The year’s activities at Starr Interiors

by Susanna Starr

Beginning a new year always gives us the chance to look at the past one. Ours at Starr Interiors was a special one. We celebrated, all year long, our 40th anniversary. Where did the time go? Rather than trying to reconstruct the decades, our book commemorating the journey was published and is now being distributed. Reviews are still coming in and you’ll find the latest one below. I think it says it all.

There were a number of events including the book signing that took place in May at Starr Interiors, in June at Moby Dickens in Taos and in November at Barnes & Noble in Albuquerque NM. There were also magazine articles and newspaper feature stories. All in all it was definitely a celebratory year.

Book signing and photo show room
Book signing and photo show room

Many thanks are due to Leah Sobol for her job as gallery director. If everyone were to feel about their work as she does the world would be a better place. In addition to her strong sense of responsibility and commitment, she maintains the highest standard of keeping the gallery maintained to provide the kind of elegant presentation the rugs deserve. Not only is her ability as a manager always in evidence, but her heart involvement is as well. She is there to make sure everything runs smoothly, helps clients with their needs and provides individual consultations to ensure that client’s unique needs are specifically met. We are fortunate indeed that our team includes her important and ongoing contribution and concern.

Front cover
Front cover

Thanks to Susan Montgomery for the wonderful review of our new book, Our Inter­wo­ven Lives with the Zapotec Weavers: an Odyssey of the Heart . The review is published in entirety below. Susan’s website can be seen here.

 

Two Cultures, One Spirit:  A Book Review

by Susan Montgomery

Our Interwoven Lives with the Zapotec Weavers is beautiful memoir of lives and families from completely different cultures that have intertwined and enriched each other for several decades. The differences and parallels are eloquently expressed by author, Susanna Starr, and photographer, John Lamkin.

Susanna writes about her life as an artist and gallery owner in Taos, New Mexico, but she primarily focuses on her deep connections with Zapotec weavers in the small village of Teotitlan del Valle located about 20 miles from the city of Oaxaca in the foothills of the Sierra Juarez mountains in Mexico. The Zapotec people are the descendants of an ancient civilization that is indigenous to the Oaxaca region. In this remote village, many generations of families have been producing intricately designed, hand-woven rugs that are unique to their creators and their locale. Their materials come from the world they live in with wool produced by local sheep and yarn made locally with dyed, vivid pigments. Each rug is a work of art, reflecting both traditional and more modern, innovative designs.

After navigating mountainous dirt roads to find this village in the 1970s, Susanna Starr was so entranced with the weaving community she found that she kept going back and even established her own second home in the area. She developed a mutually beneficial business relationship with the Zapotec weavers, purchasing their rugs and taking them back to Taos to sell in her shop. But her relationship with the weavers became much more than business.

Susanna shared in their lives as their families grew and adapted to changing times. The book is roughly divided into her relationships with three generations of weavers—the parents (now grandparents) who are about Susanna’s age, their children who gradually took over the weaving business from their parents, and now the grandchildren, some of whom are becoming talented weavers themselves and others who are spreading their wings as they pursue education and careers.  But the beauty of this story is the closeness of these families, because wherever these children go they retain the cultural values and traditions of their community. In spirit and soul, they will always be part of their Zapotec village.  Throughout the book, Susanna discusses her own family and the differences and similarities she sees as her children, like the Zapotec children, grow and move into adulthood. 

In many ways, this is a travel book because the reader is transported to a small Mexican village and soon feels immersed in this warm and colorful community. It is a book about place, family, culture, traditions, and hope for the future. We are introduced to multiple generations in several families and we finish the book feeling as if we know them and would love to meet them too.

John Lamkin’s colorful, perceptive photos bring Susanna’s stories visually alive. We are able to not only see the beautiful rugs but to study the fascinating faces of the weavers and their families as they grow up and grow older, celebrating both daily life and the many traditional festivals that are so much a part of their culture.

This is a book you will want to read and think about over time. It is a book that will be at home on your coffee table or on your bedside night stand.  I know I would like to share this book with my family and friends, not only because of its unique story about creating art through generations but because it tells a story of how we are all more alike than we are different, about how the spirit in people can transcend cultures and generations, and about how our cultural values make us who we are.  It is so appropriate that the subtitle of this book is “An Odyssey of the Heart.”

This book can be purchased for approximately $20 in paperback or $30 hardbound from Amazon or ordered from Cynthia at Paloma Blanca Press (PalomaBlanca.Cynthia@gmail.com). It is also available through your local bookstores or any other online bookstores.

