This week I received an email from Dorothy saying she had bought a rug in Teotitlan del Valle in the 1960’s when she visited here that she wanted to sell and asked for help to value it. I’m not an appraiser, nor am I a collector of vintage rugs. So, I turned to my friend Scott Roth for help. Scott came to Oaxaca in 1974 from California, a young traveler looking for adventure. In Teotitlan del Valle he saw the potential for adapting the centuries-old serapes, bed and horse blankets into floor coverings and began to work with weavers here to export rugs that became part of the Santa Fe Style. Scott has been an integral part of our village’s import-export business from the beginning.
Dorothy sent me photos and I noticed that one of them included a photo in a book of a similar rug with a citation from Scott explaining the vintage, weaving style and dyes used. I sent him Dorothy’s photos with an appeal for help. Being the kind and generous person that he is, of course Scott said, Yes!
The topic seems interesting enough that I thought some of you may be curious about the history of rug development in Teotitlan del Valle.
Scott Roth Says …
I think you’ve asked the right person to assess the value of this cobija matrimonial. I saw one from the 60’s-70’s yesterday at the monthly Rose Bowl (Pasadena, California) flea market. The vendor was asking $100. I offered much less and he didn’t budge!
In my collection of Teotitlán weaving, I’ve only kept pieces that predate my first visit to Teotitlan del Valle in 1974 if they have both hand-spun wefts as well as hand-spun warp threads. These are easy to date as pre-1950 because around that year factory spun warp threads became available to the weavers. It’s an important distinction, because the process of hand spinning a warp requires a much higher skill level than spinning a weft yarn, (and more time), and from what I’ve gathered, as much as they were cash poor then, it was worth the savings of time to buy the warps.
Regarding Dorothy’s rug, this colorful serape/double bed sized blanket from the 1960’s fits in with the shift of market demands from that period. Foreign tourists were arriving after the completion of the Pan American Highway in the mid 50’s. And as much as there was still a knowledgeable regional clientele for fine handcrafted wool blankets, the weavers were buying synthetic fiber yarns, often pre-dyed, for the tourists. I remember distinctly getting Isaac Vasquez’ help (his recent purchase was only the second car in the village!) for my second shipment of rugs in November, 1974, where he kindly informed me that almost not a single one of my purchases was all wool. I was deflated, but soon understood what to look for. Within five years, my fellow importers and I were requesting all wool wefts, and those shiny acrylic blend yarns disappeared.
So in a way, Dorothy’s serape is part of a historical record of the adaptions Teotitlán has made decade by decade to market demands. She could carefully pull out a few inches of the yarn, light a match to the end, and when it starts to burn, quickly douse it in water, or squeeze the flame between fingers to extinguish it. This flame test results in a indicative hard scale of plastic when the yarns had some synthetic fiber in the blend. An all wool yarn when put through this flame test turns completely to a fine ash when extinguished.
I’m pleased that she’s referred to the image in the Zapotec Weaver’s book. Those images of pre Columbian deities were a long standing popular design for the Teotitlán weavers. I hope this helps. Be well, Scott
Thanks, Scott. You, too.