From July 13-15, the Vasquez family will be attending the International Folk Art Market in Santa Fe, New Mexico, for the sixth time. Don Isáac, his children, and now even some of his grandchildren, are part of a noted weaving dynasty from Teotitlán del Valle, Mexico.
Don Isáac, the patriarch of the family, is recognized for reintroducing pre-Hispanic Zapotec and Mixtec natural dyes and the use of pure wool. Four important dyes used in the Vasquez atelier include cochineal for red, indigo for blue, moss for yellows and acacia pods for black — though their color vocabulary goes much deeper, and encompasses both foraged and farmed dyestuffs. Don Isáac’s exploration of natural color came about as a result of his decades-long collaboration with internationally renowned artist Rufino Tamayo. Born in Oaxaca, Tamayo was a classically trained artist and teacher who returned to his birthplace in search of a sense of authenticity in all aspects of his work. Don Isáac wove tapestries designed by Tamayo, and together they explored ideas around ancient motifs and methods. In a town where synthetic dyes had all but eliminated natural dye knowledge, Don Isáac’s work laid the ground for a revival of natural dyes. His work with cochineal, a red dye made from the bodies of a scale insect which feeds on nopal cactus, is particularly vivid and beautiful. Using various dye modifiers like lemon juice, the Vasquez family coaxes everything from hot pink to burgundy out of the carminic acid in the dye.
The wool for Isaac’s carpets is sourced locally and spun, often in the family workshop by his daughter Guadalupe, using a hand-powered wheel. Recognized for signature patterns inspired by carvings found in Zapotec ruins, Don Isáac also weaves a broad range of designs from prehsitoric cave drawings, reproductions of Diego Rivera paintings, and original and dazzling geometric patterns.
Don Isáac’s youngest son Jeronimo is both a medical doctor and weaver. Jeronimo’s designs are inspired by Pre-Colombian motifs. The first step in creating a design, Jeronimo explains, is to draw a pattern on paper, which is then placed behind the warp of a rug as a guide. This is tyically done with more complex geometric patterns because the designs are more mathematical and easier to follow with a template. Instead of using less expensive materials such as chemical dyes or acrylic fiber, Jeronimo explains that it’s important to replicate the same nontoxic and organic dyes as used by his ancestors to keep the vibrant integrity of the colors in the the wool, but to also avoid contaminating the environment. Jeronimo’s son Wilner is part of the family business, and will be in Santa Fe this summer with his father and grandfather.
To see Don Isáac and Jeronimo working at their looms, please view a segment from PBS’s brilliant Craft in America episode about culture flowing back and forth across the US-Mexican border:
For more information about the International Folk Art Market visit https://www.folkartmarket.org. The 15th annual International Folk Art Market Santa Fe takes place July 13-15, 2018, on Museum Hill, situated about a mile from the town’s center.