Susanna Starr is an entrepreneur, photographer, speaker, artist, and owner of Starr Interiors in Taos.  She is also owner, designer and director of the acclaimed designer weaving collection, “Line of the Spirit,” whose founding and development is described in her book.  Susanna’s articles have appeared in many publications and she is a member of the International Food, Wine & Travel Writers Association. Her website is www.SusannaStarr.com.

John Lamkin is an award-winning journalist and photographer who is also based in Taos. He is a contributing writer and photographer for many publications and a board member of the International Food, Wine & Travel Writers Association. His website is www.TravelWritingAndPhotography.com.

Photographs by John Lamkin.

Weaving Demonstration with Master Zapotec Weaver, Florentino Gutierrez

Florentino, Susanna, Eloisa and Hugo
Florentino, Susanna Starr (owner), Eloisa and Hugo
photo © John Lamkin

 

During the annual Taos Wool Festival Master Zapotec weaver Florentino Gutierrez will be demonstrating weaving in Starr Interiors’ historic courtyard

Saturday October 4th from noon to 4 pm and Sunday October 5th from 10 am to 2 pm

Oaxacan hot chocolate will be served.

You can also view a photo show from Susanna Starr and John Lamkin’s new book, Our Interwoven Lives with the Zapotec Weavers: An Odyssey of the Heart. Copies of the book will be for sale at the gallery. Florentino is featured prominently in the book. He will be glad to sign your copy.

Book launch and photography show at Starr Interiors

Book Front Cover
Book signing and photography show at Starr Interiors

June 21, 2014

5 – 7 PM

Starr Interiors

117 Paseo del Pueblo Norte

(2 doors south of the Taos Inn)

Starr Interiors is joyfully celebrating its 40th year anniversary with a book launch of a new book written by Susanna Starr with photographs by John Lamkin. A book signing will be held in the historic building that houses Starr Interiors. The book, Our Interwoven Lives with the Zapotec Weavers: An Odyssey of the Heart, chronicles three generations of deep connection and parallels the lives of Starr and specific weaving families of the small Zapotec village outside of Oaxaca, Mexico through text and stunning photos. It has already received acclaim for its cultural importance in various countries as well as the U.S.

Forty Years! And a visit to the weaving village

Starr's 40th

 

by Susanna Starr

As I sit here in our home overlooking the Hondo Valley  outside of Taos, New Mexico, with the backdrop of the Sangre de Cristos mountains alternately shrouded in cloud cover, I realize that I’ve only been home from our annual three and a half month stay in Mexico for a couple of weeks.

Just little more than two weeks ago we were walking the streets of the weaving village where I’ve been working with the same weaving families for so many years. As always, it was wonderful being there, visiting with our old friends, who are really the closest I have to extended family, and seeing all the changes in the year since our last visit.

This time John and I arrived with copies of our recently published book “Our Interwoven Lives with the Zapotec Weavers: An Odyssey of the Heart” the beautiful mini-coffee table book that my partner, John Lamkin, and I collaborated on, with my story and his beautiful photographic accompaniment.

 

Susanna shows the book to Eliseo & Maria Bautista
Susanna shows the book to Eliseo & Maria Bautista

In this day of immediate electronic communication, it wasn’t quite the surprise we thought it would be since it had already made it’s advance announcement on Facebook. But not everyone had heard about it, especially not the Line of the Spirit weavers. But everyone seemed to be delighted with it. Many of the photos brought happy smiles of recognition but most importantly, it was that special shared feeling of knowing each other, our families and the village itself over these many years that was so meaningful.

Juan Luis & family
Juan Luis & family

This new book of ours tells the story not only of my forty years of working with the Zapotec weavers in this village, but parallels their lives with my own, of the three generations I’ve been involved with, my own being the first generation, the children who are now adults and running the established businesses begun by their parents, as the second generation. All of these families have been and always will be a significant part of my life.

But it’s the third generation that really excites me, the generation of my own grandchildren. These younger people who have already started in on careers of their own such as medicine, or are now at universities studying engineering and international commerce or attending high schools in Oaxaca preparing them for unknown pursuits, are astounding. Their grandparents, my oldest friends, were the transitional age, the one that represented the shift from the traditional ways of their parents and grandparents to being immersed in the contemporary world that included me and a number of other “compradores” (buyers) like me.

