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Zapotec weavers and Oaxaca, Mexico - 40 years

By Susanna Starr

Front cover of the book "Our Interwoven Lives with the Zapotec Weavers" by Susanna Starr, photos by John Lamkin
Compliments of © Paloma Blanca Press
Juan Luis and family
© Paloma Blanca Press

In the early seventies, the traditional, somewhat isolated, weaving village outside of Oaxaca, Mexico was little known to the outside world, except for the intrepid traveler who made the effort to find it. At the time the village was relatively small, the roads unpaved, and services minimal. But the people had their weaving tradition and were producing pieces of high quality and originality. It was forty years ago, when I first visited the Teotitlan del Valle and fell in love with the weavings and the people. Little did I know how that visit would change my life.

High up in the mountains of south-central Mexico, Oaxaca is both the city and capitol of the state of the same name. Its history dates back more than five thousand years of continuous Zapotec culture. In spite of having been “discovered” by both visitors from other countries as well as from other parts of Mexico, the indigenous presence is still strong and thriving.

With a warm, pleasant but dry climate, Oaxaca is a center for various crafts, exemplified by its seven regions. Each of the regions has its own traditional dress which is still worn, especially for fiestas. The surrounding villages, too, are distinct, with specific crafts being done in many of them ranging from the beautiful black pottery in the taller (workshop) of Doña Rosa, to the popular greenware as well as some impressive figurative clay flower pots. Some of the villages, like Santa Domingo, are well known for their colorful and finely embroidered dresses and blouses, while other villages specialize in wood carvings or works of tin.

Most noticeable about a visit to this unique city is the sensory stimulation. Bright colors abound in markets and flowers are everywhere. Oaxacan cuisine has achieved much fame especially in the past decade and the rich aromas seem to permeate the air. Lately, too, many of the outdoor markets have gone beyond the traditional food and have come to include lighter fare and the many stalls featuring homemade desserts are virtually impossible to pass without buying several samples to take home. Freshly ground chocolate and coffee are to be found in many shops, especially around the market and the mouth watering aromas are hard to ignore. Always there seems to be music happening, from concerts in Zocalo (the main plaza) to performances of folklorico dances.

There are many museums including the fine textile museum housed in a recently renovated and impressive building as well as an assortment of art museums including that of noted Oaxaca artist, Rufino Tamayo. From the small, delightful Bed and Breakfast of Casa de mis Recuerdos downtown to the elegant colonial style hacienda that houses the boutique hotel of Los Laureles with its exquisite décor and extensive landscaping located just outside of the city in San Felipe del Agua, there is a wide range of accommodations with something for everyone.

There are more day trips to small and interesting Zapotec villages than can be listed (it’s nice to discover them on your own) as well as to the well known archeological sites of Mitla and Monte Alban, the latter built on the top of a mountain overlooking the entire valley of Oaxaca.

For many years, Zapotec weaving has taken its place among textile collectors as something of value and creativity. Along with the Navajo rugs of the Southwest in the U.S., these finely loomed Zapotec rugs trace their origins to the Spanish who brought the looms and the sheep to this continent more than 500 years ago. Since my first visit, I have acquired a major collection of fine Zapotec rugs, wall hangings and pillows to sell in my gallery, Starr Interiors, in the small art town of Taos in the mountains of northern New Mexico.

Now celebrating forty years of business and connection with the weaving village and its people, I have written my story along with a photographic accompaniment by my partner, John Lamkin. The book illustrates the strong personal connection of working with three generations of weaving families and the parallel journey shared. I feel that it illuminates the benefits of taking the road less traveled.

In this new mini-coffee table book, “Our Interwoven Lives with the Zapotec Weavers: An Odyssey of the Heart,” we introduce the reader not only to a group of weaving families in the village, but to intimate insights of a relationship that transcends business. We explore the changes that have taken place over the past forty years as well as see some of the cultural characteristics that make this area so very special.

IF YOU GO

There are direct flights from Houston Texas, USA to Oaxaca, Mexico on United

Tourism Oaxaca City, Oaxaca

Oaxaca Tourism

Mexico Tourism

Where to stay in style

Casa de mis Recuerdos

Hacienda Los Laureles

Mexico Boutique Hotels

Casa de Adobe

The Book

Our Interwoven Lives with the Zapotec Weavers

More of Susanna Starr’s work can be found at SusannaStarr.com