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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Remembering Richard Enzer – Final Part

Remembering Richard Enzer – Part 3 – Final

by Susanna Starr

Read Part 1 Read Part 2

The following year, our work schedule together with Richard continued and now he was living in another house with much more room, while we continued living in the house that would be our Oaxaca home for many more years. There were still parties and art openings and dinners out at places like El Sol y La Luna which was a restaurant that featured local musicians as well as art exhibits on the adobe walls. Food was served in the indoor covered patio and being with Richard meant being with lots of people. He always seemed to have the aura of a rock star” and the years we spent together always seemed filled with ongoing adventure. Completely devoted to the work of the Line of the Spirit, being in the city was another thing and the circle of friends that we were constantly involved with was always a colorful one.

Richard Enzer & Susanna Starr in Starr Interior's Courtyard, Taos, New Mexico
Richard Enzer & Susanna Starr in Starr Interior's Courtyard, Taos, New Mexico

It was during these years that we formed the lasting friendship with Mitzi Linn who was Richard’s “spiritual adviser.” It was also then that we were introduced to Domenico and his friend, both of them fairly recently arrived from Italy. They cooked fabulous pasta dinners at Richard’s house, a prelude to the restaurants that Domenico would own and operate after he married a local Oaxaca girl, as beautiful as he was handsome. Domenico is now the owner of Pizza Rustica, a wonderful and well known restaurant housed in one of the old converted Oaxaca mansions.

Miriam got married to an architect that she met through the Line of the Spirit and left to raise a family. Abi took her place and I work with her still. She is my very close friend. Although Sergio moved on, we now have another art director who was just a child when we began working together with Richard. Jace is Alta Gracia’s son, which makes it very convenient since he’s working directly with his mother, our extraordinary dye-maker. He and his family are all still very involved in producing special pieces for the Line of the Spirit and Alta’s gardens are as magnificent as the colors she produces for the yarns that hang out to dry in the strong Mexican sunlight.

About five years ago we decided to change the name of our gallery from La Unica Cosa which we had for about thirty years, to our new name of Starr Interiors. We had a party to celebrate and much to my surprise and great pleasure Richard came. I cried, stirred by an emotion I didn’t know I had. He had been sick, I knew, and had survived a kidney transplant. He looked older, but so did I. I flashed back to one of the first openings we had for the Line of the Spirit shortly after we formed our partnership. Richard bought me a very special huipil from one of the seven regions of Oaxaca which I wore to that opening. It had been a number of years since we had seen each other, with Richard moving onto the Romanian project after our partnership ended, and my continuing with the Oaxaca project. It was emotional for both of us and his smile was a reminder of many times we had working together in those early years of the nineteen nineties.

I think, too, of the time when the telephone rang one evening and it was Richard. I knew immediately from his voice that something had happened but wasn’t prepared for the news that his son, Michael, had just been killed in a motorcycle accident. Michael was spending time with his Dad in Oaxaca and it was Richard’s hope that his involvement would continue. But that was not to be. It was a devastation that only a parent could know. Unfortunately, I knew from firsthand experience, having lost my own son, when he was younger than Michael, a number of years earlier.

Now Richard, too, is gone, having passed away last year. Hard living took a toll, I’m sure, but it was the kind of life he chose and I think he enjoyed it “to the max.” There were difficult moments but they always passed and whatever happened that appeared disruptive was always resolved. But his genius lives on in the continuation and flourishing of the Line of the Spirit. Shortly after we became partners, I recognized the need for a trademark which remains the identification for this stunning body of work. Although I have gone on to introduce some designs and colors of my own, the collection still retains his initial vision.

Alta continues to do her magic with making the colors. Abi continues to keep everything together in Oaxaca, Jace continues to visit each weaver on the project and supply them with the material they need to complete their individual pieces and the fine staff at Starr Interiors continues to present the Line of the Spirit collection in the three rooms that house the collection. We continue to use the hand-carded, hand- spun wools prepared on a drop spindle at a remote Zapotec Indian village high up in the mountains. How can I mention that village without mentioning their other claim to fame, the making of mescal in home-made stills. Which brings up the memories of going there with Richard to buy wool and sampling each of the offerings of special mescal from the various houses in that little village. What an adventure! That, too, is part of remembering Richard.

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


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Nomadic - Line of the Spirit collection
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