Weavers and Compradores
Weavers and Compradores

They passed the torch to the next generation who continued to build their businesses and their homes and provide new opportunities for advanced education to their own children, often shuttling them back and forth to specialized schools in Oaxaca on a daily basis, for years, to provide them with the foundation for creating an alternative to the weaving tradition they had grown up in, to give them opportunities to forge their own way and often bring back new skills to the community.

Although these “kids” look like teenagers anywhere in the same kind of jeans, tee shirts and sneakers with the same cell phones, there is something special about them. Although very much a part of the 21st century, they are still deeply steeped in more than 5,000 years of Zapotec culture and tradition. They have never suffered the western “angst” wondering who they are or what their place is. They have always known what their place was and continues to be. From the time of their arrival they have been embraced by the strong ties of family and community. They probably go through many of the same thoughts and feelings of contemporaries anywhere, but they are not lost. They step out into the world joyfully. And……every one of them that I know is beautiful, male or female. Every one of them is infused with lovingness. I know I must be getting old when I look at them and feel the tears in my eyes!

Diego Montaño and one of his rugs
Diego Montaño and one of his rugs

But not all of these young people are going on to pursue new careers. Many of them have opted to continue in the weaving tradition, already being fine weavers in their own right. And many more look forward to working at home on the looms that have defined the life of their village, enjoying the familiar tradition they choose to continue, adding new ideas and visions to those they’ve already been exposed to.

Over these past forty years, we’ve spent so much time in the exciting city of Oaxaca, rich in its culture, vibrant in its colors and rich in its cooking tradition (Oaxacan chefs are some of the most famous in Mexico as well as some from the village who have received international recognition) and exciting in its atmosphere. It’s still the exciting city it’s always been. But, this time John and I stayed out in the village with our friends and I still bask in the glow of being there.

Rather than shuttling back and forth from the city, we enjoyed the quiet and intimacy of being in the village, of walking out at night and saying hello to the neighbors, of strolling down the main street and noting all the new construction and remodeling and upgrading that seems to be taking place on every other corner. Many of the old dirt roads have been paved, street lamps light the way and wonderful slogans urging people toward thinking about recycling, mutual respect for gender, women’s rights and other social issues, are written with artistic accompaniments on the walls. The sense of community is pervasive.

There’s so much more to tell about, but I’ll save it for the next installment. Right now I can only celebrate still again the richness that has been part of my life through my connection with the weaving families of this village. The time has come for me to close this chapter of my life, at least the gallery part of it, Starr Interiors. I’ve been processing this time for the past few years and now that it has become clear in my mind that the next step for me is to pass the torch to someone else that will build upon my relationship with the weavers, I feel contented. I’m quite sure that the right person will appear who will weave their own relationships into a meaningful part of their life, finding the counterpart of running the gallery in the equally beautiful mountain town of Taos, New Mexico.

 

Our Interwoven Lives with the Zapotec Weavers – The book

“Susanna Starr has captured this lyrical and sentimental journey from Taos to Oaxaca and back in her upcoming book entitled Our Interwoven Lives with the Zapotec Weavers: An Odyssey of the Heart.   It is part memoir, part photographic journal, part tribute to an ancient civilization’s survival in the twenty-first century, and completely a must-read to those enchanted with the story of the Zapotec Indian people.  She will host a book  signing on June 21, the highlight of a month-long photo exhibition that kicks off the gallery’s anniversary celebration.” 

 OUR INTERWOVEN LIVES WITH THE ZAPOTEC WEAVERS: 

An Odyssey of the Heart

by Susanna Starr

 with Photographs by John Lamkin

Village Church atop Ancient Zapotec Temple Ruins
Village Church atop Ancient Zapotec Temple Ruins

 The book is available right now through Starr Interiors!
A new mini-coffee table book — soft or hard cover 

Pages: 135
Price: $29.95 Hardcover or $19.95 Softcover
Publisher: Paloma Blanca Press
Official Pub. Date: June 2014 (now available through the gallery)

I hope this story serves as a reminder that business is not a negative word. Trading is as old as human history, whether for goods or services. It doesn’t have to be exploitative nor impersonal to be successful. Rather, if it is infused with joy and happiness, it can provide a vital, important and enriching aspect of our lives.
–  Susanna Starr, Taos, NM

[See Excerpt Below.]

