One of the most renowned of this next generation is Demetrio Bautista Lazo who, like most of the younger weavers of the community, grew up at his parents knees weaving rugs using the popular aniline dyes of the 1960s and 70s. But times have changed and so has the marketplace.
While this youthful weaver looks forward in his designs, he is looking back generations for the rich hues and dying techniques of his ancestors. The happy results are rugs that seem to embrace both the future and the past.
For Demetrio the process of making a rug begins far above the village. It is here in the high meadowlands that he comes to gather the flowers and herbs that hell use to make many of the dyes he uses in the gorgeous tapetes that are earning this young weaver an international reputation and clientele. As the rainy season dwindles to a few brief weekly showers there are only a few remaining days in which to harvest. Soon many of the precious flowers which form the base of his dyes will be gone.
Right now I am obsessed with dyes, he confides. Every day Im working to create some special colors. And I have some very interesting experiments I am conducting using different kinds of minerals. This is the last time this season to get some of the flowers I use. Pretty soon everything will drive.
Rising at 5:00 a.m. he drives the curving road leading up out of town into the highland forests. He has his secret spots to seek out his earthy treasures and is always mindful about making sure that he doesnt take too many of any single herb, or flower, all the better to ensure a continuing supply to meet his need.
It is ironic, he sighs, But as much as I support the
use of vegetable and natural dyes, it would be easy - with all of the interest
in natural dyes - for weavers to completely take all of the wildflowers.
But I hope that is not going to happen.
As a child growing up in Teotitlan, Demetrio, like most young people within the community, learned to weave at the feet of his parents who learned the artistry from their parents, and so on, for countless generations.
Weve always been weavers, says Demetrio. As far back as my family has lived here, and that is a very long time.
The Zapotec weavers of Teotitlán first wove on traditional backstrap looms until the Dominican missionaries introduced harness looms and Roman Catholicism during the 16th century. Today, the lovely Dominican church which stands four-square in the center of town bears witness to the co-mingling of the two cultures. Among the thousands of hand hewn rocks from which the church is constructed are some which have been sculpted with the images of Zapotec deities. Here and there are stones which feature the geometric grecas that dominate Zapotec design.
You can look at the designs in the stones, and look at my carpets,
and still see the same designs, Demetrio says. Weve
been using many of the same images for hundreds of years. But Im
constantly refining my own ideas, and working to do something a little
It is a very labor intensive process, says Demetrio. I used to have 70 nopales cacti for cochineal. But I have to ask myself, am I a weaver or a farmer?
But if the richness of red magnetizes many interested in Zapotec weaving, Demetrio has broken new ground with a palette of greens that are unique. With a great sense of pride he takes out a large carpet measuring approximately six by eight feet and with the air of a magician about to pull the rabbit out of his hat, he spreads it on the floor in a single expansive gesture.
The colors are subtle, as though he has indeed managed to create a magic carpet. No newly mowed lawn ever looked this good. But the variations in tone, and the simple way he uses other colors, browns, and blues, work together to produce a carpet of dreams.
This has been my surprise, working with these greens, he enthuses. When I first started using this palette people thought I was crazy. It was so different from what everyone else was doing. Now people who laughed at me a few years ago are coming back and wanting to buy my rugs.
And there are continual surprises. For while Lazo has to be equal parts chemist, herbalist, and artist, carefully measuring the ph balance of the dyes so as to remember his formulas for the future, sometimes something will happen that will be a complete and pleasant surprise.
I had this yarn that I had dyed and it turned out this really unattractive shade of lavendar. I didnt want to use it so I just threw it in a corner. Well, months went by. It rained, and sat out in the sun, and one day I went out and looked at it and it had turned into this beautiful shade of purple. It was fantastic and I immediately used it, he laughs.
Right now Demetrio is balancing his work with dyes, with his weaving. He is currently cooking a pot of rich brown dye, and ventures over to the large outdoor kettle to check on the stew of wool, leaves, and other secret ingredients.
On the loom inside is the design of a fantastic carpet in a Tree of Life motif. The background of the carpet is a creamy lemon color, and when finished, 120 birds will gather around the branches.
Demetrios workshop, which carries rugs from other members of his extended family, is housed in a graceful building on the way into Teotitlán and is also the home to the La Cupula restaurant and B&B. A visit to see him might also include an impromptu lesson in the art and craft of the manufacture of natural dyes.
Demetrio has two children and is hopeful that they will continue in the family tradition.
And so a legacy of artistry is bound to continue.
He shows me a photo taken of him and his father and his brother standing at the end of a rug the size of a tennis court which was recently sent to Los Angeles by DHL. These sales are keeping a craft alive which all but vanished in the mid-20th century, a craft which is based upon natural dyes and community.
His son Victor has a black scorpion on a short leash (the black ones only hurt like hell, its the yellow ones that will kill you). His daughter Jessica poses for a photo on one of her grandfathers rugs which I buy. The red of the inner field is made from the most unlikely source, an insect called Cochineal. The Cochineal obscures itself in a white cotteny nest and feeds off of the prickly pear cactus. Someone in the 18th century bumped up against one of these cactuses and after the hail of profanity and removal of cactus spines from their flesh was complete must have noticed that their clothing had been dyed a bright red. By adding lime juice the red turns magically to orange before your eyes. The blue of the rug is indigo. A tree; trunk, branches, bark, leaves and roots is reduced to pulp, turned into a sludge with water and poured into large drying trays and finally broken into clumps like natural blue charcoal. One of the trees is growing in the courtyard of the restaurant. The yellow is derived from a parasitic plant which Ive seen in the deserts outside of Death Valley which looks like a profusion of yellow angel hair pasta so dense it obscures the host. In a nearby town it covers a Bougainvillea tree across from the 14th century church. The town gardener knows not to burn the stuff, but calls Demetrio. Demetrio can be reached by calling +52 (951) 524-4090 or by email (I was stunned too, frankly). Please tell them Will sent you.
" Estimado Amigo Demetrio, Me dio mucho gusto el haber venido a
La Cupula y darme cuenta que existe otra opcion, muy diferente, para el
turismo oaxaqueño y la gente local. Fue un servicio excelente y
de calidad en los alimentos. Estoy segura que tendran mucho exito y los
vamos a recomendar ampliamente. Suerte! "
" A most delightful experience for us! Your generosity of spirit,
your food and of course the rugs were of enormous joy. Many thanks. "
" Demetrio, You know how much i appreciate you, your tapetes - and
now the best mole, both rojo y negro, in Oaxaca. Everything here is magical,
delicioso and furthermore, may i adopt not only you, your wife and children
but your cocina? With much love and hasta la vista, mi amigo! May all
the gods go with you. "
(Teotitlan del Valle is believed to be the first Zapotec settlement in Oaxaca)