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.

Book signing & photo show a great success

 

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

The photo show and book signing were a great success. Many people attended and many bought books. More information about the book, “Our Interwoven Lives with the Zapotec Weavers: an Odyssey of the Heart” can be found on previous posts. If you’re in Taos, the book is for sale at the gallery.

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.

 

Arnulfo Mendoza

March 9, 2014

Arnulfo Mendoza
Arnulfo Mendoza

Today is the day they are burying Arnulfo Mendoza in the cemetery in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico. I won’t be there, but I know many people will be there to pay their last respects to one of the most well- known and loved sons of the Zapotec village known for its many talented weavers. If he had been one of the older weavers, it would be sad, but Arnulfo wasn’t one of them. He was only in his fifties and his prime of life. A talented weaver who brought the art of fine weaving up to a completely new level and a painter who created his own unique form of art, Arnulfo was known way beyond the boundaries of Oaxaca, Mexico. It was shocking to hear of his passing and he’ll be greatly mourned by his family, his son, his mother, his many sisters and brothers and their families as well as his many friends. His passing also will be a loss to the important Mexican art community as well as to all of us who knew and loved him.

I first met Arnulfo almost four decades ago when we were visiting with his father, master weaver don Emiliano Mendoza. We visited with their family often and our connection with them is one that I’ve always treasured. Gradually, we acquired weavings from don Emiliano and from Arnulfo, including fine tapestries based on his own original paintings. We remained friends for many years. He and his wife at the time, Mary Jane Gagnier, came to visit us at our home on Laguna Bacalar as well as in Taos, New Mexico and some years ago, Starr Interiors sponsored an exhibition of his work with Mary Jane doing one of her talks. It was a special occasion. We were also guests at their incredible wedding and there shortly after the arrival of their baby son, Gabriel.

It is with great sadness that I write this, something I could never envision doing. When we return to the village in early April, there will be no more visits with him, but he will certainly live on in my memory and in my heart as well as in those of my children, whose friend he was also…..we loved you, Arnulfo…….