Advance Praise

“A must read for anyone who wants to do well by doing good in the world . This improbable story about an American “hippie” and traditional weavers in the Oaxaca Valley of Mexico will fire your Imagination and touch your heart. Susanna Starr’s life story proves that love, respect, learning and success in business can go hand in hand.”–Judith Fein, Author of LIFE IS A TRIP: The Transformative Magic of Travel 

“OUR INTERWOVEN LIVES WITH THE ZAPOTEC WEAVERS is a beautiful book, both the writing and photographs.  I own a Zapotec rug and appreciate the work of these artists. This book gives them credit where credit is long overdue.” –Tom Aageson, Executive Director, Global Center for Cultural Entrepreneurship

 

One of life’s memorable intersections…

OUR INTERWOVEN LIVES WITH THE ZAPOTEC WEAVERS: An Odyssey of Heart celebrates American entrepreneur and gallery owner Susanna Starr’s forty years of working with the Zapotec weavers of the Oaxaca Valley in Mexico. Starr  takes us back to the moment when she first navigated dirt roads into the remote village of Teotitlan in the 70s, and fell in Heart with the vibrant Zapotec hand-loomed weavings and the warmth of the weavers themselves. She leads us on a three-generational trek of mind and spirit, as the Zapotec families and her own grow in parallels of symbiotic prosperity and mutual respect that reminds us that “business” does not have to be a negative word.

Susanna Starr is the owner of Starr Interiors in Taos, New Mexico, which began as La Unica Cosa in 1974, and features hand-dyed 100% wool rugs, wall hangings, and pillows traditionally dyed and loomed by the Zapotec weavers.

OUR INTERWOVEN LIVES WITH THE ZAPOTEC WEAVERS: An Odyssey of Heart reflects Starr’s philosophy that business need not be kept separate, but can be an integral and meaningful part of everyday lives.

I hope this story serves as a reminder that business is not a negative word,” says Starr. “Trading is as old as human history, whether for goods or services. It need not be exploitative or impersonal to be successful. Rather, if it is infused with joy and happiness, it can provide a vital, important and enriching aspect of our lives.

The weavings have been purchased by numerous celebrities including Paul Simon, Sting and Diana Ross, and featured in style magazines such as “Architectural Digest.”

With Love it began…With Love it flourished…And with Love it continues.

The book is due out in 2014, and features poignant photographs by photojournalist John Lamkin.

<<<<<<<<<<<<<<>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

BOOK EXCERPT:  Introduction

For a long time I’ve been encouraged to write about the years I’ve spent working with the weavers of a small Zapotec Indian village high up in the mountains outside of the city of Oaxaca, Mexico. Not only have I had this encouragement from family, friends and people I’ve dealt with through my weaving gallery in Taos, New Mexico over the past forty years but, most importantly, I’ve been encouraged by the weavers themselves.

Now the time has come to tell that story. Far from being a story of running a business of introducing and selling these weavings in the United States, this is a story of the personal interactions that have taken place between me and the Zapotec people over the past four decades. The gallery that I’ve run during this time has simply been a vehicle to promote and distribute this particular art form. In the evolution of the gallery and of the weavings in general, as in any other part of life, many changes have taken place. But, as in any other endeavor, some constants remain.

For me the most important of these constants is the deeply personal connection I’ve had with particular weaving families as well as with the village as a whole. This connection has encompassed half of my life and the passion remains. Obviously, this is a personal narrative, but it also tells the story of people working together to preserve a culture and to promote a craft that has great impact not only on the individual weavers but on the whole village. The success I’ve enjoyed is mirrored in the success of that village and the individual weavers with whom I’ve been connected.

The story begins with my first visit in 1974 driving, with my partner Ramon, down a long, dirt road through a somewhat hostile village whose people were resentful of the people of the neighboring village and refused to give any helpful directions. But, continuing on, we eventually reached our destination. We finally arrived in the small square that was the center of Teotitlan del Valle.

The book is divided by generations. The first generation deals with that arrival and my initial introduction to the weavings. It paints a picture of the early years. There is a description of my own life at that time and the involvement with the Zapotec Indians of the village that was to become life changing for me.

The second generation is my work with the children of those initial weavers, after having had a long relationship with their parents. This is the same generation as that of my own three children. All of these children are now grown and well into the middle stage of their own lives. Although I am still very much connected to the parents, most of my business dealings over the past two decades have been with this second generation, children when I first knew them, and now associates in the business of buying and collaborating on rug designs and purchases.

The third generation, who are primarily teenagers and young adults, is now just coming into its own. Once again, there’s the parallel with my own family. In this section we look at the grandchildren who have been raised in the weaving tradition but who have been afforded opportunities their own parents, and certainly not their grandparents, were unable to enjoy when they were of a similar age.

