Tag Archives: tapete

Scott Roth Says: How to Value a 1960’s Era Rug From Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

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.

International Surface Design Association Conference Features Oaxaca Weaver Tito Mendoza

Tito Mendoza Ruiz uses a traditional Saltillo-style tapestry weaving technique that employs 22 threads per inch to create his very intricate and detailed work.  He is one of the weavers, along with Federico Chavez Sosa, featured in Carolyn Kallenborn’s documentary film, “Woven Lives.”  Tito’s work and Carolyn’s film are showing at the 2011 International Surface Design Association Conference in Minneapolis-St. Paul.  See the invitation letter from Tito below.

Click here for a link to the Conference Brochure.

An Invitation from Oaxaca weaver Tito Mendoza




Tito Mendoza's Art Rug Mural selected for special exhibition in Mexico City

The figure of an indigenous Zapotec moves out of the traditional “Eye of God” design on the left side of the tapestry into the cornfields, through wind, sky and ocean.  The allegorical piece is a tribute to the power of nature and the place that humans hold in it.  The cotton hand-woven fringes were tied off by Alejandrina Rios, the wife of Tito Mendoza.












Would You Like to See My Rugs?

My personal quest on that first visit to Teotitlan del Valle was to find an extraordinary weaver who worked in natural dyes AND who had not been “discovered” by the New York Times.  I wanted an “off the beaten track” experience.  In all the Internet research I did, there were only two names that kept cropping up repeatedly as the “go to” weavers of Teotitlan.  When I went to visit these weavers to learn more about the weaving and dyeing processes, I saw their houses were very prosperous and they really didn’t need little ‘ole me to support them.  I guess I was looking for a “relationship,” although I didn’t know it at the time.  I also wanted to buy from someone who needed the business and where I knew the money I spent would go directly to them.

Natural Dyes: Indigo, Moss, Pecans, Cochineal

By the third day in the village, after having visited and talked with a slew of weavers, I began to see and understand the quality differential.  As I ventured into workshop homes that were off the main streets, the prices became more reasonable for similar quality.  I could also tell when a showroom was not a work space since the looms were there only for demonstration purposes (and it was VERY clean).  Real work spaces were cluttered with wool balls, dye vats, partially completed rugs, and bags and bundles of dye materials: cochineal, wild marigold, pecan leaves, pomegranates.  I could begin to tell the difference between a chemically- and naturally-dyed rug by the subtle color variations in the weave of the finished product.  I could see when the knot fringes were poorly made, and when the weave wasn’t tight.

Caracol: My First Zapotec Rug

There was no wireless service in Teotitlan then, so Stephen and I would make a daily visit to the pharmacy around the corner from the rug market to check our email.  It was not really an Internet cafe, although we could buy cold sodas out of the refrigerator and sip as we tried to figure out the keyboard.  On our third day there, we exited the pharmacy and make a right turn instead of a left, heading toward instead of away from the rug market, as was our typical path.

Pomegranate Dye Bath -- Fermentation Process

“Would you like to see my rugs?” I heard a voice call out in perfect English.  I turned my eyes toward a young man standing in a small stall surrounded by rugs.  Sitting in the corner was a girl bent over a book.  I didn’t even look at the rugs.  “No, thanks,”  I said, shaking my head, completely taken aback by someone who spoke such good English.  I was suspicious; it must be a scam to reel me in.  We kept walking, and we had almost passed them when I looked up to see an array of spectacular rugs, clearly different and superior from any I had seen before.

That’s how I met Eric Chavez Santiago and his sister Janet.

For the next hour in that little stall I heard about what makes a quality rug (tapete), how it takes years to learn the chemistry of working with natural dyes, and how Eric researched the history of the Zapotec dyeing tradition.  He convinced his father to work exclusively in natural dyes for quality and health reasons (chemical dyes are inhaled and cause lung cancer).  I was smitten with Eric’s knowledge, the beauty and intricacy of the work, and the mission to preserve a cultural tradition.  I agreed to go home with him to meet the family and look at the entire collection.