Rio Grande Saltillos

 

When Irvin and Lisa Trujillo got married, they went up to Santa Fe for their honeymoon. Not a great distance from Albuquerque, but nevertheless it was an important choice. They went to see a museum show about Saltillo weavings. Remember that Lisa was about to start her life as a professional weaver, and that Irvin had been weaving since he was a child. But neither of them had seen Saltillo weavings before. The show convinced them both that they were going to have to weave in this style.

Classic Saltillo
A classic 19th-century Mexican Saltillo weaving

These beautiful textiles originated in Mexico.  They are very finely woven tapestries, with a border, vertically oriented  background design and serrated center diamond.  Some of the classic Saltillos have what is described as a lozenge shape as opposed to the diamond shape in the center. The Saltillos were owned by the wealthy elite landowners of the time, the hacenderos.  When Mexico gained independendence from Spain, the Saltillos were a symbol of national pride.

The wealth that produced these fine textiles in Mexico did not exist in New Mexico.  But the Governor of New Mexico in 1807 invited two weaving experts to come north with the aim of improving textile production.  The Bazan brothers are credited with bringing the Saltillo style and the tapestry techniques needed to produce them, to New Mexico.

We call the New Mexico version, Rio Grande Saltillos.  They have never been produced in large numbers, but we are aware of a few different recognizable variations.  One thing that they seem to all share is that they have vertical borders like the classic Mexican Saltillos, but they don’t have horizontal borders.  These are replaced by stripes.Saltilo vert

We call this first group “vertically dominated”.  They have the vertically oriented background designs of the classic Saltillo, but do not have a central diamond.Saltillo w BG yarn

Others have a central diamond that seem to radiate to the ends.

My beautiful pictureSome have a central diamond and dispersed elements that make up the background of the piece.  Some of these have no vertical borders at all.

My beautiful picture
There are pieces with the dispersed element field, a center diamond, and big corner elements.

The Old Warping Mill

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This is a picture of Jake O. Trujillo finishing up a warp on his warping mill which was kept in the attic of Irvin’s grandmother’s house.  This picture was taken in the early 1980’s, but he had built the mill soon after he built his loom in 1927.  He’s removing the warp from the mill, “chaining” it up to bring it to his loom across the road.

irvin-warping-jerga-5a104

This is a picture taken a few years later of Irvin and Hosana Eilert putting a chained warp on a loom.  The challenge is to have every thread across the warp to be the same length and the same tension.  This is critical to the integrity of every weaving produced from the warp.  Warping a loom this way isn’t easy.  When warping wide looms this way in years gone by, Jake would ask for help, and the three of us warped as a team of three.  I don’t remember us being a happy team, but we worked together and we got the work done.

Our weavers are accustomed to having warps made for them.  They bring us their warp beams and we fill them with warp.  This is the way the weaving dealers in Chimayo have been working for many years.  We need those warps to be long, and to be perfectly even in tension.  Any errors in warping will mean that we have weavings that won’t lay flat and aren’t very useful.  The tie industry of the late 1930’s introduced industrial-type warping techniques that were adopted by the early Chimayo weaving dealers.  The technique used was to make a sectional warp on a horizontal mill and transfer that warp directly to a warp beam.  The weaver can then take that warp beam to the loom for weaving.

Between the times when these first two pictures were taken, we moved the mill from the attic across the street to the yarn storage room of the shop.  Irvin modified the mill by adding spokes and crosspieces.  He also built in a braking system, and mounts for a tension box and a wide variety of warp beams.

placing-the-beginning-of-section-on-nail-in-warping-millThe steps to the process are as follows.

Sixteen cones (called a buñuelo) of warp are set up on a cone rack and threaded through the tension box.  We weave at eight ends per inch, so sixteen threads will make two inches of warp.

We create a cross at the beginning of each of our two inch bouts.  If you are familiar with making a “chained” warp, you are creating that cross with the figure 8 at each end of the warp.  This is done here by pulling the bout against a small section of rigid heddle reed mounted in the tension box to separate every other thread.  The cross is held in place by two lease strings (purple threads in the picture) that pass from one side of the mill to the other.  The cross will be our essential guide to the sequence of threads in the warp when we go to tie the warp to the old warp on the loom, or thread the warp through heddles and reed.  The end of the warp that we start with will be buried by the length of warp, but will come out as the accessible end of the warp once it has been wound on to the beam.

