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One of the major Zapotec weavers from Teotitlán del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico, is visiting Ventura County, California, this summer and sharing his techniques, traditions, and cultural insights through local workshops. A Ventura County news service last week published a report about the work, and the insights, of master weaver Porfirio Gutiérrez.

Weaving is a way of life in Teotitlán del Valle

Weaving is a way of life in Teotitlán del Valle (Photo by ProtoplasmaKid on Wikimedia, Creative Commons license)

Gutiérrez grew up in Teotitlán, a town not too far from the city of Oaxaca that is famed for its long tradition of weaving. The 38-year old artisan tells the journalist that weaving was a way of life in the community so at the age of 12 he decided to study the skills required of a weaver with his father. Some young people today in the town, however, see other possible careers for themselves, he points out.

When he was 18, Gutiérrez moved to Ventura County to work at a variety of jobs, but he returned to his hometown ten years later and, with the support of his family, began his weaving career. But along with his commitment to weaving, he sees the broader importance of sharing his skills through his workshops this summer. He sees all of the immigrants from Oaxaca as family, even though they come from different backgrounds.

Porfirio Gutiérrez at the loom in the Porfirio Gutiérrez family workshop in Teotitlán

Porfirio Gutiérrez at the loom in the Porfirio Gutiérrez family workshop in Teotitlán (Photo by Thelmadatter on Wikimedia, Creative Commons license)

Gutiérrez says that weaving for him is more than a job: it was and is a passion. “The whole idea is to share, for Oaxaca, for Mexico perhaps, our way of life, our traditions—to preserve them.” His workshops in Ventura, called Tejedor del Tiempo, which started in June and are continuing through July and August, are conducted in Zapotec and English.

He is using in the workshops a frame loom just like the ones used by his ancestors. The workshops and his residency this summer are supported by the Alliance for California Traditional Arts (ACTA) and the CAM Studio of the Carnegie Museum in Oxnard, the major city in the county about 50 miles from Los Angles. The program has been developed in collaboration with the Ventura County Arts Council and the Mixteco Indígena Community Organizing Project (MICOP). Everyone is welcome to attend the workshops, though they are especially intended for people from Oaxaca and their families who are living in California.

Wool spun and dyed with dried fruits and insects

Wool spun and dyed with dried fruits and insects (Photo by Christian Cariño on Wikimedia, Creative Commons license)

The famous weaver especially identifies with the art and culture of Zapotec weaving, He is particularly fond of the natural ingredients and processes used, such as the way the raw wool is washed and sorted then spun into yarn. He likes the insects and plants used for the production of the natural dyes. The natural materials used, the plants and insects, are important to the Zapotec, he explains.

He wants the people he meets to learn about the process of weaving even if they are painters or woodworkers and not weavers themselves. More than anything he wants them to “always remember their community.” The curator of education at the Carnegie Museum, Martha Jimenez, who is also a weaver, explains the residency of Gutiérrez in terms of its importance to migrants from that section of Mexico, which, she says, “is a country rich in traditions.”

The Ventura County news story concludes with contact information: “Porfirio Gutiérrez will be the artist in residence through September at the CAM Studio Gallery, 329 N. Fifth St., Oxnard. Workshops offered July 24-25 and August 8-9, 6-8 p.m. For more information, call 385-8171 or email education@carnegieam.org.”