Meet the Artisans
In our search to find ways of helping to preserve Indigenous cultures, we at Pachacuti, have had the privilege of meeting many extraordinary artisans. As a tribute to their inner beauty and the kindness we experienced while traveling abroad, we have chosen to dedicate this special page in their honor.
As you read through the biographies and browse through our photos, in particular those of the Mexican artists, you will notice that the details as to the whereabouts of these women are scarce, and the photographs posted on this site have been strategically taken so as not to reveal their identities. The reason for this is that, in Mayan culture, fame is a curse. To say to someone, “May you become famous,” is to wish harm upon that individual. Therefore, it is out of respect that we have chosen to protect the identities of the women mentioned on our site.
The Maravilla of Mata Ortiz
The maravilla (wonder) of Mata Ortiz began high in the mountains of the state of Chihuahua, Mexico, where artist Juan Quezada, dedicated to his craft and to maintaining the ancient pottery making techniques of the Paquime Natives, began imitating their designs. Using only the shards of a few excavated pots and his creative, inner spirit as a guide, Juan’s designs so closely resembled the originals that, in 1976, when anthropologist Spencer MacCallum discovered the pieces in a secondhand store in New Mexico, he thought they were originals.
Today, Juan not only continues making pottery and perfecting his craft, he also instructs others in his hometown of Mata Ortiz. At present, nearly 400 of the 2,000 inhabitants of the village are now producing pottery, transforming the community and bringing economic stability to the region. For the families that live there and the many admirers of the art that was born there, Mata Ortiz truly is a maravilla (wonder).
Maya Textile artists
Doña Justina lives in a small, coastal town in Southern Mexico. At eight years of age, she was taught to weave small, cloth napkins by her mother. When her mother saw how quickly and easily she was able to weave the small napkins, she encouraged her to make larger ones to sell at the local market. Over time, Doña Justina has perfected her craft and has even implemented some of her own, original designs.
“I was the first to use the crab [as a symbol] in my weaving,” she says. “Now, everybody is using it.” The crab, however, is not the only aspect of her work that is unique. Doña Justina used her creative gifts and talents to teach herself to use a double sided loom, a practice which is very difficult and requires much skill in weaving.
At 76 years of age [or so she thinks], Doña Justina is still weaving. Although she can no longer work without the aid of her bifocals, she continues to weave the way she always has: spinning the thread with a stationary cymbal and using tree bark, shellfish, and other materials the earth provides to dye it.
As we left her home, Doña Justina asked us if she could know when we would return. Not many tourists pass through her remote village; and so, she has little means of supporting herself and her family. Now the matriarch of her family and her cooperative of weavers, her great talent and experience often go unnoticed by those outside her village.
Doña María’s home stands on a small hill inside the mountainous, Mayan Highlands region of Mexico. The day we went to visit her, it was cold and rainy, as the patron saint of her village is well known to be the god of the rains. We arrived cold and wet on her doorstep, laughing at ourselves, our lack of planning for the elements, and our pitiful predicament. Laughing along with us, Doña María welcomed each of us, like a mother welcoming home her prodigal children, with a plenty of warm hugs and kisses on each cheek for everyone.
Doña María is quite a strong and remarkable woman. She became familiar with death in her teens, when she lost her infant son, and her husband of only two years. Since then, she has chosen not to remarry; but to raise her other son on her own.
“I am better off alone,” she says. “I work at this and that and I don’t earn a lot of money, but at least I have [enough] to buy beans and corn and meat.”
Despite the difficult years surrounding her husband’s death when there wasn’t any food, land, or money, Doña María has managed to move forward through the income she receives from her textiles. “My life has been [made up of] many textiles and many journeys,” she says. “I would like to live many more years.”
Doña María lives on a hill which overlooks the town plaza of her village in the Mayan Highlands of Mexico with four other women, all of whom are relatives. Like several of the women we met during our journey, Doña María raised her son, Pedro, as a single mother.
“Life was difficult, and I didn’t have anything to give to my Pedro. Many times, there wasn’t any food.”
Doña María worked in far away corn fields, taking turns with other women in her village caring for her son, until one day, a cousin of hers taught her how to weave. Her son, who was still just a boy at the time, soon learned how to draw the patterns the women used in their designs; and he too eventually became a weaver. In Mayan culture, weavers and potters are traditionally women. However, gender roles are by no means written in stone, and women, as well as men, can become shaman and spiritual leaders. Today, both María and Pedro are working for the local weavers’ cooperative.
“I am well. I am content,” she says. “…our patron saint has finally helped me.”
These are just a few of the many remarkable women we met in our travels. If you would like to learn more by accompanying us on our next trip, please use our contact form and select "tours" from the drop-down list.
* Quotations and background information on both Doña Marías has been taken from the following source: Every Woman is a World, by Walker, Gayle and Suárez, Kiki.