Gutiérrez and loom: preserving Zapotec culture. Gutiérrez and loom: preserving the culture.

Zapotec culture under threat in Oaxaca

But weaver's Smithsonian award is one step toward preserving local tradition

A weaver in Oaxaca has been selected by a Smithsonian Institution program for an award he hopes will support efforts to preserve Zapotec culture.


Porfirio Gutiérrez of Teotitlán del Valle, a village famous for the artisanal production of textiles, was one of the winning candidates for the 2016 Artist Leadership Program administered by the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI).

Gutiérrez and his family are descendants of generations of Zapotec weavers who have made the village synonymous with fine weaving. As many as 70% of the residents of the town, whose population is about 5,000, are engaged in some facet of textile art.

But a multi-year decline in tourism — Teotitlán is just 30 kilometers from the city of Oaxaca, which has been slowly regaining its reputation as a safe place to visit — has been hard on the weavers, who have suffered a severe reduction in income.

Other changes, too, threaten not only the tradition of weaving but the Zapotec culture. “In our town,” says Gutiérrez, “other components of our Zapotec legacy are about to vanish forever.

“My parents speak Zapoteco, my siblings and I speak Zapoteco and Spanish, but our children speak mostly Spanish.” And the same goes for their art.

Gutiérrez’ parents spin, dye and weave, and while he and his siblings have those skills to some degree, most have had to find outside work in other fields in order to survive.


It was his concern over the potential loss of the art form that Gutiérrez approached the National Museum of the American Indian with a project in mind.

“The youth in our village may never know the arts of their ancestors unless they are shown by the remaining masters who are still practicing our ancient techniques,” he says.

So he proposed bringing together experts and interested individuals in the village for a workshop on traditional dyes, whose use has been declining as more weavers opt for the speed and simplicity of the chemical variety.

The NMAI agreed and will fund a four-day training program in which students will learn about the plants from which the dyes come and how to make them.

The museum will also produce a video to follow the dye-making process as well as offer a glimpse of life in Oaxaca.

Gutiérrez sees the program as an important step in sustaining Zapotec culture and a traditional art form.

Mexico News Daily

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  • B.Murphy-Bridge

    Rather than depending on tourists is it not possible for them to sell their beautiful weaving online? Perhaps the Smithsonian could connect them with someone who could help them set up a website ?

  • Barbara Erickson

    A renown Zapotec weaver from Teotitlán del Valle, Jacobo Mendoza, will be in San Miguel de Allende Oct 30 and 31 at The Other Face Of Mexico Mask Museum. He has traveled widely to promote Zapotec weaving and culture and will present a traditional Zapotec altar for visitors and show his rugs> He is always happy to share his natural dye techniques and talk about the Zapotec culture.