Monthly Archives: September 2015

Evaristo Borboa, Tenancingo, Mexico Rebozos on the Backstrap Loom

Evaristo-16-2Evaristo Borboa Casas is an 89 year old weaver from Tenancingo de Degollado in the Estado de Mexico (state of Mexico). I met him on Saturday during a whirlwind visit to four rebozo makers, most of whom work on the flying shuttle loom. Except for Evaristo! He said when he was a six-year old boy learning to weave there were over 240 back-strap loom weavers in the village. Now there are only two or three.

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Evaristo is a Grand Master of Mexico Folk Art. His work is recognized and collected throughout the world. Most consider him the best and the last of the traditional jaspe weavers in Mexico. Jaspe, or ikat, is a laborious process that requires a month of yarn tying and dyeing preparation before it can be put on the loom. Putting it on the loom takes another week. Then, it can take a month or two to weave the rebozo.Evaristo-21-2An intricate rebozo can sell for 12,000 to 20,000 pesos. When you convert that to dollars, a top-notch weaver might make $900 at today’s current exchange rate for the finest handmade shawl. The best rebozo weavers in Tenancingo use fine cotton thread made and dyed in Puebla, Mexico.

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Evaristo does this for love, for culture and for commitment to the cloth as do the other weavers we met on our first day traveling with Los Amigos del Arte Popular de Mexico:  Fermin Escobar, Fito Garcia Diaz and Jesus Zarate.

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Process to Make Ikat in Tenancingo

Evaristo tells us there are fourteen steps he uses to making a fine rebozo. I’m not sure I captured all that he explained, but I will do my best here.  First he mounts the thread on a warping board and decides the length and width of the piece of cloth. Then, he separates the threads, called pepinado, with his fingers, tying each section.

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Maestro Evaristo then soaks them in atole de masa (corn paste) so the threads dry to a secure hardness. He then draws the ikat (jaspe) design he wants to use on the thread. He ties and dyes the threads at the markings. With a smooth stone, he beats the threads in water to rinse out the atole paste. As each section loosens he dunks it in water 30 times.

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Then, he unties the knots with a special knife and removes them from the cloth. He ties knots on the back strap loom to keep the loom threads even so they don’t move. This keeps the pattern registered, even. When on the loom, he fist makes the base and then starts the field design.

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Evaristo uses 5,400 threads for the width of the rebozo. They are very fine! This is the highest number I heard during our visits to the four masters on the first day. It takes him five weeks to weave one rebozo.

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Then, the cloth goes to the puntadora who ties the elaborates fringes. The more costly the cloth, the longer and finer quality the punta (fringe). Making the fringe can take two to four more months of work.  A punta represents about 30% of the cost of the rebozo.

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Los Amigos board member John Waddell organized this study trip. Members propose their travel idea to the board who approves the plan and a budget. The members organize trips as a membership benefit. Travelers fund their own cost to get to the destination, most meals, lodging and incidentals. The fee to LADAP includes a donation to help support Mexico’s folk artisans and special in-country projects.

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Mexico Textiles Brief: In Transit to Tenancingo

MEXICO CITY, Thursday, September 3, 2015–Today is an interlude in Mexico City as I travel between Oaxaca and Tenancingo, the ikat rebozo capital of Mexico. I’m joining Los Amigos de los Artes Populares de Mexico, a group collectors and appreciators of Mexican Folk Art.  We are traveling together to meet the grand masters of Mexican rebozo weaving in Tenancingo this week before the feria (fair, exhibition and sale) begins.10983127_1048672688498825_5904886409732194178_n

Most of these rebozos, or shawls, are made on the pedal floor loom or are machine woven now. Only a few weavers, like Don Evaristo Borboa, remain who work on the traditional back strap loom. This is an endangered art and on this trip we will meet Maestro Evaristo in his studio for a demonstration. Rebozo prices can range from 500 to 20,000 pesos depending on quality.

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The Mexican jaspe version of the ikat design involves tying the warp threads, then dyeing the threads, so the tied area doesn’t take the color, before dressing the loom. Then, the weft threads, also tie-dyed, are woven into intricate, repetitive geometric patterns. Sometimes, the cloth looks like it takes on the shimmer of water or a contemporary Agam lithograph.

Men are the weavers of the rebozo cloth. Women, the puntadoras, specialize in making the elaborate hand-tied punta or fringes. This can often take up to four months, depending on complexity. It may take six months to complete the cloth and fringe.

Click here to see my post on El Rebozo, Made in Mexico, the comprehensive exhibition that just closed at Mexico City’s Franz Mayer Museum.

 

San Pedro Quiatoni, Oaxaca Jewelry: Quest for the Past

San Pedro Quiatoni is a small Zapotec mountain village in the eastern region of the Tlacolula Valley of Oaxaca, Mexico. For some inexplicable reason, the village collected Venetian glass beads that came into Mexico with the Spanish galleons along the trade routes between Veracruz, Acapulco and the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. The necklaces and earrings have become hard-to-find collectibles.

San Pedro Quiatoni necklace, Museo Nacional de Anthropologica

San Pedro Quiatoni necklace, Museo Nacional de Anthropologica, Mexico City

Early necklaces were strung with finely woven ixtle fiber, then later cotton. They typically included a mix of brown, clear, cobalt blue and light turquoise hand-blown slender glass rods of varying lengths, from one to three inches, interspersed with Venetian skunk (black and white) and colored handmade glass beads. Some say the rods originated from Puebla craftsmen. Others dispute this and insist they were part of the bounty coming from Europe to trade for gold, silver and cochineal.

