This Year’s Buying Trip to the Village and Mucho Mas

by Susanna Starr

Having just returned from a visit to the weaving village, the images are strong in my mind. For some time my family of three grown children have been talking about getting together in Oaxaca when we did our next buying trip. Although they’ve come down to the weaving village individually as children and young adults for many decades, this was the first time they came down together. At this point in their lives, work and time are difficult to come by, so we started making arrangements, scheduling the visit and noting it into their calendars, many months prior to the anticipated trip.

Amy, Roy and Mirabai in front of Tlamanalli Restaurant
Amy, Roy and Mirabai in front of Tlamanalli Restaurant

Our Interwoven Lives with the Zapotec Weavers: An Odyssey of Love

The Zapotec Indian culture is a rich one, with many thousands of years of enduring traditions. Of all the traditions, family is probably the most important of the underlying structure of this ancient culture. My partner, John Lamkin, and I had recently published a beautiful book called Our Interwoven Lives with the Zapotec Weavers: An Odyssey of Love (sales@Starr-Interiors.com) which tells the story of my more than forty years of working with the same families in the village. John’s beautiful photographs accompany that journey. In it, I trace three generations of families that I’ve been so close to, as well as photographs of other weavers I’ve been working with, especially on the Line of the Spirit™, a special designer collection that has been an important part of what we do for more than twenty-five years.

Roy enjoying tortilla fresh from the comal Rosario, husband Faustino, Amy, Roy and Mirabai.
Roy enjoying tortilla fresh from the comal
Rosario, husband Faustino, Amy, Roy and Mirabai.

Having Mirabai, Amy and Roy accompanying us to visit each of the weaving families was not only important to the families, but to our family as well. When Roy and Rosario Mendoza met again,  thirty years had passed since they both were living in the Mendoza house in Oaxaca. but there was no problem in recognizing each other. Mirabai and Amy were down more recently, sometimes with their own children, but now there were not just two generations, but three. As close as I am to the original families and their grown children, it’s this third generation, the same age as my own grandchildren, that are moving beyond the life they were born into, while still honoring and practicing the cultural values that have continued for so many generations before them.

Armando in front of special "Tree of Life" which we purchased
Armando in front of special “Tree of Life” which we purchased

Now, through the hard work of their grandparents and parents, they have been afforded educational opportunities never before available to preceding generations. Although many of the young people of this age are still weaving, those who have been given the opportunities to study at universities are continuing on to become doctors, dentists, and studying for other professions.

I feel as proud of their accomplishments as I do those of my own grandchildren. The ties we have are strong ones and having our families together during this time was evidence of the warmth and friendship that goes far beyond just a working relationship. Living in the village, waking up to the sounds, visiting the market to buy our flowers and fresh produce, visiting the families we work with, having lunch at El Descanso and at Tierra Antigua with the Montaño families was joyful…and memorable.

The Montaños at El Descanso
The Montaños at El Descanso

Also memorable, was the evening we spent at the home of our good friends, Florentino and Eloisa Gutierrez. Their son, Juan Cristobal, who studied audio engineering in California, has put together a band and at Mirabai’s urging, decided to perform a concert for us. It was held in their spacious courtyard, with luxuriant flowers and plants providing the perfect backdrop for the concert. And, the younger Fidel Montaño was the lead singer. Writing their own music and lyrics and accompanied by a few other members of the band, the concert was outstanding.

Juan Cristobal, Fidel and their band, Km 1
Juan Cristobal, Fidel and their band, Km 1
Roy holding Alta's grandson Pablito
Roy holding Alta’s grandson Pablito

We spent important time with Alta Gracia, the dyemaker for Line of the Spirit™ since its inception and with her son Jaci and his wife Soledad. We visited with the wife of Felipe Lazaro who passed away recently and bought some of her specialties of roasted pumpkin seed bars, amaranth bars and light wafers and exchanged warm embraces. We visited with Maria and Eloisa Bautista whose recently married son, Jacobo now is following in the footsteps of his parents who have been part of the Line of the Spirit™ team since it began, more than twenty-five years ago when he was just a baby. Our family meeting with Jovita and her brother, Valentino and his wife, was affirmation of the ongoing relationship of our families, as it was with all the Line of the Spirit™ weavers.

