I’m smitten with this story about women who weave and use natural dyes under the shadow of Orizaba in the state of Veracruz, just over the border from northern Oaxaca state. It is a testimony to ancient wisdom, the grandmothers, folklore, cultural preservation and the strength of women to remember and to make and to teach it to the next generation. It is a tribute to everyone in Mexico who works hard and under extreme circumstances, to create the wonderful textiles that we love.
This is a long video, almost 30 minutes. I encourage you to watch it. Then make a gift to ensure support the immigrants who are mistreated in the USA, by choosing one or several of these organizations.
If you have a favorite Not-for-Profit USA 501 C 3 that helps Mexican immigrants in the USA or helps textile weavers in Mexico, please feel free to share a link in the comments, with a reason why you support them. Thank you!
And, please remember, when you make a purchase of a textile that is made by hand, you are helping to support individuals, families, villages, communities and cultures to do more than survive, to thrive and continue their traditions.
Felices Fiestas con abrazos fuertes from Oaxaca, Mexico.
This is a testimony to the artistry and skill of Mexican artisans.
This is the first time the textiles will be exhibited in Mexico City. If you are visiting or live nearby, please see the exhibition at the Museo Nacional de Culturas Populares in Coyoacan (near Casa Azul). The exhibition opens December 4, 2019, and is spectacular and memorable.
Chip Morris was one of those iconic figures who is largely responsible for the development of textile education in Chiapas, Mexico. He is known for preserving and promoting Maya highland weaving. He was there for a lifetime, co-creating the famed weaving cooperative Sna Jolobil and establishing San Cristobal de las Casas as a textile lover’s travel destination.
I got news of his passing yesterday from my pal Sheri Brautigam while I was in transit from my Durham home to Mexico City.
Walter “Chip” Morris, 1953-2019, RIP
From Kiki Suarez, founder of Kikimundo, famed folk art gallery in the San Cristobal de las Casas historic center:
When I arrived in San Cristobal in 1977, the Maya fabric here was already in decline, and neither I nor any tourists knew much about quality and we bought mediocre embroidery; we did not know about the quality of what was possible. The weavers themselves followed the tradition but many did not know the meaning of their patterns. A young gringo Hippie arrived, settled in San Andres Larrainzar, learned Tzotzil (and probably spoke it better than Spanish), and rescued the meanings in the ancient textiles, which were already at the point of disintegrating.
This man was Walter F. Morris, who we called Chip. I learned a lot with him. Together with Luis Contreras and Pedro Meza, he formed the Sna Jolobil cooperative in the city, still known today as the sourced for the highest quality Maya fabric. He took the Maya textiles to the great museums. He wrote his book, Living Maya, with Carol Karasik, that included the extraordinary photographs taken by Jeffrey J. Foxx, and then translated into Spanish.
Then, other books followed, always with the faithful and capable Carol: about how the Maya fabric here in many remote communities in the Maya highlands continues to develop instead of disappearing, how Maya women and men are preserving their dress instead of giving over to western styles — a rare phenomenon in the world.
The tours and talks by Chip that I attended were wonderful. I remember the first years here when I saw women walking from village to village, carrying their textiles on their heads. I remember how Chip was looking for, discovering, teaching the weavers themselves the meaning of their patterns, rescuing old huipil designs. I remember an old huipil from Chamula that had designs that were taken from the murals at Bonampak. Chip helped them appreciate the value of their own art that they often sold for nothing or almost nothing.
Then, he joined the fabulous Pellizzi Collection for a small salary. The Maya textile was his life and his passion and his destiny and vocation, and perhaps everything else in life could not compete with this. If today there are so many cooperatives and young people who play with new designs of the traditional Maya textile, I think this is why Chip Morris started — to leave this legacy. Unfortunately, for many years, for personal reasons, he began to withdraw from social spaces, and today many who work in the same field do not even know about him.
That’s why I write this: Let them know! This is the heritage he leaves in San Cristobal, and with many weavers and people in many communities.
Chip transcends his personal struggles for his great effort and work to rescue and recognize the Maya fabric, another textile artist, Olga Reiche, from Guatemala, wrote to me today. And, so it is …
I did not know Chip personally. I met him a couple of times in Tenejapa during my tours with Patrick Murphy, when he was guiding tourists to the cooperative operated by Maria Meza across from the zocalo. I knew that he was ailing. Most of us did. As Kiki says, we honor the contribution he made to Maya textile knowledge. We go to Chiapas because of what he accomplished. Descansé bien.
We recommend Chip’s book, Maya Threads: A Woven History published by Thrum’s Books, for our Chiapas textile study tour participants. I hope you have a chance to read it.
As of Friday, morning, Oct. 11 — Still Available: #2, #3, #4, #6, #8, #9, #10, #13. Many choices! Time is ticking
I return to Oaxaca next week with a stopover in Mexico City to lead the Art History Tour focusing on the work of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. Meanwhile, before I leave the USA, I usually go through my collection to review what I want to part with. Here is outstanding weaving and embroidery from all over Mexico — Oaxaca, Chiapas, Guadalajara. The 13-piece selection is below. Look carefully!
