what it would be like to be an indigenous person here, too. I know the Oaxaca story well. There are many similarities — both experienced the Conquest, the attempt at culture annihilation, and the resurgence of identity amidst the face of adversity and hardship.
Again, let’s applaud the talent of our First Peoples.
The caracol purpura is losing ground and so are the tintoreros, the dyers who milk them, applying the dye directly to the cotton cloth on the rocky Oaxaca coast to give up its extraordinary purple color, keeping the mollusk alive. The dyers, led by 78 year-old Don Habacuc Avedano, come from the Mixtec town of Pinotepa de Don Luis, high in the mountains on Oaxaca’s Costa Chica. It’s the women of the village, the wives and daughters, who spin and weave this cloth into some of the most coveted textiles in Oaxaca.
We visited this village during our recent Oaxaca Coast Textile Study Tour, an 11-day investigation into the growing, spinning, dyeing and weaving textile culture of Oaxaca. I will ONLY offer this trip again in January 2020 IF I have six people committed to go by April 1, 2019, with a $500 deposit. Contact me.
We visited this village during our recent Oaxaca Coast Textile Study Tour, an 11-day investigation into the growing, spinning, dyeing and weaving textile culture of Oaxaca’s Pacific Coast. I will ONLY offer this trip again in January 2020 IF I have six people committed to go by April 1, 2019, with a $500 deposit. Contact me.
Mexico’s cultural anthropologist Martha Turok Wallace has worked tirelessly over her career to help preserve the natural dye culture here, support villagers, and suggest ways they could adapt their work to reach new markets. Without sales to visitors, the textile culture will be lost. Without conservation and public education, the snail will become extinct.
As recently as the 1970’s, the traditional dress for Pinotepa de Don Luis women was a posahuanco (wrap-around skirt), woven in three-lengths of cloth on the back-strap loom, the lengths hand-stitched, and the cloth dyed with caracol purpura, indigo and cochineal. That’s what the purple snail dye was used for. Topless for this hot, humid climate, they wore a finely hand-woven, transparent white huipil that draped from head to shoulders. The cloth was held in place by an inverted dried gourd, worn much like a crown with a veil.
Martha suggested that the gourd could be carved and used as a container. It is now finely carved with intricate figures of birds, flowers, sea life and used as wall decor and lamp-bases, too.
I’ve heard Martha speak at conferences about how important it is to innovate and adapt in order to keep the traditions of a culture vibrant. Otherwise, we run the risk of losing people to blue jeans and polyester. But for me the question always remains, What is authentic and does this mean we behave as colonials to keep people fixed in their place? Progress means change. Progress means better education, health care, access to economic prosperity.
Today, women in the village cover themselves with bra-type aprons that drape over the posahuanco. The posahuanco has also changed. It can include native coyuchi brown and white cotton. I’ve seen it worn as a mini-skirt with a zipper by younger women.
The skirt is the main identity marker of the village along with the purple shell dye.
What is an identity marker?
An identity marker is how one defines self in relationship to the group(s) we belong to. It is cultural and distinctive, based on a common language, values, ethnicity, religion, social class, age group, where we live, or the type of dress we choose to wear. Walk into the regional market in Pinotepa Nacional and you know immediately that the woman wearing the posahuanco with the apron top is from Pinotepa de Don Luis.
What about the hand-woven long dresses (huipiles) and tops (blusas) from Pinotepa de Don Luis?
These are designed and made for foreigners — those who live outside the village. Sometimes, you will see a local woman wearing this huipil at shows or special tourist sales events, but it is rare. This is another form of adaptation to use the native hand-spun cotton produced in the village, woven on the back-strap loom, the threads often dyed with indigo or touches of the shell dyed cotton or silk.
I’ll be writing more about this region in days to come. So stay tuned. On Wednesday, I’m off to Michoacan to lead another folk art study tour.
Not too long ago, because of the very hot, humid climate, the skirt and a gauzy shoulder scarf was a woman’s only covering. These she usually made herself on a back strap loom, beautiful and strong enough to last a lifetime.
Indigo, cochineal and caracol purpura huipil, Pinotepa de Don Luis
Back strap loomed cloth is distinguished by hand-spun cotton threads dyed with purple from the caracol purpura snail, cochineal red from the prickly pear cactus parasite, and the indigo plant carefully prepared in a fermentation bath. The cotton is spun using a malacate or drop spindle.
The designs are not embroidered. They are created by a technique called supplementary weft, often called brocade. The threads are counted and added to the warp as the weaver creates the cloth.
Supplementary weft weaving designs, Pinotepa de Don Luis
Hand-embroidered collars with sea life and flora add interest to huipiles
It happened to be January 20, the day of the Fiesta de San Sebastian, the martyred patron saint of Pinotepa de Don Luis. We were on our way to the Mixtec village of San Pedro Amuzgos to visit Odilon Merino Morales and the cooperative Arte Amuagos. But we had to make a stop to see the festivities!
Procession for Fiesta de San Sebastian, Pinotepa de Don Luis
We could not pass up the pilgrimage of people carrying their saint up the hill, or the Carnival dancers in the Zocalo, or the mayordomos of the village dressed in white who sat in the patio of the municipal building sheltered from the 90 degree Fahrenheit heat.
Getting ready for the fiesta dances, Pinotepa de Don Luis
We were to return to Puerto Escondido for the annual Dreamweavers Tixinda Cooperative Expoventa early on January 21, so we decided to not visit these weavers in their Pinotepa de Don Luis homes. But, the fiesta drew weavers from the village who set up shop on the zocalo, where a few of us found treasures — coyuche and hand-spun cotton with natural dyes.
Treasure hunting in Pinotepa de Don Luis at the special market
In addition to hand-woven textiles, this woman is selling earring, necklaces and bracelets made from gourds, painted and carved with sea and nature motifs, lightweight and easy to wear.
Men plant the cotton, women weave. On feast days, no one works.
After another hour and a half on the road toward the State of Guerrero border, we were greeted by Odilon at the Arte Amuzgos cultural center he established in his home town of San Pedro Amuzgos. It was well into mid-afternoon and we sat down to a delicious lunch prepared by the women: beef soup with a rich, spicy tomato broth; comal made organic tortillas; flavorful black beans, locally raised; fruit water of fresh squeezed lime juice and hisbiscus.
A good time to catch up on news.
Next installment to come!
Dressed in drag for the carnival dance, typical in many pueblos
I think his feet must hurt in those high heels
The man to the far right below is wearing a typical shirt from the region, woven with native coyuche cotton — a natural caramel color that is delicious to look at. The word origin is Nahuatl, from the Aztec language, and means coyote because the color resembles the fur of the animal.
Standing proud and waiting for the ceremonies to begin
Why We Left, Expat Anthology: Norma’s Personal Essay
Norma contributes personal essay, How Oaxaca Became Home
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