Maria & Eliseo Bautista with Susanna and Jazi
Maria & Eliseo Bautista with Susanna and Jacinto

Having lunch at Tlamanalli, the acclaimed restaurant of world-famous chef, Abigail Mendoza, and her sisters, was another special event. In the kitchen, we cried together with their mother, Dona Clara, who lost her son Arnulfo, one of the most talented artists the village has ever known and one of our close friends. In the beautiful patio, we enjoyed some of their famous dishes at the traditionally decorated tables. The embraces we exchanged were heartfelt.

Our family with wife of recently deceased weaver Felipe Lazaro
Our family with wife of recently deceased weaver Felipe Lazaro
Our family looks on as art director, Jacinto Morales, discusses technical aspect with Juan Luis and his wife Paula
Our family looks on as art director, Jacinto Morales, discusses technical aspect with Juan Luis and his wife Paula

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yes, this was a memorable visit, a testimony to what business can really bring as its reward. We have all prospered and its always a joy to see how the entire village has also prospered over these decades. But, always, its the personal relationships, the warmth and genuine caring, the being part of an extended family that is the real bonus. This is as much a part of our connection as anything else that we continue to be involved in together. The weavings they produce and that we sell to our clients who provide a home for them where they will be enjoyed and appreciated completes the circle. But the heart connection is what cannot be seen, just felt, and what endures.

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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.

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.

 

Visiting the weaving village and reflecting on three generations

Weaving Village Church   © John Lamkin
Weaving Village Church
© John Lamkin

by Susanna Starr

Before doing a recap of the year, I want to go back to the last buying trip in Oaxaca, in the early part of the year. As always, visiting the village, seeing all the new and exciting weavings and, most importantly, visiting old friends, is an ongoing joy in my life. This buying trip was excellent once again with beautiful acquisitions from the Montaño family, including the work of Fidel, Pedro and Alicia as well as their father, Edmundo. Visiting Armando and Juan Gutierrez, sons of Felipe, also provided an abundance of new colors and designs, as well as warm embraces. And Efren Lazo’s ranges of bright reds are always outstanding.

Diana, Karina and Pedro Montaño © Susanna Starr
Diana, Karina and Pedro Montaño
© Susanna Starr

But, at this point in the lives of all my weaving friends as well as my own, the most exciting thing that’s happening is the third generation. Edmundo and Felipe and I go back more than 35 years. Armando, Juan, Fidel, Pedro, Alicia and Efren were small children then. Now they’re running the businesses and their own children are launched into the world. This generation has the advantage of making other choices. Diego Montaño, Pedro and Karina’s son, is producing a line of his own small, deluxe, finely woven pieces, several of which are now featured at Starr Interiors. But his older sister, Diana, has chosen a different career.

We were sitting at Pedro and Karina’s new house, restaurant and showroom enjoying some of her wonderful cooking, when we saw someone start up the entry and then veer off to the side. “Oh, that’s Diana,” said Karina and called out to her daughter who didn’t want to disturb the clients at the restaurant. Once she heard her mother and saw that it was us, she resumed walking in. I was stunned. I’ve known her since she was born 22 years ago and have seen her during all these years, but all of a sudden it seemed that I was seeing someone new. This tall, beautiful young woman is now studying medicine and was wearing her hospital “whites.” As I write this, I feel the same emotion I had then, which was so very powerful that my eyes filled with tears. I was so proud and so very happy not only for her and her accomplishment, but for her parents and, by extension, her grandparents, my friends, Alicia and Edmundo.

