Monthly Archives: March 2008

Tapestry Traditions & Textures by Tricia Goldberg

Tricia Goldberg first met Federico Chavez, his son Eric and daughter Janet, in April 2007, when they came to San Jose, California, with an exhibition of their work at the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles. Tricia, a weaver and member of the American Tapestry Alliance, shares her connection through a published narrative in the Winter 2007, Vol. 33, No. 4 issue of Tapestry Topics, A Quarterly Review of Tapestry Art Today. I have reproduced much of it here with Tricia’s permission.

“When my friend Deborah Corsini, the museum’s curator, talked enthusiastically about a family of traditional weavers who would be bringing their rugs to the museum, I had no idea I would be visiting them in their home and studio that summer. About two months later, my husband, two daughters and I found ourselves in Teotitlan del Valle….I had mentioned our vacation plans for a visit to Oaxaca to Deborah and discovered that the Chavez family lived nearby. With her encouragement, we made plans for a visit. As Eric had told me by e-mail, a sign directed us two or three blocks from the town’s main street down a cobbled lane to their home….

“The Chavez family greeted us in their home’s open courtyard, which holds a sturdy loom, winding equipment, and vast quantities of year in a wide range of subtle colors. The yarn is natural wool from sheed raised in nearby villages. It is locally spun on drop spindles which produces a texture quite different from that of commercial or wheel-spun products.

“Eric Chavez has dedicated himself to reviving and maintaining centuries-old traditions of natural dyeing. As Federico wove and Janet wound bobbins, Eric explained how indigo produces many shades of blue and cochineal yields various reds, pinks, purples and oranges. Cochineal comes from the crushed bodies of beetles that are raised on cactus plants, harvested, then dried.

“Federico’s rugs are rooted in the indigenous Zapotec traditions of geometric, loom-controlled patterns, but increasingly they contain his own more personal, experimental designs based on images from nature as well as motifs from Zapotec mythology. He stands at his loom, operating its two pedals with one foot. He uses plain, straight wooden bobbins and packs the weft with a simple plastic comb.

“At least four generations of the Chavez family have been weavers: Federico, who taught his own children to weave, learned from his father Jose, who in turn was taught by his father Victoriano. Federico wove and sold his first rug when he was 10 years old.

“In an adjoining gallery room, Federico, Eric, Janet showed us their collection of finished rugs, spreading and unrolling many of them on the floor so we could appreciate the dazzling variety of colors and patterns.  Their inventory is large, perhaps larger than they would like. Typical of most people in the area, they are still feeling the effects of a drop in tourism brought about by last year’s civil unrest in Oaxaca.

“This gallery space is also the family’s dining room where we were invited to join them for a traditional lunch of chicken mole prepared by Federico’s wife Dolores. We were joined by Omar, the youngest son, a 13-year old who is a skilled weaver himself.

“Eric and Janet are sophisticated young Oaxacans who gracefully blend modern life with tradition. Eric holds a college degree in business and tourism and works to study and preserve ancient artistic traditions. Janet is a student of comparative languages at a nearby university and, in addition to her work for the family’s rug weaving business, maintains strong ties to local religious customs. She told us she hoped to be invited to participate in a celebration a week later in which she and other women would parade through the town in traditional costume, carrying ornate canastas (baskets) on their heads holding saint’s images. Although the basket is heavy, she explained, if you can carry it, this means that your sins for the previous year were not so great. With her parents’ help, she modeled the costume for us — a long, wrap-around wool skirt (cochineal dyed and woven by Federico) and an elaborately embroidered floral blouse — and before our eyes she changed from a modern young woman in jeans into a traditional Zapotec maiden.

“We decided to return to Teotitlan the following week, assuming (correctly) that Janet would be in the parade. The procession through the town’s narrow streets and the accompanying festivities were well worth a second trip. We had also decided to purchase a small rug that we had admired on Federico’s loom the week before. To our surprise, it was finished, but was still on the loom because another rug was still being woven on the same warp threads. He was happen to cut off the rug we wanted and assured us that tying the unfinished one back onto the loom would not be a problem. We value our rug for its beauty and as a link to the Chavez family and the art of Oaxaca.

“We want to encourage more travelers to visit Oaxaca and experience first-hand this beautiful area and its friendly and creative people.”

Tricia Goldberg lives in Berkeley, California, and hosted the Chavez family at an American Tapestry Alliance event at her home during the ATA’s Silver Anniversary Biennial Celebration.

Weaving Workshop: Dancing on the Loom–Oaxaca

Imagine! A hands-on weaving workshop in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico, with master weaver Federico Chavez Sosa.  Federico’s daughter Janet, who co-teaches the workshops, is fluent in English and a university student of languages and linguistics.  All instruction is translated for easy understanding. The Chavez family’s oldest son, Eric Chavez Santiago, is director of education at the new Museo Textil de Oaxaca (textile museum).   Photos on this page are from recent workshop.  Most participants had never been at a loom before!  We welcome both experienced students and beginners for an extraordinary week living in a Zapotec village and weaving on a tapestry loom.

