Chip Morris was one of those iconic figures who is largely responsible for the development of textile education in Chiapas, Mexico. He is known for preserving and promoting Maya highland weaving. He was there for a lifetime, co-creating the famed weaving cooperative Sna Jolobil and establishing San Cristobal de las Casas as a textile lover’s travel destination.
I got news of his passing yesterday from my pal Sheri Brautigam while I was in transit from my Durham home to Mexico City.
Walter “Chip” Morris, 1953-2019, RIP
From Kiki Suarez, founder of Kikimundo, famed folk art gallery in the San Cristobal de las Casas historic center:
When I arrived in San Cristobal in 1977, the Maya fabric here was already in decline, and neither I nor any tourists knew much about quality and we bought mediocre embroidery; we did not know about the quality of what was possible. The weavers themselves followed the tradition but many did not know the meaning of their patterns. A young gringo Hippie arrived, settled in San Andres Larrainzar, learned Tzotzil (and probably spoke it better than Spanish), and rescued the meanings in the ancient textiles, which were already at the point of disintegrating.
This man was Walter F. Morris, who we called Chip. I learned a lot with him. Together with Luis Contreras and Pedro Meza, he formed the Sna Jolobil cooperative in the city, still known today as the sourced for the highest quality Maya fabric. He took the Maya textiles to the great museums. He wrote his book, Living Maya, with Carol Karasik, that included the extraordinary photographs taken by Jeffrey J. Foxx, and then translated into Spanish.
Then, other books followed, always with the faithful and capable Carol: about how the Maya fabric here in many remote communities in the Maya highlands continues to develop instead of disappearing, how Maya women and men are preserving their dress instead of giving over to western styles — a rare phenomenon in the world.
The tours and talks by Chip that I attended were wonderful. I remember the first years here when I saw women walking from village to village, carrying their textiles on their heads. I remember how Chip was looking for, discovering, teaching the weavers themselves the meaning of their patterns, rescuing old huipil designs. I remember an old huipil from Chamula that had designs that were taken from the murals at Bonampak. Chip helped them appreciate the value of their own art that they often sold for nothing or almost nothing.
Then, he joined the fabulous Pellizzi Collection for a small salary. The Maya textile was his life and his passion and his destiny and vocation, and perhaps everything else in life could not compete with this. If today there are so many cooperatives and young people who play with new designs of the traditional Maya textile, I think this is why Chip Morris started — to leave this legacy. Unfortunately, for many years, for personal reasons, he began to withdraw from social spaces, and today many who work in the same field do not even know about him.
That’s why I write this: Let them know! This is the heritage he leaves in San Cristobal, and with many weavers and people in many communities.
Chip transcends his personal struggles for his great effort and work to rescue and recognize the Maya fabric, another textile artist, Olga Reiche, from Guatemala, wrote to me today. And, so it is …
I did not know Chip personally. I met him a couple of times in Tenejapa during my tours with Patrick Murphy, when he was guiding tourists to the cooperative operated by Maria Meza across from the zocalo. I knew that he was ailing. Most of us did. As Kiki says, we honor the contribution he made to Maya textile knowledge. We go to Chiapas because of what he accomplished. Descansé bien.
We recommend Chip’s book, Maya Threads: A Woven History published by Thrum’s Books, for our Chiapas textile study tour participants. I hope you have a chance to read it.
I’m taking a wait list for the February 25-March 4, 2020 Chiapas Textile Study Tour. Let me know if you want to go.
Preparing for Day of the Dead, Dia de los Muertos
Day of the Dead is coming soon. Festivities in Oaxaca will begin in the next few days, and people are now gathering what they need for home altars to honor their deceased loved ones:
Dia de los Muertos Altar, San Pablo Villa de Mitla
See Day of the Dead 5-Day Photo Challenge at Facebook
Oaxaca street parades will start on October 30.
On October 31, the Xoxocotlan panteon (cemetery) will host locals and tourists who come from around the world to experience the reverie and revelry of Muertos. I like to start at the old cemetery around mid-afternoon to be present at the magic hour of sunset.
Pan de Muertos, Bread of the Dead
On November 1, there are many cemetery festivities, at San Pablo Villa de Mitla in the morning and in the evening at the Oaxaca city Panteon, and in San Augustin Etla.
On November 2, in Teotitlan del Valle, the low-key ceremonies of honoring the dead begin with a mid-afternoon meal at home to ensure the dead return to their graves with full bellies. The villagers then accompany the spirits to the the cemetery (around 6 p.m. ) and sit with them through the night to be certain they are cared for and rest in peace.
Teotitlan del Valle, Dia de los Muertos
On November 3, in San Antonino Castillo de Velasco, the flower growing village, holds their Day of the Dead celebrations after they have cut and sold cockscomb, marigolds, lilies and more to surrounding villages and city dwellers.
You might also want to add Santa Maria Atzompa to your itinerary.
Sand paintings, part of the tradition, Muertos
These are not created as tourist attractions but exist as part of ancient pre-Hispanic ritual in many parts of Mexico. Oaxaca has one of the most vibrant Day of the Dead celebrations.
Locals and seasoned Oaxaca travelers continue Slot Gacor the search for the undiscovered Day of the Dead celebration where few tourists descend. The farther from the city, the more likely this is to occur.
Still life with marigolds, Teotitlan del Valle market
I’m in North Carolina with my friend Hettie, and have with me photos of my parents and copal incense. I’ll start making my memory altar in the next few days. Meanwhile, my Teotitlan del Valle family will light incense and place marigolds at the gate to my home to welcome the spirits and guide them back under the shadow of Picacho.
See Day of the Dead 5-Day Photo Challenge at Facebook
Muertos altar, November 2, 2015, remembering my dad
After I built my altar last year, our 99-1/2 year-old mom took a downward turn and I left Oaxaca for California. She died on November 15, 2016. I return to California next week to join my family to lay the headstone on her grave just before the anniversary of her death, a ritual that is part of my religious tradition.
This year, my altar will hold them both. I will sit and honor their lives.
Dorothy Schafitz Beerstein, April 16, 2013
Posted in Cultural Commentary, Oaxaca Mexico art and culture, Photography, Teotitlan del Valle, Travel & Tourism
Tagged altar, cemetery visits, customs, day of the dead, death, dia de los muertos, memory, Mexico, Oaxaca, photographs, Teotitlan del Valle, traditions, villages, Xoxocotlan