Que En Paz Descansa Maria Meza Guzman, Tenejapa, Chiapas — RIP

We got word yesterday that our friend Maria Meza Guzman* died. We don’t know the causes and it’s not really important. What counts here is that we have lost a great traditional back-strap weaver from the highland Chiapas village of Tenejapa. Maria operated a women’s weaving cooperative across from the village zocalo since the early 1990’s.

I have been bringing groups to visit Maria since 2017. It was always our first Chiapas Textile Study Tour stop in Tenejapa where she greeted us with a warm smile and hugs of welcome.

In the early years, most of the ceremonial women’s huipiles and men’s sashes were woven with local sheep wool that was naturally dyed. We could still find these at this cooperative along with the bolsas (shoulder bags) used daily by men and women. Mostly, now, the garments are woven with commercially dyed cotton and glittery polyester thread. Maria only offered pieces of the highest quality workmanship and we could depend on her to give us a back-strap loom weaving demonstration to show how the designs were integrated into the base cloth using the pick-up weaving technique (also called brocade here or bordado) found around the world. The technique is difficult to master and Maria Meza Guzman was a master!

I offer this photo gallery as a tribute to Maria’s memory, her skill and the imprint she left on us of all the goodness of the Chiapas highlands and her talented indigenous people. When our 2022 Chiapas Textile Tour group returns in February, we will miss her. Que en paz descansa, Maria.

*PLEASE NOTE: Maria Meza Guzman is the aunt of Pedro Meza who, with his mother, Maria Meza Giron, founded Sna Jolobil The Weaver’s House in San Cristobal de Las Casas. It’s easy to confuse the two sisters. Maria Meza Guzman opened the Tenejapa weaving cooperative to give visitors and collectors another option to purchase fine quality weavings.

Trunk Show: Chiapas French Knot Blouses

I just received another group of 14 French knot embroidered blouses from Francisca in Aguacatenango, Chiapas. The needlework is extraordinary! Francisca is one of the finest blouse makers in this tiny village of blouse makers. The finish work is amazing. All the seams and hems are done by hand. There is no machine stitching used on this 100% cotton garment! The bodice and short sleeve version are filled with smocking.

Recently, Francisca’s husband Antonio left Chiapas to migrate to High Point, North Carolina, to find work. He is bussing and washing dishes in a Chinese restaurant. It is decent pay and he is sending money home to clear up some debts that accumulated during Covid. The men in small Mexican villages are underemployed or have no work there. Mostly, they are subsistence farmers who do not sell to each other because they all grow the same crops. It’s the women’s work that often sustains the family, and with a drop in tourism, income has declined dramatically. I continue to help them by buying outright and offering these beautiful blouses to you for sale.

This group has eight (8) garments that are size Large and six (6) garments that are size Medium. Most are short sleeve for easy summer wearing. They are made out of breathable Mexican manta, a natural cotton that softens when washed. Care: machine wash in cold water on gentle using a mild soap (like Fels Naptha or Zote), hang to dry, press if desired.

Each blouse is $120 plus $12 mailing via USPS Priority Mail.

To Buy: Please email me at norma.schafer@icloud.com with your name, mailing address, item number and preferred payment method. I will mark it SOLD, send you an invoice to purchase and add $12 for cost of mailing. Choose if you want to buy using PayPal. Venmo or Zelle. I can also send you a Square invoice (+3% fee) if you don’t use these payment methods. All sales final.

Special orders accepted for XL and XXL @ $150.00 each. 50% deposit required. Takes 45-60 days to make. Please contact me if you are interested. Choose red, royal blue, deep purple, lavender, light blue, lime or forest green, yellow, orange, beige. Available in long or short sleeve. norma.schafer@icloud.com

In red, I have 3 size large with short sleeves, and 3 size medium with short sleeves. Order by number. I will mark each one sold until they are gone!

  • SOLD. #1 Red Size Large. Short Sleeves. 14″ wide embroidered bodice.
  • SOLD. #2 Red Size Large. Short Sleeves. 14″ wide embroidered bodice.
  • SOLD. #3 Red Size Large. Short Sleeves. 14″ wide embroidered bodice.
  • SOLD. #4 Red Size Medium. Short Sleeves. 12″ wide embroidered bodice.
  • #5 Red Size Medium. Short Sleeves. 12″ wide embroidered bodice.
  • #6 Red Size Medium. Short Sleeves. 12″ wide embroidered bodice.

In blue, I have 4 pieces that are size Large and 2 pieces that are size Medium.

  • SOLD. #7 Blue Size L. Short Sleeves. 14″ wide embroidered bodice with round neck no tie.
  • SOLD. #8 Blue Size L. Short Sleeves. 14″ wide embroidered bodice with round neck no tie.
  • #9 Blue Size L. Short Sleeves. 14″ wide embroidered bodice with round neck no tie.
  • #10 Blue Size L. Short Sleeves. 14″ wide embroidered bodice with tie neck.
  • SOLD. #11 Blue Size M. Short Sleeves. 12″ wide embroidered bodice with round neck no tie.
  • #12 Blue Size M. Short Sleeves. 12″ wide embroidered bodice with round neck no tie.
  • SOLD. #13. Spring Green Size M. Short Sleeves. 12″ wide embroidered bodice. One piece.
  • SOLD. #14 Spring Green Size Large. Long Sleeve. 14″ wide embroidered bodice. One piece.

Thank you for browsing and your consideration to support our worthy artisan.

Home on Taos Mesa: Japan Building Influences

What are you building? friends ask. I’ll explain.

The predominant building styles here are Pueblo and Northern New Mexico Territorial, with the Earthship (rammed earth) coming up right behind. Pueblo-style is modeled after Taos Pueblo where 1,000 year old dwellings are crafted from adobe bricks and tree-trunk beams the Spanish called vigas. Between the support beams are latillas, hewn from young saplings.

When Anglo settlers arrived here, they brought with them their eastern and midwestern rural sensibilities and built what was familiar and easy — a farmhouse that took on the character of the southwest that included long, wide covered front porches to protect from the sun. The homes were plastered with mud/clay (stucco or adobe) that was readily available from the land.

As with all things, humans adapt vernacular architecture, reconfigure, borrow and integrate designs based on personal preferences and local materials. We see this in textiles, too.

In January 2021, I secured the services of a terrific builder (Patrick O’Brien, Salamander Company) to put me in the queue for spring (okay, it’s now summer and nothing has started yet — it’s Taos, where mañana means not tomorrow but sometime later). We discussed building options and decided on the more economical territorial style. Then, he recommended that we build a German-inspired Passive House and use Japanese cypress Shou Sugi Ban to sheath it.

I remembered charcoal black wood houses from spending time in rural Japanese villages, where I was amazed at the burned wood siding used for building material. I thought it was beautiful, though strange. Little did I know that two years later I would embrace this for my own house construction.

What makes Shou Sugi Ban so attractive is it’s longevity. The original Suyaki (burned) siding is insect resistant and fire retardant. It requires no maintenance for 100 years. It is sustainable and environmentally conscious. It’s natural beauty will blend into the landscape. The wind, rain, sun and snow here on the Mesa will weather it to a dark warm gray over time. And, it will bring me back to a daily reminder of Japan, a country I have fallen in love with.

In Oaxaca, no one is building with adobe anymore. Concrete block and brick sheathed with painted concrete plaster is now the more affordable norm. Porous adobe becomes home to black widow spiders, mice, birds, and crumbles over time, although it is one of the best natural insulators in the world. Modern technology has replaced traditional building materials. We install air conditioning and heating units to compensate for materials that don’t breathe.

This choice of building with shou sugi ban feels more akin to the natural world in which I find myself.

Roofing material will be weathered corrugated metal.

My house is small and simple, 1350 square feet, two bedrooms and one-bath, plus a great room to accommodate kitchen, living and dining rooms. It will face east toward Taos Mountain and west toward the Rio Grande River Gorge. We will embed radiant heat in poured concrete floors. The Passive House design is based on 15″ thick insulated exterior walls. They say there is no need for air conditioning here, and with ceiling fans, so far I have found this to be true. Construction timing will be about nine months.

I’m sorry I am not in Oaxaca just yet to write about life there and what travelers can experience. I’m missing her immensely and cannot plan to return until this project is underway.

Living in a Sea of Sagebrush: Taos, New Mexico

It’s been two months since I left North Carolina and arrived in New Mexico, where life is more like Mexico than I ever imagined it would be. Spanish is a predominant language here. Indigenous Native American culture and artistry is powerful. Time moves slowly. There is no urgency and many people here say Taos means mañana. I am constantly reminded of the mantra told to me years ago in Teotitlan del Valle by my host family head Federico Chavez Sosa: Calma. Patiencia. Tranquila.

Life takes on a different meaning when the focus is on landscape and the whirl of city life is in the past. I’m utterly astounded by how the vastness of sky and horizon opens life to a defining purpose of expansiveness, the natural world, and infinite possibilities. Even as human life is finite, there is a sense of timelessness here that offers peace and solitude.

As I write this, a lone coyote dances through the sage brush traveling east to west toward the gorge. Only moments before, a white tailed rabbit came up to my patio door and peered in, ears and nose twitching in unison. A flock of magpies chatter on the fence posts. Small pleasures.