We do know that these particular necklaces have a unique provenance only to this one Oaxaca village, San Pedro Quiatoni. The women wore them for ceremonial occasions, part of the gala traje. Some were single strands. Others, double strands. Each one I found seemed to be unique to the person who assembled the beads based upon what was available and personal aesthetic.

The necklaces, along with complementary earrings, were passed down through the generations, safeguarded in baules (treasure chest, hope chest) in the isolated village that is a good three hours from Oaxaca city.  It wasn’t until the 1970’s, when the Pan-American Highway (Mexico 190) was paved that there was easier access.

Xaquixe reproduction San Pedro Quiatoni necklace

Xaquixe reproduction San Pedro Quiatoni necklace

The old jewelry became a source of needed income for local families as collectors recognized the originality of design and age of the beads. It is difficult now to find an intact strand of these glass beads on their original cord anywhere other than in museums or among private collections.

I became interested in the history of these necklaces last year at a Museo Textil de Oaxaca exhibition that included vintage San Pedro Quiatoni daily traje (dress) and accompanying necklaces. I tried to find glass rods in local antique shops to make my own necklace but was unsuccessful. The reproduction necklaces for sale in the MTO gift shop, made by Xaquixe, sold out in days.

Close-up, Museo Textil de Oaxaca collection

Close-up, Museo Textil de Oaxaca collection, San Pedro Quiatoni

My interest was sparked again this month when I went to visit the Mitla antique dealer I wrote about before. He pulled out three of these Quiatoni necklaces, obviously recently strung on silk cord, to show me. The prices were in the stratosphere even with the favorable dollar to peso exchange rate ($1=17 pesos).

Researching Provenance and Value

To even consider a purchase, I had to know more. So, I searched the Internet for a history of San Pedro Quiatoni beaded necklaces and what was available for sale to find comparables in quality and pricing. I wanted to know if what he was selling was really real! I saw old photos of village women wearing them. I saw 2002 festival photos with beautiful girls each laden with several strands.

I sent an email to Old Beads owner Silva Nielands, an expert in old Mexican beads, as well as old beads from around the world. She had a Quiatoni necklace for sale, one of two that I was able to find online. It was a beauty and had already sold within days of being listed, she told me. Silva was incredibly generous with her advice and time, offering to look at photos I sent her to authenticate age and quality.

Asking for Expert Opinion

She suggested a reasonable retail price for the necklace strung with old coral and I gulped again. She noted that the white oblong beads with the blue squiggles on the necklace I was looking at are typical of those that came into Mexico and South America over 100 years ago, and the light turquoise rods are more rare and valuable than the clear or blue ones. Most of these necklaces are adorned with red glass tubes, not coral, and may be newer.

Quiatoni necklace, Museo Textil de Oaxaca collection

Close-up, Quiatoni necklace

On my recent visit to the USA, I bought an old copy of Mexican Jewelry, the bible written in 1964 by Mary Davis and Greta Pack, and referred to it often during my investigations. I also found, online, a history of beads in Mexico, The Margaretologist, Vol. 1, No. 4, 1987, Journal for the Center of Bead Research (see page 9 of the linked journal).

I visited the necklace four times.  I examined each bead and the stringing. I found several broken tips on the rods. I walked away. He called me and asked me to make an offer. I returned, questioned whether the stringing was done correctly to honor the original design — from my research, it wasn’t. So, I asked for the necklace to be strung correctly and then I would look at it again.

One of three necklaces for sale in Mitla that I was considering

One of three San Pedro Quiatoni necklaces for sale in Mitla that I was considering

According to my sources, the ribbons were originally used for decorations, not to tie the necklace. So this was a dead giveaway that the necklaces were strung improperly. The beads would have been strung on a cotton cord, which would be braided from the last bead to the terminus.

Bargaining and Walking

In the two-week process, I also got negotiating coaching from my friend Scott who has been a trader here in the region for over 40 years. He advised that I admire, inquire and walk away. He suggested I do this several times, not my usual style, but I disciplined myself.  I courageously asked the dealer to restring the beads and replace the rods with broken tips.

This 14" strand came in on turquoise embroidery floss. The short brown beads are old.

This 14″ strand came in on turquoise embroidery floss. The short brown beads are old, and you can see the beautiful glass lamp work.

Scott counseled that the dealer would respect me more if I made a reasonable offer that was fair to us both. Being that the dealer was as close to the source as I was going to get, on the return for the fourth time, I decided to start out by offering half his asking price to test what a reasonable offer might be.  When we reached an agreement for less than what I had in mind, he invited me to return for a family dinner and gave me a warm embrace. I guess Scott was right!

San Pedro Quiatoni necklace and earrings

San Pedro Quiatoni necklace and earrings

The earrings above have a silver disc hammered from an old coin, then cut along the edge to form a double-headed guajolote with feathers. The ear findings are original, too. They are now part of my collection along with the necklace, which now has a cotton cord for proper tying. The navy blue ribbon mimics some of the old pieces, but I’ve also seen photos of these necklaces without the ribbon.

San Pedro Quiatoni Necklace, restrung, Norma Schafer Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC

San Pedro Quiatoni Necklace, restrung, Norma Schafer Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC