Cecelia Bautista Caballero is an icon among the weavers of Mexico. She died last week in her village of Ahuiran surrounded by family in the Mexican tradition of sending her spirit on to the next world.
I met Cecelia some years ago when I first went to Michoacan to plan a tour that would focus on textiles, craft and the Monarch butterflies of the region. She was a stately, regal woman, warm and friendly, who welcomed us into her home and introduced us to her daughters, also very accomplished rebozo makers.
Cecilia was an innovator out of necessity. she began to incorporate feathers into the fringes of her rebozos as an expression of creativity, yes, and also because she ran out of money to buy more threads at the time. As they say, Necessity is the mother of invention. It definitely applies here.
Fundacion Banamex, the promoter of Mexican folk art to recognize the most talented in the nation, added Cecelia to their Grand Masters of Mexican Folk Art to honor her talent and her work.
Whew! When I returned to New Mexico from Oaxaca in early August, the daunting task of moving lay before me. That took a week. I’m still unpacking. Then I went to Albuquerque for cataract surgery. That took a week. Then my son and Oaxaca godchildren arrived for a visit. Did I say I’m still unpacking? And, I’m not yet hooked up to Internet, so work life has slowed down to almost a standstill. I’m constantly reminded of Federico Chavez Sosa’s mantra he taught me years ago: Patiencia. Calma. Tranquila.
As the plumbers are working on my well connection today (currently getting household water from a cistern buried in my front yard), I’m going through boxes and deciding what to send off into the world. I hope these are interesting to you!
How To Buy: tell me the piece you want by number. Tell me your complete name and mailing address. Tell me how you want to pay: Zelle (no service fee), PayPal or Venmo (3% service fee). I will mark the piece you want SOLD. I add $14 mailing cost to your purchase and send you a request for funds. Happy to combine shipping for two or more pieces.
This cuff measures 5-1/2” on the inside with a 1” opening. Inlaid with sugalite, spiny oyster shell, turquoise, black jet. Signed CB, marked sterling.
Jose Luis Flores, (Eagle 3) is personally featured on Page 67 of Bille Hougart’s THE LITTLE BOOK OF MEXICAN SILVER TRADE AND HALLMARKS as a major designer and silversmith. Bracelet measures 7” to circumference inside when closed.
Huge purple cut glass oval center stones set off the beauty of these earrings. 1-1/2” long x 1” wide with French hooks for secure fit.
This bangle opens to easily fit around your wrist with a secure clasp. This is not a vintage piece but it is made in the Taxco workshop licensed for Spratling and measures 7” in circumference on the inside when closed. Original quality.
#6 Top. Intricate ebony and sterling silver. I think this is marked Ballasteros, famed Taxco silversmith from the 60’s. $235 measures 7” circumference on inside.
Famed Taos Pueblo artisan, son of NaNa Ping (Michael Garcia), Michael made this cuff for me and it doesn’t fit. I didn’t have the heart to ask him to make me another one since it was a special order! Gulp, paid $800. Yours for $500. measures 4-5/8” inside dimension with a 1” opening. 1/2” wide. Very small wrist!
Measures 2-1/2” long x 1-1/4” wide. all handcrafted from fine silver wire in the traditional style from one of the finest workshops in the city.
I first met Luvia more than ten years ago in Teotitlan del Valle, where she was born and raised and where I have lived since 2005. She was a budding young photographer then who had heart, soul, an artistic eye, creative energy and poor equipment. I invited her to participate at no cost in our 2013 Day of the Dead Photography Workshopin exchange for helping me arrange personal visits into the homes of local artisans. We were focusing on portrait and street photography, so having Luvia’s help was invaluable. Our participants loved Luvia and we raised funds among us to buy her a good Nikon DSLR camera. From there, it was only a matter of time!
In the last week, Vogue magazine published an article about the traje or indigenous garments of the villages represented in the folkloric extravaganza of Oaxaca called Guelaguetza. Luvia did the photography! It is a beautiful rendering of indigenous textiles and their meaning.
And, in March 2022, The New Yorker magazine published a feature about Luvia and her work, highlighting her innovative camera style in a photo essay about the elderly in Teotitlan del Valle — a tribute to her grandmother whom I knew and who helped raise her.
I’m in awe of who she has become and the trajectory of her accomplishments. I met her grandmother, who was frail and elderly, just before she passed. I know and admire her parents who operate a butcher shop in our village and sell at the daily market. They are warm, generous and hard-working people who are supportive of their daughter’s talents.
I took these photos in 2013 and at the time used my wasband’s name, which I changed to Schafer in 2016.
To demonstrate Luvia’s talent and her potential, these are the photos she took in 2013, too.
Note: We have a few spaces open for 2022 Day of the Dead Culture Tour. A perfect time to photography this pre-Hispanic Oaxaca ritual of honoring loved ones who have transitioned to the beyond.
Many of you may have heard about the remote mountain village of Santa Maria Tlahuitoltepec. It’s a two-and-a-half hour drive up the misty mountains beyond Teotitlan del Valle and San Pablo Villa de Mitla, Oaxaca. It is way off the beaten path and tourists rarely visit there. During our recent Oaxaca Summer Mountain Tour, ten of us ventured out into Oaxaca’s Sierra Mixe. Yes, they speak Mixe here, and the tribal group is one of 16 different groups in the state. It was quite an adventure, first starting out on the soon to be completed (they say) superhighway to the coast. We got off at the Ayutla exit, miles past the road to Hierve El Agua.
Many know Tlahui (as it’s called locally) as the village whose traditional blouse was copied verbatim by French fashion designer Isabel Marant and passed off as her own in 2015. This became the outcry for what we call today Cultural Appropriation, an issue that continues for indigenous communities around the world, and especially in Mexico. While these designs cannot be copyrighted because they are centuries old, there is an ethical question: Are ancient indigenous villages entitled to recognition and compensation for their original designs?
In Mexico, we call this Cultural Patrimony, defined as an object having ongoing historical, traditional, or cultural importance central to the indigenous group or culture itself, and which, therefore, cannot be alienated, appropriated, or conveyed by any individual regardless of whether or not the individual is a member of the indigenous group.
Our destination was the workshop studio of Fernando Gutierrez Vasquez, a weaver and natural dyer, who uses locally sourced alder wood (palo de aguila) tree bark, the traditional dye of the region, to color blouses, dresses, scarves and shawls (blusas, huipiles, bufandas and rebozos).
The workshop space is terraced in three levels on the side of a mountain. We look out at misty mountains, most of the peaks shrouded in clouds. Tlahuitoltepec is a village of houses cantilevered into the surrounding hillsides connected by winding roads carved into the landscape.
Our first stop was at the dye studio where we saw vats of alderwood fermenting for a week in a cold water bath. This releases the color from the bark. Alderwood trees require humidity to grow and they are rich in tannic acid. This is a direct dye and doesn’t need a mordant to affix the color to the fiber.
The cotton skeins will be soaked for three days once the fermenting process is complete. When one puts the dyed skeins in direct sun, it deepens the color. Some of the pieces I saw looked a golden mahogany color. Oak bark, which is also used here, gives a rich beige color because it contains less tannin. The color can vary depending on the variety and age of the oak. The end result can be a surprising and unpredictable process — scientific up to a point! Fernando also maintains an indigo dye vat.
The weaving happens after the yarn is colored. The cloth will be woven on the flying shuttle treadle loom that has four harnesses. On the mid-level, weavers are working at four looms, their feet dancing, the looms singing.
There is a rhythm of harmony and creativity here. The beater on the loom sounds as if it is a Native American drum beat, a heart beat, living threads. Various patterns in the cloth can be achieved based on how the pedals are manipulated.
On the top level is the embroidery studio and gallery. Here women and men in the family cooperative work at embroidering the traditional village designs into blouses, shirts and dresses. This is machine embroidery but it is free-form. The creativity of the embroiderer is reflected in the work. The embroiderer guides the needle to create complex images without using a template. None of the sewing machines are electronically programmed. Each garment is unique based on the hand and eye of the men and women who operate the machine. This is definitely an art form.
The Spanish never got to Tlahuitoltepec during the first centuries of the conquest. It was too far, too remote. It was not until recently that the dirt horse path was widened and paved over.
We enjoyed a home-cooked lunch of chicken soup, fresh vegetables and rustic, stone ground tortillas under the palapa as the mist lifted and the sun peaked out. And, we enjoyed the gallery and the opportunity to meet the makers and purchase directly from them, knowing that this experience would be mutually satisfying for all of us.
After lunch, we made our way to the studio of famed potter Silvia Martinez Diaz, where we saw a demonstration of an ancient technique used to make bowls, pitchers and cooking vessels. No potter’s wheel is used here. They use the coil technique to hand build even the largest pieces, that are then fired in a wood kiln or open pit much like the New Mexico pottery I know.
As we left the village in mid-afternoon, we all agreed this was a special highlight of our week together.
Note: In Mexico, death is a continuum of life and a celebration. We still have spaces open for our Day of the Dead Culture Tour. Consider joining us to understand this rich and meaningful pre-Hispanic tradition and how death and mortality are considered in Mexico and the USA.
Ten of us traveled by van for almost three hours to get to the Sierra Norte mountain village of San Pedro Cajonos where silk worms are cultivated, their cocoons spun and then woven on back strap looms into glorious silk garments colored with natural dyes! At the end, were were at almost 7,000 feet altitude, rising 2,000 feet above the Oaxaca valley. Once a dirt donkey path, the road meanders and winds through pine and oak forests, branches dripping with moss and bromeliads.
The hills are creviced with rock outcroppings, rivulets become waterfalls, moss and ferns form natural rock gardens. It’s slow going to avoid pot holes and maneuver the switchbacks as we climb, passing through the eco-village of Cuajamaloyos where zip-lining, hiking and wild mushroom hunting attract tourists.
Our destination holds the promise of meeting Moises Martinez Velasco and his family, known as one of the finest silk weavers of Mexico. The state of Oaxaca and Mexico’s government have invested in building a stunning silk sanctuary, a contemporary concrete and glass structure perched on a hillside with stunning views, to research and promote the development of silk textiles. 1500 people live in San Pedro Cajonos. Their houses and workshops are built into the sides of the mountain, usually on several levels, making it necessary to move vertically from one room to another. Imagine bedrooms on the first plane, then the workshop above, then kitchen and dining/living rooms on the top floor. Stairways connect each level. Did I say the views are spectacular, lush and green.
We meet Moises at his home and he first takes us to meet his two elderly aunts, age 74 and 75, who practice the art of weaving ixtle — agave fiber — into bags that are use by campesinos to carry their lunch into the corn fields. This is a dying art. There are only 10 people remaining in the village who do this work; once 400 people made these ixtle bags. The agave leaves are stripped, soaked, pounded to soften it, and then spun into 2-ply strands. The aunts learned from their parents, who learned from their parents, and those who came before them.
This is a Zapotec community, and they have been living here since the decline of Monte Alban in 1100-1300 AD. The dialect they speak is different from the language of the Oaxaca valley. Spanish is the common denominator, although the older people still cling to their native tongue.
Then, we visit Moises’ sister, Ever, who cultivates the worms. She has one room of her house dedicated to raising the worms from eggs. Each butterfly will lay 300 eggs. It seems there are thousands of little black specks deposited on butcher paper, and there are — 10,000 eggs which will survive for one year. Ever will use what she needs, removing the eggs and then folding up the remaining ones to sleep until the next time she needs them. And, of course, another family member raises mulberry leaves and the fields below the community’s Silk Sanctuary are filled with 500 mulberry trees. The goal is to grow the orchard to 1,500 trees.
The worms are voracious, eating entire leaves in succession throughout the day. Feeding them is a full-time endeavor. April and August are when the eggs mature into caterpillars. Controlled timing helps to ensure there are enough mulberry leaves to feed them. As the worms grow, they consume more until they are ready to spin the silk cocoon from the saliva of their mouth. At this stage they no longer eat, and prefer to seclude themselves among the leaves and branches of oak trees.
Silk is spun using a mechanized Japanese spinning wheel. There are 15 members in Moises’ cooperative. Four people are spinning specialists. The rest weave the cloth and make the hand-knotted fringes. It takes one day to wash the silk, another day to mordant the silk, a third day to dye the silk, and then two more weeks to weave on the back strap loom, sew the wefts of cloth together using a complex needle embroidery, and then to make the fringes — working five hours a day. The weaving technique here is plain weave.
Two types of worms are cultivated, one that produces the wild yellow cocoon that has been in existence in Oaxaca for over 450 years, and the white bombyx cocoon. The wild one has adapted to the environment and survives diseases, laying its eggs and then flying away. The one that produces the white cocoon dies after producing eggs.
At the Silk Sanctuary research center, PhD educated biologists and agronomy engineers study the life cycle through microscopes to determine if the eggs are healthy and why. Mostly, they are studying the yellow cocoons which are from the wild species. One engineer has training in Japanese silk cultivation. They continually check the humidity levels and room temperatures to understand the optimum time for egg development. This is the only center for silk cultivation and production in Mexico.
Silk blusas, hupiles, bufandas (scarves), and rebozos (shawls) from San Pedro Cajonos can be found at the Oaxaca Textile Museum shop, and when there are special pop-up sales in the city that we call expoventas. Of course, you can make your way to San Pedro Cajonos on your own, though this visit was a part of our Summer Textile Mountain Tour.
Why We Left, Expat Anthology: Norma’s Personal Essay
Norma contributes personal essay, How Oaxaca Became Home
Norma Contributes Two Chapters!
Click image to order yours!
Norma Schafer and Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC has offered programs in Mexico since 2006. We have over 30 years of university program development experience. See my resume.
Study Tours + Study Abroad are personally curated and introduce you to Mexico's greatest artisans. They are off-the-beaten path, internationally recognized. We give you access to where people live and work. Yes, it is safe and secure to travel. Groups are limited in size for the most personal experience.
Programs can be scheduled to meet your travel plans. Send us your available dates.
Designers, retailers, wholesalers, universities and other organizations come to us to develop customized itineraries, study abroad programs, meetings and conferences. It's our pleasure to make arrangements.
Our Clients Include
*Penland School of Crafts
*North Carolina State University
*WARP Weave a Real Peace
We offer textile experiences in our studio where we weave and work only in natural dyes.You can see the process during our textile tours, dye workshops or customized weaving experiences. Ask us for more information about these experiences, customized scheduling, and prices.
Oaxaca has the largest and most diverse textile culture in Mexico! Learn about it.
1-Day OaxacaCity Collectors Textile Tour.Exclusive Access! We take you into the homes and workshops of Oaxaca State's prize-winning weavers. They come from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, the Mixteca, Mixe, Amuzgos and Triqui areas and represent their weaving families and cooperatives here. For collectors, retailers, buyers, wholesalers, fashionistas.
1-Day Oaxaca Textile Walking Tour When you visit Oaxaca immerse yourself in our textile culture: How is indigenous clothing made, what is the best value, most economical, finest available. Suitable for adults only. Set your own dates.
February 5-13, 2023: Bucket List Tour: Monarch Butterflies + Michoacan. Spiritual, mystical connection to nature. Go deep into weaving, pottery, mask-making and more! We haven't offered this tour since 2019 and we anticipate it will sell out quickly. SOLD OUT
Stay Healthy. Stay Safe. In Oaxaca, wear your mask. Questions? Want more info or to register? Send an email to Norma Schafer.
Maps: Teotitlan + Tlacolula Market
We require 48-hour advance notice for map orders to be processed. We send a printable map via email PDF after order received. Please be sure to send your email address. Where to see natural dyed rugs in Teotitlan del Valle and layout of the Sunday Tlacolula Market, with favorite eating, shopping, ATMs. Click Here to Buy Map After you click, be sure to check PayPal to ensure your email address isn't hidden from us. We fulfill each map order personally. It is not automatic.
Dye Master Dolores Santiago Arrellanas with son Omar Chavez Santiago, weaver and dyer, Fey y Lola Rugs, Teotitlan del Valle