In this time of instant communications and cutting edge advances in the promotion of products, from smart phones to purchasing online, this narrative illustrates the fundamental exchange, on a very personal level, of real people and the weavings they produce completely by hand. Each of the weavings I’ve ever handled is infused with spirit. I know this to be a fact. It’s not only the spirituality of the people that permeates all that they do, but also the authenticity with which they do it. Each weaving represents part of someone’s life. No weaving machines or equipment of any kind are used, despite the availability of mechanized looms and computerized designs.

This is not to suggest that the village is backward or unaware of changes that have taken place in the marketplace. Rather, they have chosen to incorporate many aspects of our contemporary world, while at the same time maintaining the integrity of their traditional way of life. But this third generation, as a result of the work and dedication of their parents and grandparents, has been afforded many more opportunities to make different life choices. They have not only had the same exposure to the same things my own grandchildren have, but they have also had educational opportunities the previous generations had been denied.

The weavers I first encountered had only an early grade school education in the village which was all that was available to them at that time. This second generation saw their children attend the newly built grammar/junior high school. The third generation now has had access to high schools and universities. Weaving is still an option and a good choice for many of this youngest generation but for some, as you will see, their lives are taking different directions. Some things, however, remain the same, among them the sanctity of the fundamental family unit and the continuing importance of maintaining their cultural heritage.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Susanna Starr is an entrepreneur, photographer, speaker, artist and travel writer. She is the owner of Starr Interiors in Taos, New Mexico, which began as La Unica Cosa in 1974, and features hand-dyed 100% wool rugs, wall hangings, and pillows traditionally dyed and loomed by the Zapotec weavers.  Susanna has lived in Northern New Mexico for forty years, and has over twenty years experience in the hospitality business as owner of Rancho Encantado, an eco-resort and spa in Mexico. Her degree in Philosophy is from Stony Brook State University of New York, and she is IFWTWA Regional Membership Coordinator (RMC) for Riviera Maya & Oaxaca, Mexico. Susanna Starr is also the author of FIFTY AND BEYOND: New Beginnings in Health and Well-Being published by Paloma Blanca. Her online articles have appeared in numerous publications, including Soul of Travel Magazine, The Examiner, and the award-winning travel journal, Your Life Is a Trip.

About John Lamkin (Photojournalist):

John Lamkin is a freelance travel journalist and photographer based in Taos, New Mexico (and lives part-time in Quintana Roo, Mexico). He is a board member and Global Membership Chair of International Food, Wine & Travel Writers Association (IFWTWA). Lamkin attended the San Francisco Art Institute and founded San Francisco Camerawork. In addition to food, wine and travel writing, he has worn many hats in public relations, copy writing, technical writing, and poetry writing. He is the former editor of Camerawork Quarterly and Music of the Spheres Magazine, and a member of the North American Travel Journalists Association (NATJA). Lamkin is a contributing writer for Luxury Latin America, Luxury Avenue Magazine, Suite101, The Examiner, Reuters America, Your Life Is A Trip, Jetsetter, and he is also a columnist for The Syndicated News. He is fluent in Spanish.

 

 

Interwoven Lives

Two women in village market, shopping for their #DayOfDead altars from upcoming book, INTERWOVEN LIVES..., by Susanna Starr, photos by John Lamkin.
Two women in village market, shopping for their #DayOfDead altars from upcoming book, INTERWOVEN LIVES…, by Susanna Starr, photos by John Lamkin.

Two women in village market, shopping for Day of Dead altars from upcoming book by Starr Interior’s owner, Susanna Starr, photos by John Lamkin.

“It began with Love. It grew with Love. And with Love, it continues.

INTERWOVEN LIVES traces the parallel paths to prosperity and friendship set in motion when author and New Mexican gallery owner Susanna Starr first fell in love with the weavings of the Zapotec Indians in Teotitlan del Valle, and then with the weavers themselves. Knowing nothing about buying or selling, Starr embarked on an odyssey of the heart that led to a 40-year inter-generational relationship between her own American family and the Mexican families she came to appreciate as deeply as their inspired weavings.”

Publication date: April 2014
Paloma Blanca Press

 

A memoir of Susanna Starr’s three generations of working with the Zapotec Weavers of Oaxaca Valley

Weaver Sergio Martinez's mother
Weaver Sergio Martinez’s mother

Well, our new book is finally under way. It’s a memoir of Susanna Starr’s three generations of working with the Zapotec Weavers of Oaxaca Valley. The photographs will be mostly by me. We haven’t decided on a title yet. Stay tuned for more updates and how to order.

The photo is of weaver Sergio Martinez’s mother.
©John Lamkin