In a recent issue of American Craft magazine, a wonderful article cast a bright spotlight on the traditional crafts of the Mexican city of Oaxaca. Long established as a craft mecca, this southern valley city and its surrounding areas are absolutely pulsing with beautifully crafted, handmade wares. City streets are often lined with vendors selling everything from alebrije (fanciful carved and painted wooden creatures) and barro negro (black pottery with a pearly sheen) to floral embroidered traje to handwoven wool rugs and wall hangings. Many artists have joined forces to form craft cooperatives, including the decade-old Casa de las Artesanias de Oaxaca, a veritable treasure trove of work by 65 artists. With such an abundance of fine work available extraordinarily affordable prices, it’s no wonder that Oaxaca has become a celebrated craft destination.
It was therefore with great excitement and anticipation that I recently ventured south of the border for a nine day Oaxacan vacation. Between frequent indulgences in the region’s famous cuisine and hot afternoons spent either reading / napping or venturing out to neighboring ancient ruins, I did manage to take in quite a lot of the craft culture … and, frankly, there was simply too much to chronicle it all in great detail here. I would have to say, though, that one of the standouts of the entire trip was a visit to a traditional home weaving studio in the town of Teotitlán del Valle, located in the Sierra Juárez mountains, about 20 minutes from Oaxaca City. If you’d like to hear about that visit (and see some great photos), I suggest you keep reading.
Being a big fan of rather meticulous pre-vacation research and preparations, I found myself noodling around on YouTube before the trip, fueling my anticipation by watching nearly every video on Oaxaca I could click on. But then I stumbled upon a series of charming, deeply informative videos highlighting some of the key symbolism woven into the traditional Zapotec rugs. Amidst the kooky sound effects and unassuming presentation, I found myself absolutely riveted. Cycles of life? Cultivation of consciousness? Shamans? Yes, please. My husband and I were so fascinated with these videos that we ended up reaching out to their narrator, Samuel Bautista Lazo, by email–what did we do before the Internet, folks?–and soon had an invitation to visit his family’s home weaving studio.
And so it was on a very hot morning that we arrived at the lovely Dixza Rugs. Samuel’s mom Leonor and brother Celestino were kind enough to demonstrate each step of the process for us: grinding cochineal insects into a traditional and very luscious red dye; preparing the wool fiber and spinning it into thread; mapping out a design onto the threads on the loom; and finally working the dyed yarn through the loom to reveal the intricate designs. Leonor was generous enough to allow me to use her loom alongside her, laughing at both my very tall stature as compared to hers and my sheer incompetence at the craft. We were then welcomed into their new home gallery where we were shown a wealth of woven creations, from massive wall pieces to smaller rugs and bags … all of it was remarkably well executed, and all done using traditional techniques and natural materials. Could we leave without selecting something to bring home to remember our day? Of course not. You’ll see shots from the two beautiful weavings that we chose at the end of the photo mosaic below.
To see all of the images from our visit to Dixza Rugs just click here.