Indigenous art. Indigenous perspectives.

Porfirio Gutierrez, Zapotec Master Weaver


Porfirio Gutierrez, Zapotec, to Share His Smithsonian Research with His Oaxacan Community


Porfirio Gutierrez at the loom

“LIKE MANY PEOPLE in our village, my family has descended from generations of Zapotec weavers going back as far as anyone can remember,” says Porfirio Gutierrez. “As you know, Teotitlán has been known for its fine weaving since pre-Columbian times. In spite of our long standing reputation for fine work, the economic downturn and other factors have hurt our livelihood and threaten the existence of our traditional art.”


“Offering to the Sun God,” weaving by Porfirio Gutierrez (Zapotec)

Gutierrez is one of four artists chosen to participate in the Artist Leadership Program sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American. He will be able to study weavings and other textile arts in NMAI’s extensive collections housed at its Cultural Resource Center in Suitland, Maryland. The Artist Leadership Program requires artists to share what they learn with their communities, so Gutierrez, who currently lives in Southern California, will travel back to Oaxaca, Mexico, to conduct workshops for Zapotec weavings in both dying and weaving techniques.

“In our town, 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,” explains Gutierrez. Over 410,000 people spoke the 64 Zapotec languages in 2010 (Source). “The same pattern is true with our art; my parents spin, dye and weave. My siblings and I have these skills to some degree, but most of us have had to find outside work in other fields to sustain our families.”


Dyeing yarn with indigo

“The youth in our village may never know the all of arts of their ancestors unless they are shown by the remaining masters who are still practicing our ancient techniques,” the artist continues. “In an effort to sustain our Zapotec art of weaving, I proposed to the NMAI to bring together experts with a group of interested individuals in our village for a workshop on traditional plant and cochineal dyes.”

Cochineal is a red dye produced by the insect Dactylopius coccus, one of the few animals domesticated in the pre-Columbian Americas.

“We are very fortunate that the NMAI wants to support our efforts and is going to help us with a four-day training program. During this workshop students will see where dye plants grow in the wild, learn how to make them into dyes, and explore color combinations. NMAI will travel to Teotitlán to oversee the program and make professional video that will be posted on their website.”


“Diamante” (Diamond), weaving by Porfirio Gutierrez (Zapotec)

Gutierrez concludes, “The Smithsonian’s NMAI Artist Leadership Program is truly an important step towards sustaining Zapotec culture and our traditional art form. Their video will give a glimpse into life in Oaxaca.”



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