Click here:  See Norma’s complete Oaxaca Weaving Workshop: Dancing on the Loom Photo Album

“The workshop was an incredible program. I have enjoyed the whole process! Thank you very much for your hospitality and for sharing your talent, knowledge and wonderful teaching.  A special thanks to Dolores for her succulent meals.  I would recommend this program to any friend.  This has been an unforgettable week.” –Giovanna Balarezo, New York City

Upcoming Dates — Accepting Registrations Now:  Beginners Welcome!

  • Saturday-Friday, December 26, 2009-January 1, 2010 (Workshop is Mon-Thur, Dec. 28-31)
  • Saturday-Friday, February 20-26, 2010 (Workshop is Mon-Thur, Feb. 22-25)

Workshop tuition is $965 per person, including lodging (double occupancy) and many meals.  Workshop is limited to 5 participants.  4 days of instruction, Monday-Thursday.  6 nights lodging, Saturday-Thursday.  Arrive Saturday and depart Friday.   Bring a friend and you will both receive a 15% discount.

Please see my website:  www.oaxacaculture.com for registration form

Includes 22+ hours of personalized instruction, 5 participants maximum enrollment, for weavers, knitters, natural dye aficionados, artists, teachers, university students, parents and children (over age 10 when accompanied by an adult).

Cost includes 6 nights lodging, 6 breakfasts, 4 lunches, supplementary notebook of information and resources, plus lots of extras.

If you don’t see dates to fit your schedule, contact me. We can arrange a customized schedule. email: normahawthorne@mac.com

Dancing on the Loom” was a marvelous experience; not only did I learn the essentials of weaving and dyeing, but I have the opportunity to see people engaging in the building of a sustainable production.” — Akilah Zuberi, Philadelphia

Workshops are limited to 5 participants, with personalized instruction from master weavers Federico Chavez Sosa and his family. You are invited into the Chavez family home and studio workshop. Not only will you learn the way Zapotecs have been weaving for over 500 years, and dyeing for millenia, you will be experiencing village life through a very unique and personal perspective.

The Chavez family have traveled and exhibited throughout the United States, are in the permanent collections of galleries, museums and artists, including the Snite Museum of Art at the University of Notre Dame. They have exhibited and lectured widely, including at the National Museum of Mexican Art (Chicago), the San Jose (CA) Quilt and Textile Museum, the American Tapestry Alliance, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Purdue University, and the University of California at Santa Cruz.

Andrea Ford’s Photo Album: Oaxaca Weaving and Natural Dyeing Workshop at the NC Arts Incubator, October 2008

“The very best workshop I ever attended.  The sincere generosity of the Chavez family is just astounding. The patience, expertise and instruction were of the high level!  Many thanks to Federico, Dolores and Janet, and our coordinator, Norma Hawthorne, for making this all possible.” — Sue Szary, Siler City, NC

See www.oaxacaculture.com website for bios about me and the family

Who Should Attend: weavers, artists, knitters, designers, teachers, university students, anyone interested in weaving and natural dyeing techniques, and sustaining indigenous art forms using ancient technologies

Level of Experience Necessary: These are small group, hands-on workshops that can accommodate varying levels of expertise, from beginner to advanced student. Because the size of each group is limited to 5 people, you will receive individualized instruction and coaching from the master weaving family of Federico Chavez Sosa. More experienced weavers can create more complex projects.

Each student will be assigned her or his own loom for the session. The loom will be dressed (warped) and ready for you to begin weaving upon arrival. Materials include your choice of naturally dyed wool yarn from which you will weave a sampler textile that can be used as a wall hanging, pillow cover, or comprise the body of a purse or shoulder bag. You will select the wool from colors dyed with pomegranates, pecans, mosses, indigo, and cochineal.  Our participants have created amazing textiles that range from 18 inches to 30 inches in length.

What People Say … Kathy Trent from California arranged a customized, one-day workshop with her 7-year old daughter during a recent visit to Oaxaca.  Here’s what she said,

“Dear Norma, Kristin and I had a lovely time with the Chavez family.  Janet is a “gem!”  She is so patient and gives great instructions.  I enjoyed the whole experience and would like to visit again.  Thank you again for arranging everything.  The whole day was one that my daughter and I will never forget!”