The story of each of these families deserves a separate telling. They are the core weavers that I’ve been working with for almost four decades, each of whom has been a meaningful part of my life as well as providing the base for Starr Interiors’ collection of fine weavings. The weavers I started with, my oldest friends from building businesses together, are now much less active than they used to be, although still involved as I am. The second generation has now taken the active roles and the third generation is exploring completely new paths of their own. But the tradition of the village remains strong and vital with every generation participating in festivals and special events which are the life’s blood of the village. They maintain the traditions that go back thousands of years with honor and respect for their deepest meaning. Zapotec is a language that continues to be used. As they do all this, they are very much a part of the 21st century.

Edmundo Montaño at Ceremony  © John Lamkin
Edmundo Montaño at Ceremony
© John Lamkin

While we were there, we were privileged to attend a special ceremony at the church where Edmundo was honored as head of the new committee. In an ancient ceremony that passed the staff to the new person in charge of the governing committee, the meaning of governing was reaffirmed. The person chosen for this task was picked because of his ability to add to the guidance of the village in a caring way with complete dedication to his office. There is no pay involved. Those who are chosen for the committee which governs village matters for a period of several years, and especially the head of the committee who has received the ceremonial staff, take their responsibilities seriously and work for the common good of the entire village, including preserving the customs, traditions and many celebrations as well as working with the president of the municipality.

Women preparing Tejate   © John Lamkin
Women preparing Tejate
© John Lamkin
Zapotec Musicians at Ceremony  © John Lamkin
Zapotec Musicians at Ceremony © John Lamkin

Although it is men who traditionally take on this responsibility (for thousands of years the women have been taking on the responsibility of the home and children), the women have a strong presence in preparing the cauldrons of drink called tejate and the labor intensive preparation of tamales . All of them are dressed in their best embroidered huipiles (blouses) and traditional skirts, while the men wear their traditional straw sombreros. The bands that play the Zapotec music are an important part of any festival or ceremony. Most of them are weavers who are musicians as well. Music, like weaving, is an important part of the culture, also developed over thousands of years.

Ceremonies of this kind are held in the church, a structure built by the Spanish more than five hundred years ago on the remains of what originally was a Zapotec temple. Fortunately, some of the original work is still to be seen in the arches, on the walls, and on parts of the exposed foundation. The glyphs and geometric designs of their ancestors is a reminder to the people of the village of their heritage which they keep alive through their ongoing continuation of customs. For us, it is a glimpse into the wealth of that heritage.

Susanna Starr – owner of Starr Interiors, photographer, speaker, artist, writer, holds a degree in philosophy from Stony Brook State University of New York.  She lives in Northern New Mexico. Susanna is the author of the book: Fifty and Beyond: New Beginnings in Health and Well-Being published by Paloma Blanca Press and is a board member of the Travel Writers Association.

Master Zapotec Indian Weaving Demonstration – the Gutierrez Family

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

For the past several years, during the acclaimed Taos Wool Festival, Eloisa and Florentino Gutierrez and Hugo Gonzales Gutierrez have set up a weaving demonstration in the historic courtyard of Starr Interiors.

This year, they will be weaving from 12 Noon to 4 PM on October 6th and 7th, which is the weekend of the Wool Festival. It will be a great opportunity to meet the weavers, enjoy the Wool Festival and the beautiful early fall weather in Taos, New Mexico at the base of the Sangre de Cristo mountains.

Eloisa Gutierrez
Eloisa Gutierrez
photo: © John Lamkin

Starr Interiors has been handling an extensive collection of the work of Florentino Gutierrez for several decades and his hallmark palette of soft, intermediate tones of butter yellows, greens, rusts and salmons have pleased many clients who have chosen rugs and wall hangings. They range in size from small 2×3 sizes to large room size rugs as well as table and floor runners. There is also an array of his ever popular accompanying pillows.

In tune with the Remarkable Women of Taos, the gallery will present Eloisa’s contribution – a special collection of very fine, intricate 2’x3′ weavings. She is one of the earliest of women weavers in the village where, traditionally, they have not been working at looms. In this summer of Remarkable Women of Taos, we are pleased to include Eloisa and her fine work.

