Weaving a life and family together
Emiliano and Delfina Mendez are textile masters with whom we have been collaborating for over 15 years. Their family runs a weaving workshop in San Pablo de Villa Mitla, Oaxaca and produces beautifully woven and expertly crafted cotton products. In addition to being terribly talented, they are possible two of the most gentle, caring and generous people we have met through our work travels. Emiliano is tender and soft spoken and often drifts off into melancholic gazes as he recounts stories from his past while knotting the delicate fringes of woven scarfs. Delfina, a delicate and fine boned woman with two neat braids, is energetic and always on the move; she darts constantly between her kitchen and her workshop, organizing new embroidery ideas while a mole is bubbling away atop her stove.
Their story begins 100 years ago with the establishment of the Artelar weaving workshop on the nineteenth of March, 1920. Founded by Emiliano’s parents’ Anacleto Mendez Ruiz and Dolores Aguilar Cruz, Zapotec weavers from Mitla, Artelar began as a workshop dedicated to the spinning, dying and weaving of traditional wool textiles such as enredos, sarapes, sashes and shawls. The weaving was done using a backstrap loom, a technique dating back to pre-Hispanic times. When Emiliano turned eight, his father passed away suddenly and he and his siblings were obliged to learn how to card, spin, dye and weave wool in addition to learning how to administer the business.
At 17 Emiliano met and married Delfina Garcia Hernandez and the two took over the family business promising to maintain the family heritage. While, both Delfina and Emiliano understood the importance of maintaining traditional techniques and iconography they also have always been open-to evolving-designs, colors and techniques. By 1965 Emiliano migrated from a backstrap loom to a pedal loom that allows for a greater width in terms of fabric size and a swifter production time. Nonetheless, Emiliano continued to use many of the traditional Mitla motifs in his pedal loom fabrics and recognized their cultural value.
Emiliano understood the need to nurture his cultural heritage and by the 1970’s he became a teacher and important mentor to young weavers in his community. During this time, he experimented with new materials and introduced cotton into his work. Delfina would then transform Emiliano’s fabric into fashionable dresses, blouses and huipils’ adorned with hand embroidered flowers and crochet edges.
Today the two continue to weave alongside their children Alejandro, Gabino, Mayra and grandson Mauricio. They weave fabric by the meter for the creation of pillows and linens for Onora as well as delicate gauze scarfs and rebozos. In addition to weaving, the family recently opened a café selling local brewed coffee, hot chocolate and fresh baked goods. Gabino and Alejandro are working hard to revive old iconographies while innovating weaving techniques and sharing this knowledge with Mauricio their nephew and next generation of weavers.
While, both Delfina and Emiliano understood the importance of maintaining traditional techniques and iconography they also have always been open-to evolving-designs, colors and techniques.