What You Will Learn:

  • Traditional Zapotec weaving techniques, patterns and motifs that produce squares, stripes, diagonals, circles and color gradations;
  • Use of the two-harness pedal loom and shuttles;
  • Practice weaving simple or more complex patterns, depending upon your level of experience;
  • The cultural history of rug weaving in Teotitlan, ancient wool preparation techniques, natural dyeing methods, and how to discern synthetic dye use
  • Participate in natural dyeing demonstrations to see how the range and variety of color is developed from native plant materials;
  • Complete a finished textile: cut the sample tapestry from the loom, clean the wool tapestry, twist and tie the fringes; and
  • Work under the expert guidance of weavers whose family has been creating extraordinary textiles for generations.

Arrive in Oaxaca on Saturday, travel to the village and settle into your B&B.  Sunday is a free day to arrange an optional guided visit to the Tlacolula market or to explore the region on your own.

Weaving Workshop: Days One Through Four

9:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Day One, Monday: Arrive at the Chavez Family Studio for an orientation and demonstration of Zapotec weaving patterns and techniques to create squares, stripes, diagonals and circles. Choose your loom and select the colors for your tapestry. Prepare the bobbins. Begin your project. More experienced weavers will work with Federico and and his family to create more complex patterns.

Days Two to Four, Tuesday-Thursday: Participate in demonstrations and then practice using the two-harness pedal loom using a variety of shuttles to make more complex patterns and greater variety of colors, experiment with using the equipment on your own, learn dyeing techniques using cochineal, indigo, wild marigold (pericone) and moss. Learn how to count threads to create a circle or square within the overall design. Finish off your piece by cutting it off the loom, rolling and tying fringes.

What Is Included:

  • All weaving equipment and supplies to create a finished wool tapestry sampler that is approximately 18” wide by 24” long
  • 22+ hours of supervised instruction in English by renowned master weavers
  • An educational reference notebook of workshop materials to take home with you
  • 4 lunches: Afternoon lunch (Comida), snacks, beverages daily for four days
  • 6 nights lodging (double accomodations) with daily breakfast in Teotitlan del Valle at a lovely and comfortable bed and breakfast within easy walking distance of the Chavez Santiago Family studio
Optional:
  • Guided visit to Tlacolula Sunday market, afternoon village walking excursions that may include visits to an organic farm and weaving cooperative, meeting renown painters and weavers; guided visits to Friday Ocotlan market; guided visit to Mitla archeological site and village
  • Additional nights lodging and single supplements available.

Complete Itinerary

Saturday: Arrive in Oaxaca, travel by taxi (on your own) to your bed and breakfast in Teotitlan del Valle. Explore the village on your own.

Optional Sunday Guided Visit to the Tlacolula Market (pre-workshop): Your guide will meet you at 10 a.m. at your bed and breakfast for the bus trip to the Tlacolula market. Transportation costs not included. Take comida (lunch) in the Tlacolula market.  Additional $40 USD per person.

Monday-Thursday: Oaxaca Weaving Workshop: Dancing on the Loom at the home and workshop of the Federico Chavez Santiago family.

Options Can Be Arranged: visits to the archeological site Mitla, additional nights of lodging, day trips to outlying crafts villages. Transportion included.

Cost for the 6-Night/5-Day Program is $965 USD per person, double accommodations.  Additional nights lodging can be arranged at $40 per night per person.

Contact: normahawthorne@mac.com for more information and to register.

How to Register: A $300 USD deposit is required to reserve your space.

Final payment of the balance is due 30 days before the start day of the workshop. If the final balance is not paid within 30 days before the start day of the workshop,we reserve the right to treat the reservation as cancelled. Any registrations made within 15 days of the workshop date must be paid in full at the time of registration.

If cancellation is necessary, deposits are refundable, as follows:

Any cancellation by a participant must be made in writing by email. Deposits may be refunded

  • up to 30 days before the workshop start date, less a $100 cancellation fee.
  • After that, deposits are not refundable.
  • If cancellation is necessary, you may apply the deposit to a future workshop scheduled in the same calendar year. We reserve the right to cancel or reschedule workshops, in which case you may choose a 100% refund or to apply the tuition to a future workshop.

Personal checks are accepted. We can also accept payment with PayPal. Contact us for details.

What Is NOT Included:

  • Transportation in/to Mexico, Oaxaca and Teotitlan
  • Local transportation costs (bus, taxi, collectivo)
  • Gratuities and fees
  • Trip insurance, medical expenses, hospitalization, and other fees
  • Evening dinners, snacks, liquor
  • Optional afternoon side trips and excursions

Upon registration for the workshop, we will provide you with:

  • Transportation options to get from the Oaxaca airport to Teotitlan del Valle and your bed and breakfast
  • A walking map to the Chavez casa and contact information.
  • A list of recommended lodging in Oaxaca, in the event you wish to extend your stay or arrive earlier.
  • A list of recommended reading, a seasonal packing list, and travel tips to make your journey easier and more fun
  • Immunization, Visa and passport information, How to Get There, weather information, money exchange

Note: Zapotec weavers use the pedal loom, which they stand at to work. People who have difficulty standing for any period of time, or who have back problems are discouraged from attending. Many of Teotitlan’s streets and alleyways are cobble stone and/or dirt, with many uneven surfaces. It is a several block walk between lodging options and the weaving workshop. Please bring appropriate walking shoes.