Out here on the Rio Grande River Gorge Mesa, I find comfort in budding friendships with people who are drawn here with similar vision, purpose, politics and lifestyle. I am also comforted by dear friends Karen and Steve who live a mile up the road from my rental house. I have known them for almost 45 years. She and I raised our children together, opened and closed a gourmet cookware shop and cooking school, remained constant and supportive. Their land has become mine. We walk the gorge rim trails, smell the sagebrush, look for Big Horn Sheep, comment on new construction taking shape.

This is a soul-satisfying place.

It is a small town. There is no Whole Foods. (There is Cid’s.) There is no shopping mall. My drive to town takes a good twenty minutes. One could say I’m isolated. And, this would be true, more or less. It is perfect for writers, photographers, creatives who find sustenance in simplicity. For my city fix, I drive 75 minutes to Santa Fe. I’ve been going regularly since I’ve had a steady stream of visitors. I’m not sure when the feeling of being on perpetual vacation will end.

Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.

I’m here because of Covid. Sequestered for over a year in my Durham, NC, historic renovated tobacco warehouse condo gave me plenty of time to reflect. I felt trapped in an edifice of impenetrable brick with a view to the high school across the street, electric lines above, and elevator access to the outdoors. It served me well before Covid when I was spending more time in Oaxaca. Was Durham where I wanted to grow older? The question of values kept coming up. So, while my decision to move here was, by many accounts impulsive, I realized I wanted direct access to nature and a long view. After spending a month in New Mexico in November 2020, even before I was vaccinated, I realized that life here could be almost normal even in the worst of circumstances.

That’s not to say, I wasn’t scared of making this move — leaving good friends behind, a network of the familiar, with the best medical care in the world at my fingertips. I lived in North Carolina for twenty-two years, the longest sojourn of my life except for growing up in California. Fear is powerful. It freezes us and keeps us from exploring. It is also liberating if we allow ourselves to move through it and have confidence in our ability to adapt and thrive in new circumstances. I also realize I have the vagabond gene in my family. I have lots of practice making change. This is learned behavior. Over the years I have pried myself out of my comfort zone. This propels me forward.

Still, I continue to wait. Buying land and building a home is a process and anxiety provoking. After months, we have still not broken ground because the county has not yet approved the building permit. Lots of moving parts. Lots of puzzle pieces to fit in place. The bank cannot finalize the construction loan until this happens. The site cannot be touched until the loan is signed. Infrastructure needs to be put in place. The road I will live on, Camino Chamisa, needs to be grubbed out. A trench needs digging to hold the lines for well water, electric and fiber. Poco a poco. This is the main reason I cannot get back to Oaxaca. I’m waiting for this to start.

Covid Bonus: being closer to family.

In September, my son and his wife-to-be will move to Albuquerque. This is a gift beyond my imagination. When I committed to buying land and making the move, this was a dream, not a promise. He has approval to work permanently from home, and we know now that home can be defined as anywhere! My sister and brother are in California. They will visit in August. Durham was not on their travel radar.

When will I get back to Oaxaca?

It’s Dark Sky here. I am star-gazing. The Milky Way and North Star provide no clues for me, although the ancients grounded their beliefs in such spectacular displays. I know for certain I will be in Oaxaca in mid-October to lead our Day of the Dead Culture Tour (three spaces open). Returning this summer depends on timing to certify the construction here. Time will tell.

I guess the next best thing to being in Oaxaca, Mexico, is being in Taos, New Mexico. They call it New Mexico for a reason!

Fun, Cool Cotton Summer Blouses from Oaxaca

I asked Rosario, my friend from Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, to work with me on creating hand-embroidered blouses on machine-washable cotton — perfect for summer wearing. She said YES. They just arrived and are ready for purchase. The embroidery floss is cotton, too. These are whimsical floral designs. Each piece is very different. You can wash them on gentle and hang to dry, then give them a light pressing only if desired.

Blouses measure 25″ wide by 24-1/2″ long (more or less). They will fit most size Medium to Large. Take your measurements across the widest part of your torso to be sure. Even if you are size small, you could wear this as a very loose top that drapes beautifully. Good for casual wear with jeans or hiking pants, over a swimsuit at the pool or beach, or with a skirt. Take your pick!

In addition to the embroidered flowers, the cloth is sewn together with a randa. This is beautiful needlework that is almost like needle lace, intricate and stunning. You can see this detail in one of the photos below.

Blouses are $58. USD each.

To Buy: Please email me at norma.schafer@icloud.com with your name, mailing address and item number. I will mark it SOLD, send you an invoice to purchase and add $12 for cost of mailing. Let me know if you want to buy using PayPal. Venmo or Zelle. I can also send you a Square invoice (+3% fee) if you don’t use these payment methods. All sales final.

Rosario is a talented seamstress and embroiderer. She has very little work these days and I ask her to make these blouses and the shoulder bags I have offered before to keep her employed. She and her family live very simply in a humble home. Thank you for considering this purchase.

Norma