Oaxacan Weaver Showcases Art

Feb 5, 2014 by Merrily Shinyeda

Puerto Peñasco continues to evolve from a sleepy fishing village that once attracted only students on spring break and Arizona families escaping for the weekend, to a popular resort destination for U.S. and Mexican vacationers. Luxury condominium complexes, improved roads and the recent remodeling of the Old Port have changed the face of Peñasco while the announcement that a cruise ship terminal is to be built is sure to have a profound effect on the future of this little town.

Photos by Peter Shinyeda

The evolution of Puerto Peñasco has not gone unnoticed.  Along with the appearance of big box stores, franchises and chain restaurants, artists are making the pilgrimage from places as far away as Oaxaca. Sensing new opportunities to showcase and sell their handicrafts and art, they are introducing Peñasco’s visitors to the unique culture of Mexico.

This is a bonus for those of us who have been coming to Puerto Peñasco for years and will help the town attract new visitors who want to experience Mexico and all that Peñasco has to offer.

One of these pilgrims is Julio Domingo Martinez Quiñones, a seventh generation Zapoteco weaver from the village of Teotitlan del Valle. His village, nestled just 20 miles from the city of Oaxaca, is considered the epicenter of traditional hand woven textiles, and recognized world-wide for the colorful wool rugs produced there. Teotitlan weavers take great pride in their craft and pass centuries-old techniques on to generation after generation.  As beautiful as they are high quality, every rug is unique, and the symbols and patterns woven into each rug preserve the heritage of the Zapoteco people.

Like his father before him, Julio began weaving at a young age. There are many steps that must be performed before weaving begins. Wool must be washed, cleaned and left to dry. It must then be combed to align the fibers before it can be spun into yarn and dyed.

Yarn is dyed in the traditional way with colors concocted from a large variety of plant, animal and mineral sources. Colors are obtained from indigo plants, marigold petals, pomegranate zest, moss, lichens, pecan and seed pods. Murex snails from Oaxaca’s Pacific coast produce purple, while the cochineal bug produces scarlet. Ingredients are mixed to obtain variations in color and shade and exact measurements must be remembered in order to recreate specific dye colors in the future. Once the dyed yarn is dry, it is wound onto bobbins.

As a child of five, Julio’s first task was to card yarn. By the time he was seven, he began weaving. It wasn’t until he reached the age of eighteen that he started dying yarn. Obtaining desirable colors requires an artistic eye, exacting measurements and timing. The process is time-consuming and the ingredients are expensive. The most costly materials are añil (indigo) and cochineal, once so highly valued that export was forbidden. Today, the murex sea snail is at risk of extinction and is carefully guarded.

Weaving a rug using a foot loom and any number of coils containing colored yarn may take Julio days or weeks, depending on the size and complexity of the design. Julio’s 8 year-old son, Efven, helps by working with the yarn and his 14 year-old daughter, Jessita, has begun weaving.  Each year he makes the pilgrimage to Puerto Peñasco from his home in Teotitlan del Valle bringing with him the most fabulous hand woven rugs that he displays in his booth just a half block from the fish market in the Old Port. You can watch Julio at work and see his fabulous hand woven rugs displayed in his booth, February through May. He is happy to talk to you about the process of dying and weaving and the art that has supported his family for generations.

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