Even thought this exhibit ran four years ago (Spring 2011) at the Museo Textile de Oaxaca, it was a splendid opportunity to see MTO’s superb collection of historical, refined, elaborate, colorful, and precious little shoulder and chest covering garments. Please, don’t call them ponchos! The quech-que-mitl (I’ve broken the Nahua word into syllables) is a garment unique only-to-Mexico and has been in production for easily over two thousand years. The story told is that quechquemitles were first observed historically in temple frescoes and ceramics of the ancient Olmec and Oaxacan cultures and later in codices.
Quechques in Codices
In pre-conquest times it was worn as an upper-body covering by the priestesses and high born women who had access to the most sumptuous textiles. After the conquest this garment became widely used in the indigenous communities who adapted it, embellished it with their sacred symbols and made it their own. Although currently it is seen in only a few communities of central Mexico – Nahuas, Mazahuas, Purepeche, Hustecos, it is thought to have been worn in most villages in central Mexico after the conquest and before the European peasant blouse became common. It was encouraged by the Spanish, so that women would be covered to enter the churches and their group identity could be recognized. It is one of the first garments worn exclusively by women along with the enredo (wrap around and tube skirt) which I will blog on later.
Pre-conquest garments were woven on the back-strap looms and the full web was used. A web could be woven in various widths and lengths specific for enredos (wrap skirts) quechquemitles (capelets) and manteles (large coverings). These webs were then joined together. To cut a hand woven cloth was to destroy its integrity or soul and spirit that went into its making. I managed to photograph the exhibit on several visits to Museo Textile de Oaxaca and following is a slide show of my favorites. In future posts, I will write about the two areas that I’ve explored that still use the quechquemitl: the Nahua of Cuetzalan, Puebla and the Mazahua of the State of Mexico.
The shortened pronunciation “Quech-que” is acceptable but don’t call it a poncho!! That’s a larger and more blanket-like garment.
Having recently lived in Oaxaca for 3 years plus many other visits over time, I’ve scouted out the BEST and highest quality Oaxacan textiles. The following shops are where I hang out and send my fellow textile junkies. Of course, there are LOTS of textiles EVERYWHERE in Oaxaca, but even if you aren’t a collector, it’s a good idea to educate your eye with the BEST. Honestly, you won’t find anything better than the textiles here! You’ll most likely be back to buy something as the textiles are that beautiful. I call the following stores —textile DANGER ZONES.
Baules de Juana Cata – Alcala 403 – entrance to ‘Los Danzantes Restuarant’ – inner courtyard to the right. Remigio Mestes’ store is chock full of the most gorgeous textiles in all Oaxaca. The last 15 years Remigio has been instrumental in revitalizing traditional back-strap weaving and natural dyeing, not to mention embroidery and use of finer base materials. He has encouraged over 200 artisans (see picture) to create the most refined and elegant textiles probably in all of Mexico. To talk to Remigio you have to have luck and timing as he’s often out of town visiting his artisans or out of the country or traveling searching for better base materials (silks & cottons) or setting up exhibits in places like Japan. If your timing is right the best time to catch him is around 7 pm in his shop. If you are seriously interested in seeing (and possibly buying) the VERY best he will be happy to pull things out of his ‘baules’ / trunks that will knock your socks off! He also has a very knowledgeable staff who look young but are very charming and capable of assisting you. He’s training the children of his artisans to be merchants and ambassadors of their traditional textile culture.
Museo Textile de Oaxaca – Hidalgo 917 corner of Fiallo – two block east of the Zocalo – The museum shop at Museo Textile de Oaxaca offers top quality textiles from Oaxaca and other parts of Mexico. GREAT stuff. The Museum itself has an outstanding collection of Mexican textiles but seeing it will depend on what is currently showing. You might get lucky and be there for the monthly 3-4 day sales/demonstrations by visiting regional artisans, which is a great opportunity to buy directly from the artists. Please check the following link to see what’s going on. The museum also offers short classes in indigo dyeing, back-strap loom weaving, embroidery and other things textile related. Current classes will be listed on the site too.
Arte Amuzgo – 5 da May #217B– one block down from Camino Real Convent Hotel on the right. Odilon Morales, represents his weavers coop from San Pedro Amuzgos,and indigenous villages near the coast of Oaxaca. (see a little sign painted on the wall outside of his shop of a weaver at her back strap loom). Odilon is another innovative organizer/promoter of traditional weavers who provides the high quality threads and encourages contemporary color combinations. His weavers produce refined sophisticated huipiles and blouses sought after by affluent Mexicans and foreign collectors. High quality textiles from other weaving groups in the Oaxacan coastal area available too. Both Odilon and Remigio have been participants in the prestigious Santa Fe International Folk Art Market – so my best images of them are from this event.
COMING SOON – PART II AND III – Textile Shopping in and around Oaxaca and Individual Artisan Shops….
Museum Shop – Museo Textile de Oaxaca
Shelves in shop -Museo Textile de Oaxaca
Remigio and his Oaxacan traditional textile artisans
Remigio at Folk Art Market in Santa Fe.