Note: All sizes are Large/Extra Large unless otherwise noted. Several are Collector Pieces: #1, #2, #3 and #13
To Buy: Send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with your name, address, and item number. I will send you an invoice to pay with credit card. Once I receive your funds, I will mail via USPS to anywhere in the USA. Prices include mailing cost. Please buy and pay before Monday, October 14, 2019. This will give me enough time to pack and mail before I return to Mexico on October 16. Thank you VERY much.
I thought it was important for the North Carolina State University Study Abroad students to spend an overnight in an indigenous Zapotec village while they were here in Oaxaca. So, I recommended to Professor Ricardo Hernandez that we include a stay in Teotitlan del Valle as as part of our itinerary.
The students were here in Oaxaca — the valley and the coast — to study sustainability. Through the experience they learned that the definition is wide-ranging and far-reaching. It has to do with the land and her people, traditions and beliefs, values and practices. It is economic and social and political. It is still small scale agriculture here where farmers use age-old practices rather than technology.
It is instructive to study cultures where people have been successful for generations by transmitting knowledge as a way of life.
Afterall, this is the region where corn (maize) was hybridized over 8,000 years ago up the road at Yagul. We talked about Monsanto and GMO, how to overcome hunger and develop crops abundant enough to feed people without sacrificing nutrition. We compared the industrialized agriculture of the USA and the disappearance of family farms, and noticed how things work — and don’t — in Mexico.
I arranged for them to sleep at two local bed and breakfast inns — Casa Elena and Las Granadas B&B — operated by three generations of women. They ate home-cooked and delicious meals prepared from locally sourced, organic meat and vegetables.
Teotitlan del Valle is one of the few villages that still operates a daily market. It is a sight to behold entrepreneurial farmers and vendors who sell native corn, squash, beans, squash blossoms, poultry and meat, and more, plus all the household necessities for a home to operate here.
After the market, we toured the church and noted the carved stones inlaid into its walls. When the Spanish arrived, they razed the Zapotec temple and used the stones to build the church walls. The stucco has been peeled away to reveal this part of the village history. We walked around the back side of the church to see the recently restored archeological site that was the temple foundation.
This is a rug weaving village. There are now about 10,000 people who live here and more than 2,000 looms. Only about a dozen families use natural dyes to color the wool they use. We visited one of them — the home workshop of Galeria Fe y Lola –to see the process and learn about this part of the culture.
It was wonderful to be in the village market and explore it on our own.
Meeting 26-year old Omar Chavez Santiago from Galeria Fe y Lola was a testimony to artisan life and pride of workmanship — he is dedicated to continuing his culture. This is refreshing to see.
The church offered me a glimpse into the blend of Zapotec and Catholic traditions.
There is a reverence for community here that we don’t see at home.
Families are close-knit, welcoming to outsiders.
Everyone was consistently kind.
It was important to see the different ways people earn an income: baking bread, sewing, selling food, services and repair work, doctors and teachers, musicians and weavers — it looks like a self-sustaining community.
Walking the back streets of the town gave me a perspective for how people live in rural Mexico.
At Gracias a Dios mezcal palenque in Santiago Matatlan at the far end of the Tlacolula Valley, Emmy Hernandez, the daughter of mezcalero Oscar Hernandez, showed us the artesanal process of making this distilled beverage. Agave is an important native plant and agricultural product in the region. It contributes to Oaxaca’s economy and reputation as a tourist destination. This is also a family business and Emmy is the next generation to sustain it.
How many different types of agaves are there? They say over 200 types of agaves exist and 30 are suitable for making mezcal. Espadin is cultivated and easily to reproduce, and therefore, the most sustainable. The wild, or silvestre agaves, have a long growth cycle and are rare. I love cuishe (also spelled cuixe) and tepextate and tobala. For everyone harvested, some growers like Gracias a Dios are planting three to replace them. The wild ones are earthy and take on the flavors of the soil they grow in.
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Why We Left, Expat Anthology: Norma’s Personal Essay
Norma contributes personal essay, How Oaxaca Became Home
Norma Contributes Two Chapters!
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Norma Schafer and Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC has offered programs in Mexico since 2006. We have over 30 years of university program development experience. See my resume.
Study Tours + Study Abroad are personally curated and introduce you to Mexico's greatest artisans. They are off-the-beaten path, internationally recognized. We give you access to where people live and work. Yes, it is safe and secure to travel. Groups are limited in size for the most personal experience.
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We send printable map via email PDF usually within 48-hours after order received. Where to see natural dyed rugs in Teotitlan del Valle and layout of the Sunday Tlacolula Market, with favorite eating, shopping, ATMs. Click Here to Buy Map
Dye Master Dolores Santiago Arrellanas with son Omar Chavez Santiago, weaver and dyer, Fey y Lola Rugs, Teotitlan del Valle