Tapestry of Life: The Ancient Art of Zapotec Weavers in New Mexico

In Taos, New Mexico, Noreen Kompanik visited Susanna Starr, founder of Starr Interiors, for insights into the art and history of the Zapotec weavers. Crochet Getaway welcomes Noreen as a returning contributor.

Magnificent Taos, New Mexico, is known as a mecca for artists and visionaries. From native pottery created from the earth’s elements to eclectic, more modern works, art has always been a part of Taos’ unique culture.

Susanna Starr and the Zapotec Weavers Indian Arts

For 45 years, Susanna Starr has been an integral part of the Taos’ artist scene. Her shop, Starr Interiors, carries the largest collection of high-quality, hand-loomed 100% wool Zapotec Indian rugs, wall hangings, and pillows found anywhere in the world.

Zapotck Weavers methodology at the loom

Susanna’s fascination with the Zapotec culture began in the early 1970s when she and her photographer husband, John Lamkin, navigated the dirt roads of Oaxaca in south-central Mexico. Here, they happened upon the remote village of Teotitlan, high in the mountains.

Starr felt an immediate connection to the friendly villagers and their magnificent hand-woven quality products.

“The heartbeat of Oaxaca is reflected through its indigenous people, the Zapotec Indians,” said Susanna. She and John were so taken with her experiences that Susanna’s words and John’s photos created a spectacular book. It is titled “Our Interwoven Lives with the Zapotec Weavers: An Odyssey of the Heart.” which is available through Amazon.

The Zapotecs, or “cloud people” as they’re often called, inhabited the valley of Oaxaca and built great ancient cities. However, one of their lasting cultural achievements includes their one-of-a-kind weaving traditions. So taken by these ethnic weavings, Susanna began bringing these masterpieces back to the U.S. with her. She introduced them to not only Taos but to the world.

For the last 45 years, she has worked with families of Zapotec Indian weavers who reside in the place where this culture-based art has flourished for over 5,000 years. Weavers here use only hand-carded, hand-spun wool, carefully selected for their quality.

The Zapotec Weavers Color Processes

Colors are mixed by hand in a time-honored manner using natural elements or their own organic dyes. From woolen skeins of varied colors, double harness or flat looms produce immensely tight, completely reversible heirlooms. These stunning and enduring pieces of art maintain their shape, color, and quality over time.

Natural colors for the wool dyes include marigolds for orange and yellow, lichen for greens, pecan shells and bark for brown, and mesquite for black. Traditional designs are based on pre-Hispanic geometric patterns seen at ancient Zapotec archaeological sites and ruins.

Starr Interiors

Leah Sobol, director of sales for Starr Interiors, has worked with her friend Susanna for over 18 years. Her love of weaving as an art form is apparent in her enthusiasm and pride for Starr Interiors’ “Line of the Spirit” collection. This collection blends design elements from world ethnic and tribal cultures—particularly the Zapotec people. The rugs, wall hangings, and pillows are so exquisitely handcrafted that Leah says famous customers like Sting, Paul Simon, and Diana Ross own these collections.

Leah’s mother was a custom knitter, and as a child, Leah learned the techniques of weaving. On their colorful, flower, and fountain-filled outdoor patio, Leah provided a demonstration of weaving on a flat loom. Unbelievably, she explained that even with all their experience, it could take the Oaxacan artisans three to four months or more to complete just one 4-foot-by-6-foot rug from dying the wool to its finish on the loom.

After hearing the story of how Susanna Starr’s gallery came to be and her tales about her and John’s time with the Zapotecan families, a quote came to mind by Author Anita Morjanni. She says “In the tapestry of life, we’re all connected. Each one of us is a gift to those around us helping each other be who we are, weaving a perfect picture together.”

More articles about weaving:

A Stroka Gene Us Alpaca: Farm Tour and Festival

Spinning Wheels and Navajo Weavers

Who Are the Zapotec Indian Weavers?

The Zapotec Indians are native people of Mexico who have a long history of weaving and other fiber arts. They arrived in New Mexico during a migration period. These “cloud people” have been woven into the state’s culture ever since.

The Zapotec people are known for their beautiful hand-woven rugs and blankets, often made with colorful wool and intricate designs. The highly skilled weavers also make baskets, pottery, and other items from various materials. Their weaving traditions are an important part of their culture, and they have passed these down from generation to generation.

The Zapotecs have a rich culture that includes many other art forms besides weaving. Their pottery, for instance, is also highly regarded. And their traditional music and dance are an important part of their heritage.

If you’re ever in New Mexico, look for some of the beautiful Zapotec Indian weavings. They are truly a work of art.

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