Optional Activities:

Friday Market, Ocotlan with stops in San Martin Tilcajete and San Tomas Jalieza; cooking classes; temezcal bath; Spanish lessons; hiking to Mt. Picacho and the Presa; birdwatching in Benito Juarez; visit to Cochineal Farm; a day in Arrazola and Atzompa; handmade paper factory in San Augustin Etla; visits to 2,000+ year old Zapotec archeological sites: Mitla, Dainzu, Yagul. Customized day trips can be arranged before or after the workshop. Prices quoted upon request.

Optional Fee-Based Services to Be Arranged:

  • Pre- or Post-Workshop day trips to craft villages and regional markets, that includes transportation and visits to renowned artists and artisans in San Martin Tilcajete, Arrazola, San Tomas Jalieza, and Ocotlan

Documentation

U.S. Citizens traveling to Mexico are required to carry a current passport, valid for at least three months after your re-entry to the U.S. It is your responsibility to obtain proper documentation. If you are not a U.S. Citizen, contact the Mexican embassy, consulate or national airline of Mexico for entry requirements.

Trip Insurance

Please consider purchasing travel insurance. Unforeseen circumstances of getting to Teotitlan del Valle could cost you more than you expected. In the event of an emergency or natural disaster caused beyond our control, trip insurance will cover any unexpected expenses.


Amazing Maize: First Cultivated in Oaxaca 6,000+ Years Ago

It’s amazing to know that in a farming area southeast of Oaxaca City, likely somewhere in the highlands past Mitla or Matatlan, is where maize originated. Maize is different from the huge kernel, yellow corn we know in the U.S. Its variegated, multi-colored kernels are smaller and full of healthy richness. The Oaxaca region is home to at least 59 species of maize, from the protein-rich variety used to make tortilla chips to a softer grain mashed for use in tamales. Maize comes in a rainbow of colors: blue, red, black, purple, orange, yellow, creamy white, and a mix of all, each used for a distinctive purpose with distinctive textures and flavors. The cobs vary in size, too, depending on what it is cultivated for.

grinding maize

Photo: Grinding maize in Teotitlan

Farmers in Oaxaca first bred maize some 6,000 to 8,000 years ago, and from there it spread and was adopted by Africa, Asia and Europe. Worldwide, we eat it roasted on the cob, popped, stripped and cooked into cereal or polenta, ground and baked to become bread or cakes. It is a staple that traces its origins to a possible DNA mix of teosinte and gammagrass (there is still some controversy about origins, since teosinte has very tiny cobs and kernals). Plant geneticists believe that edible maize was developed by Mesoamericans within a 100 year time span — an incredible, accelerated feat! When combined with beans, maize offers a complex protein that is very nutritious.

Though the exact date and circumstances of the first cultivation of maize is a mystery, by 1500 A.D. the Aztec and Mayan civilizations had long called the descendants of that original plant “maize,” literally “that which sustains life,” and claimed that the crop was flesh and blood itself. Maize cob and stalks were incorporated into the stone carved images of Aztec, Mayan and Zapotec leaders connoting royalty derived from the gods and assumed a central place in their headdress. It was a symbol of power, source of life.

In the modern economies of the U.S., East Asia, and Europe, however, it is the ultimate legible” industrial raw material: agribusiness uses its starches and cellulose for fuel, fodder, paint, plastic, and penicillin. The risk is that genetically modified corn will eradicate the local small farmers of southern Mexico who have been practicing sustainable agriculture, farming on 10-acre plots for millenia, using the same milpa techniques as their forebearers to replenish the earth without having to use chemical feritilizers, a stake in the ground for cultural preservation and a healthier food source. Local farmers cannot compete with the lower priced genetically modified corn produced by agribusiness, and we have seen smaller farmers in Teotitlan give up their plots. The debate is fueled around NAFTA and corn imports, providing more corn for more people that may or may not have as much nutritional value as the original source, and the risk of the genetically modified corn wiping out the DNA of the heirloom varieties.

The practice of milpa is the farming technique of growing corn, beans, avocado, and squash all together on one plot of ground, the beans and squash twining around and hanging on to the corn stalks, adding their nutrients to the soil, year after year, with no depletion of minerals. Oaxaca soils have sustained food growth in this manner for thousands of years with no loss of productivity.

You can read more about this in Charles Mann’s book, “1491,” and when you visit Oaxaca and eat tamales and tortillas, think of this food as a 6,000 year old contribution to gastronomy and world health. Ask, if you like, where the corn comes from in order to support the local farmer and local economies. You’ll be doing your part for sustainable development.