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Norma writes for Selvedge Magazine Issue #109 -- Rise Up, November 2022
Norma Writes for Selvedge Latin Issue #89
What is a Study Tour: Our programs are designed as learning experiences, and as such we talk with weavers about how and why they create, what is meaningful to them in their designs, the ancient history of patterning and design, use of color, tradition and innovation, values and cultural continuity, and the social context within which they work. First and foremost, we are educators. Norma worked in top US universities for over 35 years and Eric founded the education department at Oaxaca’s textile museum. Our interest is in creating connection and artisan economic development.
Why We Left, Expat Anthology: Norma’s Personal Essay
Norma Contributes Two Chapters!
- 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 Toursd 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 weaving relationships, customized itineraries, study abroad programs, meetings and conferences. It's our pleasure to make arrangements.
Select Clients *Selvedge Magazine-London, UK *Esprit Travel and Tours *Penland School of Crafts *North Carolina State University *WARP Weave a Real Peace *Methodist University *MINNA-Goods *Smockingbird Kids
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- WEAVE Podcast: Oaxaca Coast Textiles & Tour
- NY Times, Weavers Embrace Natural Dye Alternatives
- NY Times, Open Thread–Style News
- NY Times, 36-Hours: Oaxaca, Mexico
- Cooking Classes–El Sabor Zapoteco
- Currency Converter
- Fe y Lola Rugs by Chavez Santiago Family
- Friends of Oaxaca Folk Art
- Hoofing It In Oaxaca Hikes
- Living Textiles of Mexico
- Mexican Indigenous Textiles Project
- Museo Textil de Oaxaca
- Oaxaca Lending Library
- Oaxaca Weather
- Taller Teñido a Mano Natural Dyes
Basket Weaving Circle in Rug Weaving Village Draws Crowd
Beyond the stream they call the Rio Grande here, the women gather in a circle around the pine-shaded, packed dirt courtyard outside of Ernestina’s house. They are learning how to weave with another sort of material, not the usual hand-spun wool that is traditional for Teotitlan del Valle, the famed rug weaving village. They are using brightly colored plastic strips.
This is palma plastica (plastic palm) says maestra Norma, who came from San Baltazar Guelavila, to teach. This is the new-age derivative of the traditional palm used for centuries by most villagers in this valley to make petate sleeping mats, food and storage containers. The craft is slowly disappearing and few Oaxaca weavers now produce this traditional folk art. See: Decline of a Craft: Basketmaking in San Juan Guelavia, Oaxaca.
The plastic strips will become handbags, coin purses, and placements that can be sold to tourists in the local morning market. Another source of much needed income for women to have their own money, whether they are married or not. This week’s lesson is an experiment in economic development — how to make a small business.
Ernestina organized the multigenerational five-day event and invited friends and relatives to participate. The abuelas — grandmothers — are joined by daughters and granddaughters, nieces and cousins. There is a baby tended to by a grandmother while mom learns.
As I walked by Ernestina’s house, I noticed this unusual colorful activity and waved. She invited me to come in to see what they were doing and asked if I would return with my camera to take photos. Of course, I did!
Norma’s town San Baltazar Guelavila, is known for it’s hand-woven baskets and is also an artisanal mescal-producing center. It is in the mountains beyond Santiago Matatlan off the Carretera Internacional 190, otherwise known as the Panamerican Highway, which runs from Alaska through Oaxaca to the tip of South America.
An experienced lifelong basket weaver, Norma told me she can weave three to five baskets a day. She has fast fingers. The beginners were happy to make even three baskets in five days. The baskets will sell for between 100 and 150 pesos each. That’s $7.50 to $12 USD. The average working wage in Oaxaca is 100 pesos a day, so the women are happy if they can produce and steadily sell one basket a day!
Ernestina hopes so. But, of course, that depends on tourists visiting Teotitlan del Valle, and most come via tour buses and not as independent travelers. They may stop at a pre-determined rug weaving gallery and then go on to San Pablo Villa de Mitla to see the archeological site or continue on to Santiago Matatlan for a mezcal tasting. They will miss the 9:00-11:00 a.m. daily morning market, which is at the heart of this 6,000 person community. And, miss the opportunity to buy one of these colorful, handmade totes.
People here love intense color. The natural materials are giving way to synthetics because of cost and convenience and personal taste. Yet, as I pulled up a chair around the circle and sat a while, I was reminded of my own knitting circle back home in North Carolina and the comfort of good friends. And, the revival of a traditional craft that can make the difference in women’s and children’s lives here.
Posted in Cultural Commentary, Oaxaca Mexico art and culture, Oaxaca rug weaving and natural dyes, Teotitlan del Valle, Textiles, Tapestries & Weaving
Tagged basket making, Mexico, Oaxaca, palm, petate, weaving baskets