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Zapoteca Art - Oaxaca Textiles combined in Furniture


I recently went to a furniture show in Guadelajara and met Samuel Contreras Vicente who was exhibiting rugs, table runners, and other examples of artistic handcrafted products made by his family.  Samuel has a large, family, 10 brothers and sisters, and he showed me the process of how they make everything by hand, I saw the quality of his families' products, and asked him if he could make some custom sized ones for my wine cabinets.  We are now working on setting up the logistics of this, but I am convinced there will be a market for his products on my furniture, and I also think, from the little research I have done, that i could also assist his family find a more direct route to the American market for their rugs.  Perhaps I will become a rug  merchant one of these days.  Oh, how we used to look down on the rug merchants when we went to the  High Point furniture market.  I don't know why we looked down on them, but it was considered the thing to do.

We will have to revise our Weltanshang.  Herein below is a little history of the Zapoteca Civilization and the art of rug making.  I have had a fairly high interest in Mayan and antecedant cultures, ever since my 120mile hike in the Guatemalan jungles to El Mirador, La Danta, and Nakbe, meeting Richard Handsen, who discovered some of these ruins 35 years ago, about 50 miles from the nearest road, at Nakbe.  Since then, my trip to Choquequirau of 9 days and 100 miles in Peru, has just served to continue to heighten my interest in somehow combining these cultural expressions with my furniture.  I am now much closer to this goal.

Zapoteca Art – Rugs and other textiles

History The Zapotec were the largest indian group of Oaxaca, from 800 BC to 1600 AC.The early Zapotecs were a sedentary, agricultural city-dwelling people who worshipped a pantheon of gods headed by Cocijo the rain god, represented by a fertility symbol combining the earth-jaguar and sky serpent symbols common in middle-american cultures.

They had no traditions or legends of migration, but believed themselves to have been born directly from rocks, trees, and jaguars. A priestly hierarchy regulated religious rites, which sometimes included human sacrifice. The Zapotecs worshipped their ancestors, and believing in a paradisiacal underworld, stressed the cult of the dead. In art, architecture, hieroglyphics, mathematics, and calendar the Zapotecs seem to have had cultural affinities with the Olmec (ancient Maya), and later with the Toltec. By 200 B.C. the Zapotecs were using the bar and dot system of numerals used by the Maya.

The Mixtecs, from the north, replaced the Zapotecs at Monte Alban and then later at Mitla. Though the Zapotecs captured Tehuantepec from the Zoquean and Huavean Indians of the Gulf of Tehunatepec, by the middle of the 15th century both the Zapotecs and Mixtecs were struggling to keep the Aztecs from gaining control of the trade routes to Chiapas and Guatemala. Under their greatest king, Cosijoeza, the Zapotecs withstood a long siege on the rocky mountain of Guiengola, overlooking Tehuantepec.

The arrival of the Spanish in 1521 changed forever the traditional rivalries in the Valley of Oaxaca. With the Spanish Conquest, Hernan Cortez even took his title from the name of the Valley, becoming marquis of the Valley of Oaxaca. Today, most of the 300,00 Zapotecs are Catholic, and live either in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec or the mountain village communities of the Oaxaca Valley.

The weaving tradition in Teotitlan del Valle goes back to pre-Hispanic times. Teotitlan even had to pay tribute to the Aztecs in the form of cloth. In Zapoteco Teotitlan del Valle is called Xiguie’e, which means Magical Place. Zapotec culture dominates life in Teotitlan. Zapoteco is the primary language and Zapotec customs are conserved.

Today, in the mercado de artesanias in the center of the village, the full variety of tapetes and sarapes are on display.

Rug Making Process

Preparing the wool - The people of the region shear the sheep. After the wool is collected and washed, they remove all the thorns, weeds, etc. They then comb the wool using wooden combs. After that, the wool is spun into yarn using a wooden spinning wheel. The family pours water and natural dye into big pottery pots over fires. Then, 8 or ten skeins of yard are added to each pot. The dyes are all made naturally from fruits, wild plants and insect.



Red: the cochineal insect that lives on cactus

Green: Alfalfa Juice

Yellow: Pomegranate

Brown: shells of nuts

Pink: bougainvillea flowers.


Then, Lemon (acid) and salt (fixer) are added. The pots are covered and left to boil for one hour so that the yarn absorbs the dye. The skeins of yarn are then removed from the pots and left in the sun to dry.

After the skeins dry, they are washed with soap and water so that the unabsorbed dye is removed. At this point, the yarn will not fade or shrink further.

The Weaving Process – The dyed wool in different colors is then woven on hand looms. The time it takes to weave a rug is determined by the size of the rug and the complexity of the design or pattern. A small rug with a simple design and is 2’x3” takes about one week to weave. The finished rug is pre-washed and color fast. It can be washed later by hand, shampooed or dry cleaned.

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