Tag Archives: weaving

Chromatica at MACO Oaxaca: New Sounds, Ancient Textures

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Inside the courtyard at MACO, once a conqueror’s palace

Chromatica, a multi-media art exhibition created by Guggenheim award-winning Mexican artist Tania Candiani, opened last weekend in Oaxaca at the Museo Arte de Contemporaneo de Oaxaca (MACO).  The exhibition takes a new approach to sight and sound.

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Chromatics is about how we communicate through music and color. It can be considered the interdisciplinary intersection between technology and art. Candiani explores the differences and similarities between language systems, sound and the logics of technology through her work.

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This is interpretive, intuitive and not always “in your face” evident through the various experiences of this exhibition that stimulates and questions the visual and auditory senses. The result is to create an emotional experience that could be somewhat uncomfortable.

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Old loom as modern sound machine

First is the sound of the traditional two-harness pedal loom used to weave serapes and rugs in Teotitlan del Valle.  At the opening, three Mendoza family weavers stood at looms in the courtyard with microphones recording the sounds of their creativity. They wove fast, slow, in harmony and not.

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Javier and friend from Teotitlan del Valle, with natural colors

We could hear the beating of the treadles, loud, soft, harsh, subtle, the whoosh of the shuttle going through the heddles, the rhythms of wood against wool. The recordings can be heard in one of the exhibition rooms along with an abstract video of the work in progress. For how much longer will we hear this sound?

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Upstairs on the second floor of the museum, we see the historical elements used to prepare the wool.  The dyestuffs: cochineal, indigo and pericone (wild marigold). We see ancient stone grinders where people kneeled to prepare the powder. We see embroidery hoops embellished in red, blue and yellow, telling the story of the colors as recorded in the pre-Hispanic codices.

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Metates, manos de metates and cochineal powder

But there is more than meets the eye:  tone poems of color embroidered onto cloth that tell of the modern experience of traditional color in a changing, mechanized world. What does blue evoke? How does red make us feel? What is the human labor needed to give us these colors that we take for granted and enjoy?

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As the crowd gathered around an ancient loom converted into a sound box, people took turns cranking the take-up roll, traditionally used to wind the cloth as it is woven. In this structure, it turned the wheel to produce sounds. The “thread” was string — as in violin or piano.

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A cochineal painted room of breeding cactus gives us a sense of how many of these bugs are needed to color just one rug or garment. The color intensity penetrates.

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Old hand carders against a backdrop of blue

Questions? Did the exhibition go far enough? Were the exhibits as interesting as they could have been? All the explanations were in Spanish with no English “subtitles,” so the meanings could be harder for some non-bilingual visitors to “get.” Was there a clear path to meaning from one gallery to the next?

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Moving from the preparation of cochineal to indigo, we see the concrete vats replicated to show us how the color of the plant is extracted. There is an excellent video created by Eric Chavez Santiago, education director at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca about the process of preparing indigo. It would have been a great educational video to include in this exhibition — better than the one selected to show.

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Ceramic artists from Santa Maria Atzompa created bellowing birds in the “yellow” room. Push and pull the bellows to hear how sound emanates and enters our bodies for interpretation. Aren’t we all cogs in the wheel?

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Meaning comes from many sources. The exhibition raises questions about how technology impacts and changes people, traditional life, practices and uses. How many are using the metate now to grind the cochineal and indigo, when most have gone over to coffee grinders for ease of labor.

Does this change the outcome of the fiber and color? What about the practice of hand-weaving itself? Will automated looms result in lower prices, yes, and the disappearance of a handmade process, perhaps? Will people only do this for a hobby and not for a business or way of life? What does it mean for the continuation of culture to experience this change? What about the raw materials: The hand-spun wool and natural dyes, what will become of them and the people who make them?

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I presume these are the questions that the artist is asking us to explore in this exhibition. As supporters, appreciators and consumers of art and artisanry, how do we each contribute to the continuation or demise of hand craft?

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The contemporary art museum is located on the Andador — Macedonio Alcala between Murguia and Morelos.