Hugo’s large “Tree of Life” weavings have been purchased for a number of collections. There are generally just one or two of these produced each year, since they are time consuming and difficult to make, and are much sought after. The complex pattern of birds and animals created in a vertical format make for a stunning wall hanging as well as a special and unique runner.

If you can’t be there in person for this event and taste some of the traditional Oaxacan hot chocolate that Eloisa prepares, please check out the website to see some of the new pieces they’ll be bringing. But if you’re entertaining the notion of a few days or more to spend “away,” please make sure you stop by on Saturday and/or Sunday for this special yearly event at Starr Interiors.

An April, 2011 Visit to Oaxaca and the Zapotec Weavers – New Developments in the Line of the Spirit™

text and photos by Susanna Starr

Back to the mountains of northern New Mexico just in time to experience what we hope is winter’s last fling. The snow is still on the mountain tops.

Laguna Bacalar from Casa Estrella de Bacalar's Terraza ©Susanna Starr
Laguna Bacalar from Casa Estrella de Bacalar's Terraza ©Susanna Starr

It’s wonderful being home again with family and friends, but the recent visit to Oaxaca on a buying trip is still imprinted on my memory. After spending four idyllic and very quiet months at our beautiful home, Casa Estrella de Bacalar, on Laguna Bacalar in the southernmost part of the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, it was a real change to be in the city of Oaxaca and especially, in the weaving village.

Casa de mis Recuerdos, Oaxaca MEXICO
Casa de mis Recuerdos, Oaxaca MEXICO ©Susanna Starr

Staying at Casa de mis Recuerdos with our hosts, Conchita and Moises was a delight. Many years ago they rented us the home in Oaxaca we loved so much and that we spent many happy months in over a period of many years. We’ve kept our friendship going all that time. Being with them is always special and the beauty that they’ve created at their Bed and Breakfast provides a delightful retreat from the bustle of the city while still in the heart of everything. Working out on the patio with Abi, our liaison of almost twenty years, gave us just the privacy and space to go over all our buying lists and be able to discuss our new weaving designs and share our mutual excitement.

As always, the highlight of our stay and, of course, our main purpose, is being with the weavers. This trip provided us with many new colors and designs and, most importantly, has launched a shift in our own designer collection, the Line of the Spirit™. Some years ago, we started a new “co-op” with the core weavers who had been working on the Line of the Spirit™ for almost twenty years.

Co-op Members - Oaxaca Mexico
Co-op Members - Oaxaca Mexico ©Susanna Starr

Now, we have cemented a new working relationship where they are taking complete responsibility for the production of this special collection and are making it official through a government sponsored program designed to help indigenous people become more self-sufficient. It is especially meaningful to the launching of Dux Tsunium, the Zapotec name chosen by the weavers in the co-op (in English: Our Thing).

Alta Gracia, Jazi & Abi -- Coop Meeting
Alta Gracia, Jazi & Abi -- Coop Meeting Oaxaca MEXICO ©Susanna Starr

The Line began with Richard Enzer working with the weavers, then both of us and finally just with me. So the pride that they have always taken will now be enhanced knowing that they now have the ultimate responsibility themselves. We discussed issues like the quality of the hand spun wool and everyone was in total agreement that it was the only kind that would be used. There was lots of laughter and obvious joy in launching the work of the “co-operativa.”

Jazi, Co-op Member Oaxaca MEXICO
Jazi, Co-op Member Oaxaca MEXICO ©Susanna Starr

We celebrated the new beginning with great plans for the future where the weavers will not only do the physical work of producing each piece on the loom, but securing the dyes and the yarn that result in the beauty and integrity of their work, going over each individual piece and taking the ultimate responsibility for creating something to be treasured by the ultimate owner of each piece signed with our trademark logo. Each person working on the project left with the gift of a living plant from our weaver, Alta Gracia’s, vivero (nursery) that will grow and prosper as they do.