The bout is as long as the warp needs to be.  So a warp is ten turns long, or 15, or 20 turns.  It’s critical that the count is right, that each bout is the same number of turns, so that we don’t reach the end of the warp and find some sections longer or shorter than others.

The end of each bout is tied onto a nail that is inserted into the mill’s crosspiece.  As you can see in the left this picture, it’s the same crosspiece where we started the bout.

warp-on-mill

 

 

Each 2″ bout is wound on the mill all the way across the warp.  The tension box must be moved for each bout, so that it is aligned with the right section on the mill. The warp on the mill in this picture has 20 bouts for a 40″ warp.

 

 

 

 

 

beaming-warpNow we bring the warp beam to the mill.  Because we warp a lot of different beams with a lot of different widths and different axles, Irvin has designed a very flexible system to accommodate them all.   What matters is that the warp beam is perfectly aligned with where the warp is wound on the mill.  We use flanges on our warp beams that keep the warp at a specific width.  As long as the beam is aligned correctly with the warp, it will distribute itself evenly across that width as it winds onto the beam.  If it is incorrectly aligned it will catch on the flanges, potentially breaking threads.

Before we start winding the warp onto the beam we apply a brake to the mill.  What we designed as a brake is essentially a wide rubber band with weights tied to the end that limits the rotation of the mill.  Winding onto the beam requires a great deal of effort and some patience.  But if it all has gone right in making the warp it will provide weeks or even years of perfectly-tensioned warp for creating beautiful things with.

Negotiate, Navigate, Innovate: Strategies Folk Artists Use in Today’s Global Market Place

We were honored to be a part of the Gallery of Conscience at the Museum of International Folk Art.  It was a large investment of time spent with a cadre of New Mexican and international artists, over  the space of several months.  It has been difficult to communicate what we were doing during that time, but the Museum’s website explains.  “The Gallery of Conscience is an experimental gallery in the Museum of International Folk Art where the public is invited to help shape the content and form of the exhibition in real time.

Visitors notice the Gallery of Conscience looks different than the rest of the museum.  In this gallery, visitors are invited behind the scenes to participate directly in the creation of an exhibition.  That is why the space looks informal and unpolished- it’s on purpose.  The Gallery of Conscience team seeks to make visitors feel welcome to write comments, leave thoughts and participate in the exhibition’s creation.

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Negotiate, Navigate, Innovate is about contemporary folk artists and their relationship with their patrons, buyers and collectors. We are especially interested in understanding the pressures they might feel to keep their traditions alive in the face of modern technological advances and new consumer demands. Visitors will see a kind of “mock up” or series of idea sketches. The artworks will come at a later point in the process- after we have heard from visitors, artists and local community members.  Even the exhibition title itself is up for grabs- so be sure to vote on which title you like best, or suggest your own. Come back often and see how the exhibition has changed in response to your ideas.”

There were a number of opportunities for us to interact with the other artists involved.  We also were encouraged to take on an apprentice and create a video documentation of the experience.  That is what you see above.  These experiences have given me a lot to think about over the last several months, and I’ve been anxious to record my thoughts.

About selling traditional arts in a big, well-connected world.

Obviously there are countless approaches.  We were all involved in one of the big summer markets in Santa Fe: the International Folk Art Market, the Spanish Market, and Indian Market.  So we all were aware that there were people who decided who was in, and who was out, of these venues.  It’s not easy to be allowed to show in any of these, there are rules involved, and policies to navigate.  We talked a lot about interacting with the buyers of the products we made, and how those interactions affected our work, and how it affected us on a personal level.

Most interesting to me was how our selling of our work influenced how we understood our traditions.   A list of questions I’d like to explore further in the future, emerges.

  • What do our traditions mean to our community?

Some traditional arts are essential threads of connection in communities.  Others are more pragmatic expressions of comfort, communication, or personal expression.

  • What is the economic role they play? Is it serving to empower community members by providing employment, a creative outlet for self expression, or a role in a community’s sacred interactions?