Festivals and Faces: Chiapas Photography Workshop

El Rebozo Made in Mexico Exhibit, Franz Mayer Museum, Mexico City

Getting to see this exhibit El Rebozo Made in Mexico before it closes Sunday, August 30, 2015, has been a priority for me since I first heard about the planning for it several years ago from British fashion designer-textile artist Hilary Simon. I scheduled this Mexico City stopover of two days before returning to the U.S. just for this purpose.

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The rebozo, or shawl, is a symbol of Mexico’s cultural identity. Textile regions throughout the country have designed and woven these rebozos according to local custom. Some are woven on a back strap loom, others on a pedal loom by women and men who learned at the feet of their parents and grandparents.

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Some are finished off with elaborate macrame hand-tied fringes that can be as longs as twelve or eighteen inches. Some are plain weave and others are Mexican ikat or jaspe from the Tenancingo in the State of Mexico or Santa Maria del Rio in the State of San Luis Potosi. The one above is hand embroidered from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec.

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Fibers vary, too. There is silk, a mix of silk and cotton, rayon or artecel that is called “seda” (silk) here in Mexico, plus wool. The type of material, gauge of the thread and density of weave depends on the climate in each location.

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In pre-Columbian times, indigenous people cultivated coyuchi or wild cotton that is a beautiful caramel color, using it to weave garments, including rebozos. In the mountains above Oaxaca in a village called San Pedro Cajonos, they cultivate a wild silk the color of straw from a local worm, spinning it with a drop spindle. Below is the red silk rebozo dyed with cochineal by Moises Martinez, part of Lila Downs‘ collection.

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Local dyes were derived from indigo, wild marigold, nuts, mosses, tree bark. They used the caracol purpura snail found along the southern coast of Oaxaca to dye purple and the miniscule cochineal beetle, a parasite that lives on the prickly pear cactus paddle, for an intense, color-fast red.  Feathers dyed red with cochineal were often woven into the fibers for embellishments.

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All these techniques and materials are still used today and are part of the exhibition.

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The State of Oaxaca is well-represented in this exhibit. Many of the rebozos on display are part of the personal collections of Oaxaqueños and its institutions: Remigio Mestas Revilla, Mauricio Cervantes, Lila Downs, Trine Ellitsgaaard, Maddalena Forcella and The Museo Textil de Oaxaca.

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A black scented burial rebozo (above) woven in Tenancingo, part of Maurico Cervantes’ collection, displays an ancient Mexican tradition that is at risk of extinction because it is so labor intensive to make. Western fashion is dominating the tastes driven by a young, hip population.

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It is a completely manual process that takes months to complete. When you think of the rarity of the raw materials and the time commitment involved to complete a piece, it is no wonder that many command prices of up to $2,000 USD each.

Rebozo Franz Mayer 53-16 Rebozo Franz Mayer 53-18                 No Mexican exhibition would be complete without a reference to beloved Frida Kahlo. Above, left, is a photograph of a rebozo from her personal collection taken at Casa Azul by Pablo Aguinaco. To the right is a photographic portrait from 1951, just three years before her death at age 47.

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Other iconic images in the exhibition are this Diego Rivera painting, Vendadora de Flores, painted in 1934 (above), and this compelling photograph (below) by Pedro Valtiera taken in Oaxaca, 1974.

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I wanted to see the best of the best in preparation for a textile trip I’m taking to Tenancingo in September to the rebozo fair. Going to the exhibit is part of my continuing education to know even more about Mexico’s textile culture and the importance of garment for cultural identity and continuity.

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In addition to the textiles, the exhibit integrates old and new photographs, paintings, mixed media art work, memorabilia and related folk art.

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Above left is the felted wool and silk rebozo with cochineal stripe by Maddalena Forcella, titled Rebozo de Sangre, made in 2014. Above right is a handmade paper rebozo designed and constructed by Oaxaca textile artist Trine Ellitsgaard.

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Photographer Tom Feher, who lives in Oaxaca with his wife Jo-Ann during the winter months, is represented with photos he took of the Miramar, Oaxaca women’s cooperative (above) for his book, Weaving Cultures, Weaving Lives: A Circle of Women. Oaxaca photographers Antonio Turok and Mari Seder also have pieces in the show.

