Words and photographs by Ehren Seeland
A feathered predator moves his gaze over our collective heads, wings extended to denote an impending attack. Fortunately for our group, the intense stare is diverted by a pair of tiny birds in a sister tree, branches bare and stretching up to the ceiling.
While our current location appears to be a snapshot of nature at work, we are, in fact, standing in the center of Galeria Linda Zapoteca in Teotitlán del Valle. This intriguing retail space also doubles as a production house for Concepción, a borrower in the interest-free microloan program with Fundación En Vía.
Together with her mother and two brothers, the family cards and dyes wool in order to weave intricate wool rugs, known as tapetes, on foot pedal looms, along with other complimentary products. This shop offers one of the most sophisticated interiors in town, complete with a well-curated selection of handmade goods, wood sculptures, and woven bags with a variety of handles that are hung on delicately dried trees.
While brightly colored tapetes are often found in the pueblo of Teotitlán del Valle, the pieces that are produced by this family generally incorporate subtle, natural colors and a contemporary design aesthetic. Even the solid-colored works combine several threads that are woven together in order to produce stunning ombré effects. The pride that goes into the creative process is clear, as Concepción explains that the main objective of the family business is centered in quality, not quantity. Given this, there is not a massive inventory in the shop, but visitors are guaranteed to find original treasures that can be found nowhere else.
Concepción plays a part in the weaving process, however her preferred practice is to concentrate on creating woven wool cushion covers and bags. These are assembled using two sewing machines – one being a newer electric model, and the other an older foot-pedal version. Concepción learned how to create a variety of styles of these bags while participating in free government-funded programs, where she only had to supply her own materials. She is steadfast and efficient in her work, and is able to create up to two bags or cushions a day, with an average run of eight to nine pieces a week.
As one of our tour participants, a volunteer photographer with En Vía from Texas, fishes in her pocket for enough pesos to pay for two hand-assembled wooden sculptures to ship home, the birds remain motionless in the tree branches. Concepción peers up to the ceiling and then back down at us – a playful grin moving across her face. Slinking out into the street, our eyes move back to the bird of prey as we hold his gaze and move out of view like field mice scampering for grassy cover.