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.

Previous Image
Next Image

info heading

info content

 

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.

 

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…….

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.

 

 

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.

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

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.

Remembering Richard Enzer

Remembering Richard Enzer – Part 1

by Susanna Starr

Richard Enzer in Zapotec Weaving Village
Richard Enzer in Zapotec Weaving Village

Everyone has moments in their lives that seem inconsequential at the time but, in retrospect, we can recognize the impact of that chance meeting or conversation.

It was an outdoor party held at Ellie’s house, just down the road from where I lived in the small valley of Valdez, just outside of Taos, New Mexico, that Richard Enzer rode into my life. I had been stumbling around in the woods, trying to get back to where most of the people were gathered in the open area around the house, unable to find my way through the dense vegetation. I was beginning to feel panicky.

At the moment I started to emerge into the warm sunlight, Richard got down from the horse he had been riding and, seeing my face, strode over and opened his arms to hold me. There were no words exchanged, just the comfort and security offered in that reassuring embrace, one person to another. For me, it was a defining moment and despite the various experiences we shared in the ensuing years, that gesture of kindness and recognition remained.

We each wandered off in different directions then at the party and during the following years. Living in a small town, I heard about him from time to time but it wasn’t until a number of years later that he reappeared in my life.

My partner and I had spent more than a dozen years building a business that involved our active participation in a small Zapotec Indian weaving village located in the mountains just outside of Oaxaca, Mexico. As the years passed, our business grew as did that of the people we worked with. We worked seven days a week and spent several months in Mexico every winter working with the weavers and building what developed into a small eco resort and retreat center in another part of the country, the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico.

During the years of the 1980’s, we were buying large quantities of beautiful hand-loomed rugs and wall hangings, carefully selecting each piece. We were receiving shipments regularly and had our own “bodega” or storage area. Here our extra inventory was carefully stacked and laid out. Shipments that were received at the shop were taken there to be unpacked, examined and admired again before putting them in their proper places.

It was on one of these occasions that we were unpacking a shipment, that we realized the rugs were not familiar to us. They were stunningly beautiful in deep rich tones of complex designs. It didn’t take us long to realize that they were Richard’s rugs that had been sent to us by mistake.

Although we hadn’t been in touch with him, we knew that Richard had been working in the same weaving village that we were, after a long absence from Taos, and designing his own rugs there. With the help of noted weaver and colorist, Rachel Brown of Taos, New Mexico, he developed a palette of deep, rich colors more reminiscent of fine oriental rugs than the colors and designs being used in the small Zapotec Indian village.

His experience working with the New York rug gallery, the Gordian Knot, expanded his design horizons with oriental design elements included in his own collection of Southwestern designs, which he called the Line of the Spirit. We hadn’t ever seen any of his collection but it was clear as we unfolded the pieces that day in our bodega, that Richard had gone far beyond anything being produced in the village and, with good reason, we were very impressed.

Tracking him down wasn’t difficult and we sent the shipment on to him. Not long after, he suggested that we look once again at some of his pieces with the idea of our purchasing them. We did and found it a perfect addition to our own fine collection at what was then known as La Unica Cosa (the only thing), now Starr Interiors. We loved the rugs and our customers responded to our enthusiasm and were soon buying from Richard on a regular basis.

It wasn’t very long afterward that Richard showed up at the shop one day with his art director from the village to lay out a proposition. What came of that discussion was the beginning of my long involvement with the Line of the Spirit, which continues to this day.