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I loved Hilary Simon‘s Mi Altar Mexicano (above) and a series of watercolors (below) that Christopher Corr painted in 2000, all capturing the rebozo and the women who wear them.

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Rebozos have so many uses. They carry babies and bundles. They are wrapped like a crown to balance a basket filled with fruit or tamales or flowers. They are folded and put atop the head for sun protection. They protect shoulders from the evening chill. They cover the breast as baby takes nourishment. They are the embodiment of Mexican life.

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El Rebozo Made in Mexico is at the Franz Mayer Museum, Hidalgo 45, Cuauhtemoc, Centrol Historico in Mexico City. Tel: 55 5518 2266. Open daily, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., except Monday. Hours can change, so call ahead to make sure they are open when you can be there.

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Visiting the Oaxaca Wool Mill: Lanera de Ocotlan

In 1996 Englishman Graham Johnson came to Ocotlan de Morelos from Mexico City to open a woolen mill.  The mill was designed to streamline the production process for making yarn and weaving cloth from local churro sheep wool* without sacrificing quality.

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Graham was a tinkerer. He loved machinery, especially the old carding and spinning machines that were being replaced by computerization. He bought these up, shipped them to Oaxaca from the United States and the United Kingdom, and refurbished them. Often, he would find or make the parts to keep them going. Many were 30 and 40 years old already.

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Over time the mill diversified and made luxuriously soft merino bed blankets and throws, fancy yak hair mecate horse reins, cinch chord for saddle belts, colorful wool tassels to decorate saddles, horse blankets and rugs for home decor.

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They kept a supply of all types of wool to work with and blend, continuing to experiment to produce soft and durable products. In addition to merino, the mill cleaned and spun cashmere, mohair, Lincoln and other breeds. They still do.

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Then, Graham died suddenly from a heart attack in 2009, and there was a question about who would keep the business going.

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I remember when I first met Graham on one of my early visits to Oaxaca. It was probably 2005 or 2006. The mill was running at full capacity and you could hear the hum of machinery as you walked down the open corridor separating the rooms where the work was done.  It was impressive then what these old machines and talented local employees could do.

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Now, when I revisited with my friend Scott Roth, who has been working with weavers, wool, dyes, and the hand-loomed rug weaving process for over 40 years, I could see the changes. Scott brought with him replacement parts for some of the machines. Machines that were working ten years ago now need repair. Old belts, bearings, wires, cogs and wheels break, wear out.

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For the past two years, Graham’s 37-year old daughter Rebecca has stepped in and is learning the operation. The mill is 25 years old and Rebecca is determined to keep her father’s dream alive.

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At her side are Rosalba (Rosie) Martinez Garcia, who has been there for 18 years and knows just about everything about the mill.  Helping are Angel Laer Ambocio Perez (above) and Alejandro Maldonado Santiago. They know a thing or two, too, although their tenure is much shorter.

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Rebecca loves textiles. She loves yarn. She wants to supply all types of yarns for knitting and weaving and other fiber arts. There are beautiful rugs and blankets stacked on shelves that were made before her father passed that are for sale.

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Spare parts for anything is essential here in Mexico. Equipment can be old. It can still be good, functional, valued. If one has the necessary parts to keep it going. Graham wasn’t the only tinkerer here. People save, cobble together, recycle, repurpose. Things get jimmied together and continue to work. People here learn how to be resourceful with what they have. It’s something I’ve learned being here.

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As Scott and Rebecca worked out numbers to complete their transaction, I wandered the mill, remembering Graham. A cat ran across the corridor to hide. A young tree struggled to grow up from the crack in the concrete. A rusted yarn holder cast shadows on the adobe wall. I loved being there, another part of the textile heaven that is Oaxaca.

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Where to Find It: Lanera de Ocotlan, 119 Benito Juarez, Ocotlan de Morelos, Oaxaca, Tel:  951-294-7062. Email: Rebecca Johnson at  becky_madonna@hotmail.com for an appointment to visit. Directions: Continue straight past the Zocalo and the Mercado Morelos two blocks. The wool mill door will be on your left. It is unmarked.