SuperFino Huave huipil – Remigio’s shop on Alcala
Odilion Morales at Maestro de Arte Fair in Chapala, Mexico
Amuzgo huipiles – Folk Art Market – Santa Fe, NM
Exceptional Amuzgo Huipiles- Folk Art Market Santa Fe, NM
Odilon finishing huipil.
Sergio Castro of San Cristobal, Chiapas has a world class collection of textiles (which I covered in a previous post). Many tourists and locals have experienced his lectures, learned about the different traditional Mayan groups living in the highlands of Chiapas and viewed the beautiful ‘trajes’ displayed at his museum.
An important short film El Andalon/The Healer (available free on-line for a short time) shows the life of this dedicated humanitarian and the work he does for the communities in the San Cristobal area. This is a truly inspiring story….and if you love Chiapas, one you will enjoy.
Please watch if you want to learn more about Sergio and how his Textile Collection and museum is part of his legacy and continuing humanitarian work.
The International Folk Art Market will be opening in Santa Fe, New Mexico on July 13th, 2012 with a previous week full of festivities, parties, concerts and related gallery openings. I’m looking forward to the arrival of Remigio Mestes, a friend from Oaxaca, who for the second year will be bringing the BEST textiles of Oaxaca to the market. Remigio works with about 250 artisans from remote Oaxacan communities, supporting their finest work, promoting the textile arts of Oaxaca and making sure the artist’s kids have the opportunity for higher education, by providing a home for them in Oaxaca City. It’s all part of his master plan for raising the level of Oaxaca’s textile artisans to the highest level of national textile ARTISTS. Remigio has been hard at work for at least 20 years making it happen and now has a store in Mexico City (see below), besides his Baules de Juana Cata store on Alcala street in Oaxaca (his flag ship) and a shop in San Miguel Allende. See my previous post Tres Colores – Indigo, Cochineal & Caracol an exhibit of Remigio’s artists’ work at the Museo Arte Popular in San Bartolo Coyotepec (near Oaxaca City) last year.
Last year two of his master weavers, Nicolasa Pascal Martinez from San Bartolo Yautepec and Luisa Jimenez, who is Trique from the Mixteca demonstrated weaving on their traditional back-strap looms. Many beautiful blouses, long huipiles, rebozos/shawls and quechquemitles (triangular caplettes) were offered of very fine weaves, ancient patterns and sumptuous colors. Included are images of garments brought last year as well as the Tres Colores exhibit. I suggest heading over to the Banamex booth, Remigio’s sponsors, EARLY for the best selection of Oaxacan textiles at the International Folk Art Market July 13 – 15th, Santa Fe, NM.
See Remigio in action in this slide show, at his store in Oaxaca and in the Mixe region with some of his weavers.
His new shop is called Los Baules at the Museo Textile de Oaxaca – near the Oaxaca Zocala and he has also opened a shop in Mexico City store at Isabella Catolica Street, 30-7 in the Centro Historico to broaden the knowledge of indigenous arts throughout Mexico.
So many ‘things happening’ before I left Mexico mid-May. First a ‘charla’ (chat) on quechquemitls at the Museo Textile de Oaxaca coinciding with their spectacular Quechquemitles Exhibit that month. Then the publications of the Arte de Mexico: Textiles Mazahuas article on the traje de Santa Rosa de Lima and the revival work of the Flores Silvestres. After that onto San Miguel Allende where I gave another talk on my Oaxacan and Chiapas textile adventures at Patrice Wynn’s Abrazos store. Whew! I almost forgot that Hand/Eye e-zine decided to publish my article on ‘Huipil of Oaxaca’ – the costume Frida Kahlo wore and made famous, the outfit of Tehuantepec/Juchitan. The most extravagant and dazzling traje of Oaxaca and possibly Mexico.
So if you happened to have missed that article I’m putting in a link here with a few more photos to fill out the story: http://handeyemagazine.com/content/huipiles-oaxaca
I’ve always been fascinated and awed by the elaborate Tehuana costumes as I frequently see them on the streets of Oaxaca in Calendas/ processions around the Santa Domingo church. Women in full regalia and sometimes men in traditional costumes parade elegantly down Alacala street often with a band. I think they are social groups originally from the Tehuantepec/Juchitan area but I haven’t really found out the real story. They love to dress up to say the least.
I had the honor of being invited to a wedding earlier this year and the brides family was from Juchitan. It was a huge affair held in the groom’s village of Santa Ana near Tlacolula in the Valle Central of Oaxaca. The wedding parties sat in their assigned sides of the huge airplane hanger-like event room. 700 people had shown up! But the groom’s side was all navy blue, beige and black while the brides side was a riot of color. It was like the documentary film on the Juchitan culture…”Blossoms on Fire”, a perfect description. Afterwards my friend said – “Oh those Juchitana’s are such SHOW-OFFS!” Well it was worth sitting through many wedding games and rituals just to get up-close and personal (BEST in the bathroom) with so many sumptuous textiles.
