Book signing and photography show at Starr Interiors
June 21, 2014
5 – 7 PM
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
“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
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.]
“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 TransformativeMagic 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.
June — It’s finally summer and our historic courtyard is abloom with flowers to augment the bird and fish weavings we’re featuring for June. It all looks so very bright and cheerful after the winter cold. The birds are happy, too!
In celebration of spring in Taos, New Mexico, Starr Interiors is featuring Pre-Columbian images from one of its finest collections of weavings. Starting back in the seventies, we acquired what has to be the most extensive collection under one roof of the work of Isaac Vasquez, internationally renowned Zapotec Indian Master Weaver.
This feature piece of the Serpent and the Jaguar was done by him shortly before he appeared at Starr Interiors some years ago where we held an exposition of his work. It was and continues to be an honor to show the work of this famed weaver. The pieces being shown this month encompass images from various Zapotec codices including the Borgia, Dresden and the Nuttal codices. Their intricacy and detail go far beyond what most people associate with Zapotec weavings. These represent an art form at its finest and we are delighted for the opportunity to present this show.
Meeting don Isaac so many years ago was the beginning of a long relationship and we are extremely proud to be able to represent this outstanding collection that has spanned decades. Along with the late don Emiliano Mendoza, these two men produced some of the finest art weavings their village has ever known.
Included in this show are Vasquez, Mendoza and several other outstanding Zapotec weavers.
PRIVATE COLLECTION OF PRE-COLUMBIAN DESIGN TAPESTRIES BY MASTER ZAPOTEC WEAVERS NOW FOR SALE!
We are now offering for sale our museum quality private collection of these weavings. There are about fifty pieces in this collection and we will sell them as a group or individually.
According to Susanna Starr, Starr Interiors owner,
“This amazing collection of some of the finest weavings to have ever been produced in the Zapotec Indian village of Teotitlan del Valle is now being offered for sale, either as a complete collection or by the individual piece. They were produced in the late nineteen sixties and early nineteen seventies by three master weavings.
Emiliano Mendoza, who passed away in 1990, wove some of the finest interpretations of images from various ancient codices, primarily the Borgia codex. The complexity of each piece and the perfection of their execution reflects the pride and dedication of this important weaver and outstanding human being, honored in his village as Mayordomo.
His son, Arnulfo, a master weaver in his own right, worked with his father to produce what could be deemed the most valuable piece ever to have come out of the village. Measuring 9’4”x9’4”, this piece is done in angora wool, in the finest detail possible on a loom. It is the Ritual Sequence from the Borgia Codex. His own weavings from the seventies are taken from his original paintings in his own distinct style, but done with the same amazing attention to each detail.
Isaac Vasquez, another acknowledged master weaver is also represented in this collection. Now in his eighties, he is not weaving much any more. His work, however, appears in many collections and has received recognition for many decades both in the United States and Mexico.
I started collecting these weavings individually over a period of about ten years during the nineteen eighties knowing, even at that time, that they would never be done again. They were never woven for the mass market but, rather, as an artistic expression of the individual master weavers, being sold to collectors who could appreciate their intrinsic value.
The many pieces of the Mendoza family were acquired gradually and I remember vividly purchasing the original images of Arnulfo’s paintings that he had given to his father, don Emiliano, who decided to sell them to us under very emotional circumstances. He obviously was very proud of them and they were especially meaningful to him.
Now the time has come to divest myself of this amazing collection and, for the first time, offer them for sale as a complete collection or on an individual basis. They are a treasure, as they tell the story of ancient cultures of the Americas before the arrival of the Spanish. The codices that inspired these weavings are the only ones to have survived the Spanish conquest, the others being burned. To have them interpreted in these amazing textiles has been a labor of love, probably never to be duplicated individually and, definitely not, as a complete collection.
The Zapotec Indian culture goes back many thousands of years. Many of the temples that they built are still standing, the most notable, Monte Alban in Oaxaca. They have produced enduring work in metal and stone, gold and silver, and jade. These tapestries represent a continuation of recorded art in fiber.”
An example of this fine work was done by the late Emiliano Mendoza and his son Arnulfo. The piece, woven in alpaca wool, took a few years to complete.
You can contact us at sales@Starr-Interiors.com for more information.
It’s spring here in Taos, New Mexico and viewing this outstanding collection would be an excellent excuse for a trip here.
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.
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.
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.
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.
For the past several years, during the acclaimed Taos Wool Festival, Eloisa and Florentino Gutierrez and Hugo Gonzales Gutierrez have set up a weaving demonstration in the historic courtyard of Starr Interiors.
This year, they will be weaving from 12 Noon to 4 PM on October 6th and 7th, which is the weekend of the Wool Festival. It will be a great opportunity to meet the weavers, enjoy the Wool Festival and the beautiful early fall weather in Taos, New Mexico at the base of the Sangre de Cristo mountains.
Starr Interiors has been handling an extensive collection of the work of Florentino Gutierrez for several decades and his hallmark palette of soft, intermediate tones of butter yellows, greens, rusts and salmons have pleased many clients who have chosen rugs and wall hangings. They range in size from small 2×3 sizes to large room size rugs as well as table and floor runners. There is also an array of his ever popular accompanying pillows.
In tune with the Remarkable Women of Taos, the gallery will present Eloisa’s contribution – a special collection of very fine, intricate 2’x3′ weavings. She is one of the earliest of women weavers in the village where, traditionally, they have not been working at looms. In this summer of Remarkable Women of Taos, we are pleased to include Eloisa and her fine work.
Hugo’s large “Tree of Life” weavings have been purchased for a number of collections. There are generally just one or two of these produced each year, since they are time consuming and difficult to make, and are much sought after. The complex pattern of birds and animals created in a vertical format make for a stunning wall hanging as well as a special and unique runner.
If you can’t be there in person for this event and taste some of the traditional Oaxacan hot chocolate that Eloisa prepares, please check out the website to see some of the new pieces they’ll be bringing. But if you’re entertaining the notion of a few days or more to spend “away,” please make sure you stop by on Saturday and/or Sunday for this special yearly event at Starr Interiors.