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Footnote: *Local wool is shorn from churro sheep which were brought to Mexico by the Spaniards with the conquest in 1521. The sheep are raised in the high mountains above Ocotlan in San Baltazar Chichicapam. The mountain range separates the Tlacolula and Ocotlan valleys. The altitude there produces a soft, dense fleece. There are still some, like Yolande Perez Vasquez, who use hand carders and the drop spindle to produce the best yarn, but this is a costly, labor-intensive process that yields a premium yarn that is very dye absorbent. Few weavers are able to pay the price.

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Pop-up Expoventa San Felipe Usila Saturday Only

Textile show and sale from San Felipe Usila
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When: 1:30-4:30 pm, Saturday, March 7, 2015

Where:  Las Granadas B&B, Avenida 2 de Abril #9, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

What:  think Danza de la Pina — Dance of the Pineapple– at The Guelaguetza to picture what these garments look like

San Felipe Usila is a remote mountain village near Tuxtepec, about an eight-hour drive from Oaxaca. The women weave extraordinary textiles on back strap looms. I was there last October and met a talented family.

Jorge Isidro is coming with his mother, an accomplished weaver, and bringing excellent quality pieces to show our Women’s Creative Writing and Yoga Retreat participants. Because he is making such a long trip, I want to open up the opportunity to you to see and buy the work.

The sales go directly to the weaving families.  Prices are reasonable because you are buying direct.

Please invite your friends and share this post to support fine indigenous Oaxaca textile culture.  Thank you.

Norma H-Shafer

 

Zinacantan Textile Flowers, San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas

They speak Tzotzil here in the Maya highlands of Chiapas, Mexico.  San Lorenzo Zinacantan is a village nestled in a beautiful valley about thirty minutes from San San Cristobal de Las Casas.  It is a popular Sunday tourist destination combined with a visit to the mystical church at San Juan Chamula (which I will write about in another post), just ten minutes apart.

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Zinacantan people yielded to the Spanish during the conquest.  They enjoyed more favors and received fertile land in exchange for their loyalty. Today, the Zinacantan hillside is dotted with greenhouses where flowers grow in abundance to decorate church and home altars, and are a key part of festivals.

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The village replicates these flowers in their embroidery that embellish cloth created on back strap looms.  Over the years we have seen the patterns change from simple red and white striped cloth to sparkly textiles that incorporate synthetic glitzy threads of gold and silver.  Much of the embroidery is now machine stitched, though the designs are guided by expert hands.

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I’ve been coming to San Cristobal de Las Casas for years searching for a chal embroidered by hand to no avail. This time, Patrick, our guide took us to the home of Antonia, one of Zinacantan’s most accomplished weavers and embroiderers.  Among the hundred chals (shawl or tzute) available for purchase, I found a blue one all hand embroidered. Technology is winning out over the made by hand ethos.

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Identity is defined externally by the indigenous garment.  Some say the Spanish imposed this upon local people in order to know where they came from and to keep them in their place. Others say the design of the garment endures because of cultural pride.  The young woman above is from the village of Chenalho.  I can tell because of the design of her beautiful huipil.

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She is the tortilla maker at Antonia’s home, who keeps the fire going, makes us a fresh quesadilla of local cheese, cured chorizo, avocado and homemade salsa to remember the visit. Food is memory, too.

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Nothing is wasted, not even the smoke. It curls up from the comal to cure the meats that hang above it. The corn is criollo, locally grown and ground by hand, pure and wholesome. Here in the shadowy adobe kitchen there is magic.

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It is impossible to take photographs inside the church at Zinacantan. It is forbidden and cameras can be confiscated if you are found to violate this. Can you imagine a church altar spilling over with flowers from ceiling to floor, fresh, with an aroma of lilies, roses, gardenias and lilacs. The swirl of scent is like an infusion of incense, designed perhaps to bring one closer to god.

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I organized this art and archeology study tour for Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina.  If you have a small group interested in coming to Oaxaca or Chiapas, please contact me.  I have over 35 years experience organizing award-winning educational programs for some of America’s most respected universities.