The Guest Gallery Featured Artist
The Mexican Village of Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, gave Porfirio Gutierrez his start in life. Porfirio, in turn, is determined to give Teotitlan its future. As the center of Zapotec culture and weaving traditions, Teotitlan produces many of the hand loomed wool goods commonly associated with Mexican exports. While the tourist industry supports weavers in the village, it is also the source of environmental and economic conflicts that keep the community from advancing its health and well-being.
With an eye to the future and roots firmly in the past, Porfirio is blending Zapotec-inspired patterns with his eco-conscious sensibility, producing striking tapestries and other fine weavings. The range of styles he achieves in his work brings new meaning to the idea of organic design: both his materials and his methods have evolved to blend effortlessly with contemporary California style.
Porfirio is a persuasive advocate on the benefits of dyeing and weaving in the traditional Zapotec way. He knows what he is talking about, having supported himself as a weaver for twenty years and being part of a Zapotec weaving family with generations of artisans before him. He also knows that freeing weavers from their use of chemical dyes is not easy. Thirteen years ago he followed an elder brother to Ventura, California and began experimenting with natural dyes and more modern interpretations of traditional designs. He founded Indigena Design Studio to involve his family of weavers in a sustainable, environmentally responsible venture.
Porfirio's commitment to natural dyes and more sustainable practices is derived from Zapotec weaving traditions. For centuries, Zapotec weavers found the sources for their dyes in the plants, insects and minerals native to Oaxaca, using abundant resources like nuts, tree bark, cochineal insects and indigo. As demands for export weaving began to dominate the marketplace, conglomerates demanded cheaper production methods and introduced chemical dyes to their contracted weavers. Now, faced with the contamination of their water sources, the weavers of Teotitlan are beginning to realize what they exchanged in the interest of larger production.
The designs Porfirio sketches in his Ventura studio directly support his Teotitlan family of ten siblings and their parents. HIs sister, Juana, is the master dye technician, interpreting Porfirio's drawings for the loom. She is a collaborator and influential partner in their design process. A rug measuring 3 x 5 feet can take several weeks to produce and represents hundreds of years of shared family history.
Porfirio also plays the roles of advocate, educator and cultural ambassador. Social justice and personal responsibility are as much a part of his design process as the geometric bands and borders he crafts at the loom. In Teotitlan, the Gutierrez family is one of the few remaining families that emphasize rescuing and preserving ancient natural techniques. The more awareness that he can build, the more he is convinced that life in Oaxaca can be changed for the better.