If you want to know a little more of the history of these elaborate outfits and the many embroidery techniques developed over the the years read the Hand/Eye article. Oaxaca’s Istmus of Tehuantepec was a transportation route for moving exotic goods from the Phiippines to Spain, so there were many outside influences on the women’s clothing in this area. Hand-Eye is a wonderful e-journal of world hand arts that publishes weekly stories on traditional artisan crafts and contemporary artists etc. Don’t miss it! You can subscribe, I think, for free. I’ll be writing more articles in the future
The latest issue of Artes de Mexico – Textiles Mazahua issue was published in May 2011 and the timing couldn’t have been more perfect. I was on my way back to the states, driving from Oaxaca to Santa Fe, NM and wanted to pass through the State of Mexico and visit my friends the Flores Silvestres Rescate Project. These gracious women had allowed me into their lives to document the processes in fabricating their elaborate costume. If you read back by to my first WordPress posts you’ll learn of my involvement with the Mazahua ladies of Santa Rosa de Lima, Estado de Mexico, how I wandered into their pueblo and ended up photographing and learning the many pasos (steps ) that go into the 8 lb skirt and the brilliant natural dyed quechquemitl (cape).
Now almost two years later my article : “Un traje en peligro de extincion” (a costume on the edge of extinction) has appeared in this beautiful journal covering not only textiles but other little known cultural aspects of the indigenous Mazahua. My excitement stemmed from being able to bring this issue to the home of the project coordinator, Regina Torres. She, in turn, invited many of the Flores members to have a look. We joked around about how famous their village would now be. The Artes de Mexico photographer Pablo Aguinaco had beautifully captured pictures of their Fiesta Patronal in August 2009. Regina had a full page picture in Gabriel Olmos’ article “Flores en el Asfalto – Fiestas mazahuas” (Asphalt Flowers – Mazahua Fiestas) and she was pleased. The women were pleased and I was pleased and we all had several big meals to celebrate. Lovingly, I was gifted with a beautiful cochineal dyed quechquemitl made especially grande for the tall gringa with long arms. (see slide show)
Cultural recognition has come very slowly to most of the Mexico’s indigenous. To actually be featured in the most prestigious Mexican cultural/art journal Artes de Mexico seems like a big deal to me, a visitor from el norte. But perhaps it is just another day-in-life occurrence to the Mazahua ladies, like grinding the blue corn that has been drying in the corner of the living room – or shearing the sheep, but perhaps a bit stranger.
Well I’d like to think I kept my word – that the ‘story’ of the many pasos (steps) that go into the making of their traje will now be known to many people in Mexico and the world. That their hard work and artistry will be acknowledged and that they can now be confident that ‘we’ think they are intelligent and resourceful women. To me there was no question of that.
If you live in Mexico, Artes de Mexico is available at most museum book shops for about $15US. In the U.S. you can try….. (working on finding a source – sorry!) Written in Spanish with English translations in the back (don’t worry). Known for its fabulous photograph, these journals of Mexican art and culture has been published since 1953 – (some are now out of print). Other Textiles issues include: Textiles de Oaxaca, and Textiles de Chiapas, and others textile related – China Poblana and La Tehuana (women of the Istmo).
Once upon a time in Oaxaca – during the early colonial times, the production of silk was one of the main cultivated products, along with cochineal dye, for export. In the area of the Mixteca, were most of the recorded villages of silk production are located, this persisted until trade with the Spanish colonies of the Philippines replaced it – and a local plague on the silk worms finished it off. But it never completely died in Oaxaca and while silk thread was still special and often reserved for the highest class levels of priests and caciques (chiefs), the humble people still wore silk fajas (belts) and silk symbols and patterns were sometimes woven into of their traditional garments.
When I learned there was a family reviving the cultivation of silk in the nearby rug weaving village of Teotitlan del Valle, the next thing I knew I had signed up for a a video documentary workshop coordinated by Norma Hawthorne’s organization- http://oaxacaculture.wordpress.com/. The teachers were Erica Rothman and Jim Haverkamp, both professional videographers from North Carolina and the Duke Center for Documentary Studies.
This endeavor was all with the idea of visually capturing the revival of silk production in Oaxaca.To say it was an intense 5 days, is an understatement, as it was my first time holding a video camera. My supreme luck was in having, as my partner, Pam Holland. a world class quilt maker and visual artists, so together we accomplished a 7 minute exploration (with a lot of editing help from Jim) telling the story of the ‘Revival of Silk’ by Arte Seda (Silk Art) the family business of the Reynoldo Sosa of Teotitlan del Valle.
This short documentary shows the process of creating a silk scarf, from the tending of the tiny silk worm eggs to the natural dyeing of the finished woven scarf…hopefully answering the initial question, “Why are these things so expensive?”
The Reynoldo Sosa family would be happy to have you visit their home and production place featured in this video. They are located on Av. Juarez # 4, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Tel: (01-951) 52 4 41 19