Rooted in place




Santa Fe New Mexican

Rooted In Place

Artistic traditions are like trees that put down deep roots, drawing sustenance from a region’s unique geography, flora and fauna, and stories, songs and histories. A tree is shaped by the elements that nourish it, and as new elements are introduced, the tree branches out in new directions. The artists at IFAM are deeply rooted in regional traditions. Often, the styles they produce have evolved over centuries, embodying the character of their homelands and deep connections to the environment. The art evolves as new elements are introduced, whether that be new materials or new markets. When artists are displaced, they plant their art like seedlings in their new homes, where they can take root and flourish. Carlos Amador Lopez Bringas Academia de Rebozo Mexiquense Tenancingo, Mexico “This started with a love story,” said Carlos Amador Lopez Bringas. “In 1908 my great-grandfather started the rebozo workshop, with the main objective of having a job so he could marry my great-grandmother.” Lopez Bringas learned to weave from his father, using the colonial treadle looms, tools and techniques passed down from his great-grandfather. “It is an honor for me, and it is a great responsibility, to give the looms the proper use, because they have been working for more than 100 years. They are my cultural heritage,” Lopez Bringas said. “Now I dedicated myself to preserve and promote this craft.” Lopez Bringas founded Rebozo Mexiquense Academy in 2019 to rescue the craft of rebozo making and to provide job opportunities for community members. “Today the new generations do not know anything about this craft that represents Mexico’s history and culture around the world,” Lopez Bringas said. “We offer work to young people and older adults as well as innovating in different ways of using the rebozo, looking for new markets and for this business to be profitable for everyone.” The academy employs 23 people, including many single mothers, and creates indirect employment for 230 people. In the workshop, rebozos are woven from very fine cotton tinted with natural dyes made from native flora. The tips of rebozos are tied with thousands of knots — each made by hand — that combine to form flowers, birds and even names of special people and places. The artisans also make scented rebozos, one of the most traditional styles in Tenancingo, using herbs and plants harvested in the mountains. But Lopez Bringas and his family have also introduced innovative rebozos that appeal to fresh markets, made with new colors and with vegan nopal leather. For Lopez Bringas, carrying on this art form “has a sentimental and family value, because I would not feel good about letting our tradition die that my greatgrandfather started and my family has maintained with a lot of love and work.” Pachan Premjibhai Siju Three Threads Gujarat, India Pachan Premjibhai Siju’s family has been weaving for 11 generations. Siju and his two brothers, their wives and their mother all work collaboratively to keep the tradition of Kutch weaving alive and vibrant. Traditionally, the family wove for nomadic Rabari and settled Ahir people. “We worked in a network of clients, weavers and dyers, and our relationships with them were more than commercial. We knew each community’s culture and taste in design,” Siju said. As those clients turned to cheaper, industrially produced fabrics in the 1960s, Kutch weavers turned to making shawls, but those too were soon being made on power looms. Siju’s family realized they would have to diversify to keep their tradition alive, so he and one of his brothers studied design. Another brother studied business and management for artisans. “Education helped us reach new markets, made weaving an attractive livelihood and insured that our traditions continue,” Siju wrote. “Traditionally we were limited to working within our immediate region. When that situation broke down, we lost that limitation and connected to new clients. We learned about their lives and their preferences. We also had the opportunity to learn what our own strengths and specialties were. When my world opened up, I could have goals and grow.” The weavers have turned from heavy wool and cotton to lighter materials preferred by new clients: finer cotton, mill-spun bamboo, hand-spun lotus fibers, silk and naturally dyed yarns, which Siju purchases directly from the producers. Design motifs reflect the family’s ancestral lifestyle, including religious ceremonies and the tradition of working with nomadic pastoralists. Exchanges with traditional weavers from the Himalayas, Oaxaca and other regions have expanded Siju’s designs. “The main benefit of co-design is to learn how to respect the essence of tradition and still extend beyond limitations,” he said. “Tradition is our identity, so my new motifs are abstracted from traditional forms. We don’t leave tradition because that is our specialty and it is our respect. If tradition is there, we are there.” Gilberto Granja Granja Workshop Pasto, Colombia Gilberto Granja was 20 years old when he began studying the demanding craft of making Pasto varnish in the workshop of mopa-mopa master artist Rosa Mejía Vda. de Torres. He opened his own workshop three years later. His son Óscar learned the trade as a child and committed to it wholeheartedly 13 years ago. Pasto varnish — used to create decorative designs on wooden ware — is derived, through an arduous process, from the Elaeagia pastoensis, a plant native to the Putumayo area of the Amazon rainforest. Agricultural and Indigenous communities of the Putumayo and Nariño regions of Colombia have harvested the tree’s resin (known as mopa-mopa) for centuries. “Pasto varnish is a unique craft technique,” Granja said. “Over the centuries it has helped to strengthen the identity and cultural heritage of our territory.” The technique was declared a cultural heritage of Colombia in 2018 and included on UNESCO’s list of intangible cultural heritage in need of urgent safeguarding in 2020. “This means a great responsibility as the technique now belongs not only to those of us who practice the trade but to humanity,” Granja said. “We will be responsible for transmitting that ancestral craft knowledge and making Pasto’s varnish attractive to new generations, so that they see in our profession a worthy way of living.” Granja’s most important consideration when he learned his craft was being able to support his family. But “over time, the trade became my life project, and now it is my greatest achievement. Fifty-seven years of uninterrupted work become for me and for the workshop an invaluable legacy that we make the effort to maintain.” Granja added, “Unquestionably, the importance of being a Pasto varnish craftsman lies in the family, territorial and ancestral legacy.” Arin McKenna has worked as a reporter for the “Los Alamos Monitor.” She is currently a staff writer/reporter for Northern New Mexico College.