So much more to be said about the trip, including wonderful comidas (meals) with the families who are some of my closest connections in Mexico. Being with their children and grandchildren keeps our connection strong. The teenagers are amazing, beautiful and talented with great plans for their futures. They seem to be outstanding students and several of the older ones have already gone on to study specific careers, anywhere from medicine to music.

Jovita - Co-op Member Oaxaca MEXICO
Jovita - Co-op Member Oaxaca MEXICO ©Susanna Starr

In the next post I will share with you some of the changes that are taking place in the village. And how it all has come about because of the magical circle, of producing these beautiful weavings, marketing them and ultimately of those unknown strangers who buy them, appreciating the unique expression of this art form as an enduring part of their home décor.

Line of the Spirit™  Rug on Co-op Loom
Line of the Spirit™ Rug on Co-op Loom ©Susanna Starr

Day of the Dead – Dias de los Muertos – Oaxaca, Mexico

Altar, Cemetery Chapel - Day of the Dead - Oaxaca State, Mexico
Susanna Starr placing photo on Altar, Cemetery Chapel - Day of the Dead - Oaxaca State, Mexico ©John Lamkin

The Day of the Dead celebration is marked by various rituals, including the American Halloween. But in Oaxaca this holiday, known as Los Dias de los Muertos, is something that goes far beyond trick or treating and children in costumes. It is not marked by carved pumpkins and children garnering as much candy as can fill their bags.

Rather, it is a holy holiday, one that marks the celebration of those who have passed away, death being part of life. Further, it is an honoring of those who once were part of their lives, a day of remembrance. It is a day infused with a feeling of spirit. Yes, there are parades, such as the large on in Mitla with all kinds of flamboyant costumes, and major decorations in the large cemeteries, but the most important acknowledgment of this holy holiday takes place at the individual altars in each home.

For the Zapotec people, the altar is the focal point in their home. All during the year, it is adorned with photos, some of Mary and Jesus, with candles, with vases of flowers and with other objects that have special meaning. But on these two days, November 1st and 2nd, the altars become more specific and elaborate. Now, particular flowers, including the deep red foxglove and the bright orange and yellow marigolds, symbolize this holiday. More photos are added of their loved ones who have passed on. There are plates of the special egg based bread that are in abundance in every market and more candles. Plates of nuts and fruit and specially prepared candies are there too, as well as a bottle of mescal, the traditional drink used to commemorate all special events

In the evening, most of the village walks to the cemetery at the church, as they have been doing for centuries. They carry flowers and candles, food and drink, and kneel at the graves of their loved ones, as well as visiting the graves of their departed friends. It is a sharing with the difunctos, as they are known in Spanish, this day when they feel those spirits have returned to be with them once again. The first day of Los Dias de los Muertos is dedicated to the memories of the children. It is the day when they return to their families one more time. The second day is for all the others, which ends with the pilgrimage to the cemetery.

Alta Gracia (Line of the Spirit dyemaker) at her Altar ©John Lamkin
Alta Gracia (Line of the Spirit™ dyemaker) at her Altar ©John Lamkin

In my almost 40 years of living and working with the weavers and other  Zapotec people of a small village outside of Oaxaca, I have always been reminded of whatever they do, whether it is celebrating a special holiday or simply being involved in an exchange of business, everything is infused with the spirit. Every home, rich or poor, has as the focal point of their home, a carefully tended altar. The weavings that may be piled up on the benches along the wall are also infused with this same sense of spirit. There is no separation. It is something that I think is worth remembering when we are involved in our own business transactions, that they are not apart from, but part of our everyday lives…..

Susanna Starr  October, 2010

Cemetery - Day of the Dead ©John Lamkin
Cemetery - Day of the Dead ©John Lamkin
Children's Altar - Day of the Dead  ©John Lamkin
Children's Altar - Day of the Dead ©John Lamkin
Day of the Dead Celebration - Oaxaca, Mexico - ©John Lamkin
Day of the Dead Celebration - Oaxaca, Mexico - ©John Lamkin