Husband and wife team Federico Chavez Sosa and Dolores Santiago Arrellanas of Teotitlan del Valle weave extraordinary rugs using only natural dye materials to color their wool. His nickname is “Fe” and hers is “Lola.” In 2010, they opened Galeria Fe y Lola on Av. Cinco de Mayo a half-block down from the Santo Domingo Church between Abasolo and Constitucion. The gallery is inside the beautiful courtyard that houses other artisans and is next door to El Nahual Gallery.
Galeria Fe y Lola, (951) 524 4078, Av. Cinco de Mayo #408, Oaxaca Centro Historico, cellular 044 (951) 243 1657. Usually open 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily except Sunday. Home workshop is at Francisco I. Madero #55, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, open by appointment for weaving demonstrations.
Fe and Lola are a small production family business. They both weave and their three children weave, too. They do the entire process by hand — from washing, dyeing, and weaving. Eldest son, Eric Chavez Santiago, is director of education at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca. Their daughter, Janet, is education coordinator at Centro Cultural y Academica de San Pablo, and youngest son Omar begins university in autumn 2012.
Federico was born in 1959 in Teotitlan del Valle, the second oldest of four children. His formal education stopped at age eleven, typical for most of his generation. At age eight, Federico learned to weave from his grandfather Victoriano Chavez, first shearing the sheep, then cleaning, carding and spinning the wool. Victoriano is remembered as one of the most important weavers of his time. His variations of the caracol (snail) were innovative and beautiful. Federico’s father, Jose, took the family design to the next level, achieving a special technique to create the rounded caracol, replicating those carved in Zapotec temples around 700 C.E.
When he was age ten, Federico wove and sold his first 2.5 x 5 foot rug for eight pesos. At age fifteen, after working as a cowboy, taking buss and cows to graze in the mountains, Federico had saved enough to buy his own rough-hewn loom. He began to experiment, exercising his artistic and creative talents, weaving mythological Zapotec figures, first sketching them to determine proportion and size.
In 1976, at age seventeen, he was asked by his employer to weaver a portrait of Mexican presidential candidate Jose Lopez Portillo, which he sucessfully completed. Federico studied with master weaver Erasto Gutierrez to make detailed designs using techniques from artist Francisco Toledo. Chavez mastered the ability to reproduce designs from a single picture, drawing the design on graph paper, then translating it to a tapestry by sight — a unique skill.
In 1979, at age nineteen, Federico could not earn enough money as a weaver to help his family. He decided to go with friends to California as an undocumented field worker, and lived there for eighteen months. He then migrated to North Carolina to harvest tobacco. He returned to Teotitlan del Valle in 1981.
For the next two years, as the rug market in the United States exploded, Federico did contract work for an exporter, weaving complex designs. In 1984, he became an independent supervisor of rug production for a New Mexico importer, ensuring quality of design, color, and weaving.
Dolores is a member of one of the most illustrious weaving families of Teotitlan, too. Her eldest brother, Porfirio, is head of the Casa Santiago weaving household on Av. Benito Juarez.
Today, the artist-weaver experiments with complex designs that blend tradition with innnovation, setting the standard for beauty and quality.