This is, of course, a question of survival for these art forms.  We met women from countries where creating these goods for sale served as a vital connection to others beyond the walls of their homes.  And their cooperatives created leaders who played essential political roles as voices of the women involved.  For many artists, these forms connected them to their personal and community histories.  Others created objects that were important to a spiritual community beyond themselves.  Some traditions, like ours, have always been primarily in a commercial realm, created for trade beyond the local community.

  • Does it inform and express culture to those within the culture,  or to outsiders?

What I think I heard in our discussions is that this was a very personal question, and how we communicated with those who were interested in our work was at the heart of this.  Who we sold to could be only people who were sincerely committed to the art form or the community, or it could be anybody willing to pay for the product.

  • What about the traditions are sacrosanct and what is changeable?  Are we comfortable with new techniques or different materials, and why?

Again, this is a very personal issue.  But some folks dealt with rules imposed by others regarding what is defined as traditional and what is not.  And others were faced with choices as to how to respond to pressure to make change.  Sometimes change meant making a markedly improved product, like drum heads not damaged by changes in humidity.  Other times market changes might mean using color to appeal in a new market in a way that might go against the community of origin’s intentional use of color.  There were new approaches that helped speed up the process and make it less work intensive, and there was clearly some conflict over the appropriateness of that kind of change too.

  • Do we make changes because of the pressures of outside economic forces?

These forces seem likely to continue to affect these traditional forms, but individuals may choose where they will bend and where they will not.

  • How do we respond to “cultural appropriation”?  And what is our appropriate role in guarding traditions?  Who “owns” these traditions?

As a person who grew up outside of the culture whose weaving tradition I am devoted to preserving, this is a very personal question.  I don’t have any answers to this one.  But I confront it regularly.

In the end, each one of us has to draw boundaries for ourselves, and these questions can help guide our choices.  These are issues that we are often deeply emerged in, and the answers for us have probably grown more nuanced as we have been at this for some time now.  But it was the work we did with our apprentices, and the videos that were made to document that work, that brought me to one conclusion.  Traditions will, and must, change over time.  They are in flux because new people must take them up in every generation. 


There is still an underlying question too, about who supports these traditions, and why, and how.  We have always had moral, if not a lot of financial, support from institutions of various kinds, some governmental and some private.  We are always grateful when these kinds of acknowledgements of the value of tradition are made.  It would be impossible to measure what these things have meant to our ability to keep up our efforts.

Another thing I will always be grateful for about getting to engage with all these artists in this program is that it engenders a sense of common ground and unity of purpose. Each of our opportunities to share with one another were seriously uplifting.  I don’t think I am alone in feeling that way.  For me that is a powerful spiritual thing.

 

 

This was the group of artists and staff who stuck around after the videos were premiered at the end of our project.

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This was a group of us deeply involved in learning how to make videos.  I am grateful for the immersion in a whole new creative process, and hope to apply what I have learned to future projects.

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Jake Trujillo’s Navy Experience

JakeatTreasureIslandThis is from a transcript of an old oral history interview with Irvin Trujillo’s father Jake. It’s a nice thing to have run into today, on Veteran’s Day. When we went to go find a picture of Jake in the Navy we found this picture, which is dated (at the bottom of the picture) November 11, 1944. A lot of Veteran’s Day coincidence.
“In 1942, I was called into the army, I was inducted.  Well when I got my induction papers, I went over to Santa Fe.  At that time my oldest brother was working in Santa Fe.  He was a cook in one of the restaurants there.  And I went over and told him that I had received my papers and he says ” Why don’t you g0 and enlist in the Navy. It’s a better branch. I see the sailors here and I know that are having a lot of fun. It’s a good branch of the service.”  So I went to the Navy induction center and asked them if I could enlist in the navy and they said yes, if you pass the physical exam. So I passed the test and they told me “Report here in two weeks, you’ll be in the navy. S0 I reported there and they sent me to San Diego, California for training. After boot camp they sent me overseas. From San Diego they sent me to San Francisco, and from there to Portland, Oregon. From there they assigned us a ship in the Merchant Marines, a ship, a gun crew of 25 sailors. I didn’t do any weaving during that-period. We were going from Seattle to Alaska, back and forth delivering supplies on a Liberty Ship.  We were taking the supplies to the fighting men in Alaska.  I made about six voyages. Then I had time to come home on leave. Then I reported back to Treasure Island, and from there they gave me shore duty for about four months. I used to work in the offices as a messenger.  After four months I requested if I could be assigned to go to South America. He said sure, so he gave me an assignment to go overseas. So I went from San Francisco to the South Pacific and unloaded there.  From there they sent us to Antipavasta (?) Chili, and to the Panama Canal, and they from there we landed on the USS Virginia. ’When we got there I had a telegram for me to report to Treasure Island for a special assignment. When I reported there I thought they would send me to the fighting. But they invited me into the office and were asking me a lot of questions and they finally said”We have checked your records and found you have been an instructor in arts and crafts. we need you to teach the sailors the different crafts that you know. You will be in charge of the place here. We will authorize you to purchase whatever you need” I thought it was great. I stayed there for about two to three years 44 and 45.”

 

Prototypical Chimayo

The  “Prototypical Chimayo” represents the type of weaving seen in New Mexico during the initial years of the Chimayo weaving industry, which was roughly 1895 to 1905. Irvin’s Grandmother and Grandfather, Francisquita and Isidoro Trujillo, wove this type of design for Santa Fe dealers who sold Chimayo Blankets.  Jake Gold, who owned Gold’s Free Museum and Old Curiosity Shop in Santa Fe, was the first to term the weavings from Chimayo “Chimayo Indian Blankets”. The weavers from Chimayo were not Indian at all, but Hispanic families who had been weaving for many generations on Spanish floor looms.  Jake Gold, and later on, Jesus “Sito” Candelario, would sell commercial yarn from Eastern United States to a family representative who would take the yarn by wagon to distribute the yarn to family weavers in Chimayo. At the end of the month the family member would load the completed weavings in the wagon and take the pieces to the dealer and get paid cash for their work.  Goods like coffee, sugar, salt, and other  necessities could then be purchased and taken back to Chimayo for the family.

Typical Chimayo blankets were woven with the commercial 4 ply red wool for the background and black and white wool for the design colors. Many original blankets had “candlestick” shapes spaced every couple of inches to simulate a side border. The interior designs were small chevron shapes and almost all of the original Chimayo Blankets had a striped borders close to the top and bottom of the weaving.  It is easy to see this design as an intermediary between Rio Grande Saltillos and the later formulation of Chimayo design.

Both of us learned to weave the later version of Chimayo weavings rather than these “prototypical” ones.  We came to try these out after many years of weaving.  It requires a completely different mindset that took some time to embrace.  But now that I have done several of these, I have come to really enjoy their unique rhythm and pace.

 

Vallero

The Vallero is the first design within our tradition that actually develops here in Northern New Mexico. It’s named after the beautiful mountain town of El Valle, where there were a number of weavers who had the respected skill of being able to weave these distinctive textiles.  The oldest of these use commercial plied yarns, and tend to be more detailed than later Valleros.  The majority of Valleros were dyed with the early synthetic dyes, but are handspun wool.  Those woven before about the 1920’s are woven in two pieces with a seam down the center.

Trampas Vallero

This is a simple Trampas Vallero. It has five serrated Vallero stars, one in each corner and one in the center. The corner stars are in large boxes. It has a simple vertical border and it uses chained hourglasses to delineate color areas in the radiating diamond . It also shows striping in the radiating diamonds. You can see how similar these are to the Rio Grande Saltillos that preceded them. Valleros pretty much look like Rio Grande Saltillos but with eight-pointed stars added to them.  Not all Valleros have the same five-stars distribution.

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The weavers who wove Valleros were said to have had distinctive border designs that identified who wove the piece.  A majority of the Valleros we have seen have either a “tulipan” border like the piece above, or a “culebra” border like the Vallero below, or some combination of the two borders.

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Dyed in the Wool – New Mexico Magazine article

An Evolution of Rio Grande Weaving

This is actually a fairly complete history of Rio Grande weaving.  A few weeks ago we were a part of a group of amazing experts on the local Hispanic culture of Northern New Mexico and Southern Colorado that met in Alamosa, Colorado. The participants are all instructors for something called the Hilos Institute.  The Institute is, we learned, about teaching instructors at Adams State University about the culture that a lot of their students come from, so that they can be do a better job as teachers.  And what they wanted us to understand, was how to organize our knowledge around teaching about Hispanic culture to their instructors.    We learned about “backwards design”, which turned out to be a very logical idea about teaching according to a goal of what you want your students to be learning.  So this idea popped into my mind.  This is (obviously) a spreadsheet.  And it includes pretty much the whole of what we want people to understand about how our weaving tradition evolved through the major historical periods of Hispanic New Mexico’s history.  It’s a little bit disconcerting to put your life’s learning into a spreadsheet like this, but hey, simplifying life is supposed to be a good thing, right?

Each of these images is good for a blog post or two, and has provided inspiration for countless weavings.  So, no, it isn’t really all that simple.  But here it is, anyhow, for your viewing pleasure.  We’re still happy to come show you lots of pretty pictures and explain this all in detail, should you want to invite us to speak…RG weaving historywpics_Page_1RG weaving historywpics_Page_2

Chimayo

Chimayo is the style that Irvin and Lisa learned first, before learning to weave the older parts of the tradition.  There is a logic and a mindset that is central to weaving the Chimayo style.  And there’s all of that going back and forth between shuttle weaving and tapestry weaving.  It may be the first style that we learned to weave, but it isn’t necessarily an easy thing to do.

Let’s start by describing and defining the style the best we can.  A Chimayo has two stripes and a center design.  The bigger the piece is, the more room there is to add more elements.  There are secondary designs, and jaspes one can add to give it more visual interest and fill the space.  The stripes are very much like Rio Grande stripes, and you can think of the center design as a variation on a Saltillo diamond, but sort of squished down so that it is wider than it is tall.

grey chimayo

 

And it’s important to realize the history behind it.  It is very much a post-industrial revolution New Mexican product.  It is woven from commercial yarns on looms with milled lumber and  metal reeds.  It really develops because Santa Fe, and later Chimayo, was becoming a place that tourists were coming to, at the same time weavers were finding that they no longer had a ready market for their blankets once milled blankets became available to people.  The people of Northern New Mexico were becoming part of a cash economy at that time, and this was a skill that the weaving dealers were able to actually pay for.  The weaving dealers provided the materials and sometimes the equipment, and the weavers could work at home, balancing their work with other responsibilities.  The business arrangement has not changed at all since those early days.

There are a group of pieces, and they aren’t commonly found nowadays, that have been called “prototypical Chimayos”.  These pieces are most commonly red, with black and white designs.  They can be seen as spanning the design distance between the Saltillos with dispersed elements and/or corner elements, and the Chimayo blanket that settles in in the 1920’s

Prototypical Chimayo (1 of 1)

The weavers all became specialized, some weaving on big looms, and some on small looms.  We are told that the men working on the big looms got very competitive over their designs.  So we see a lot of very creative ideas spring up, and a huge variation in Chimayo designs.  There is something of a golden age in Chimayo weaving in those early years, the 1920’s and 1930’s, and we have much to learn from those early Chimayos.

Chimayo with amazing design

 

Jerga

A part of the Rio Grande weaving tradition that goes back to Spanish Colonial times is called jerga.  Historically, jerga was woven as a utilitarian fabric, used as a tarp, or carrier, or for wrapping things up.  It was strictly a wool textile.  Someone with wealth might demonstrate that by putting jerga down as a floor covering.  It was woven in long strips and cut and seamed to make a piece of fabric of the desired size.  And many of the jergas that survived to the present are very large.

Old Spanish Loom

The Spanish Colonial jerga was woven on four-harness looms using a straight twill, or, less commonly, as a diamond twill.  Moving into more modern times, the jerga slowly evolved into a uniquely New Mexican variety of rag rugs.

diamond twill detail
diamond twill jerga detail
straight twilll
Straight twill jerga detail

 

 

 

 

 

 

Originally, jergas were probably pretty colorless, but many of the examples that survive have quite lively colors.

Jerga with three widths
Three panel jerga with undyed yarns.

Moving into more modern times, the jerga slowly evolved into a uniquely New Mexican variety of rag rugs.

Jerga with rag weft.
Jerga with rag weft.
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More jerga with rag weft.

 

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Weft-faced rag rug with spun rags used for weft.