Sunday, February 26, 2012

Dyed in the Wool

Wool plays a storied role in northern New Mexico Hispanic and Native American cultures.   It started with hearty Churra sheep brought from Spain by the Conquistadors in 1598.  The wooly critters provided both sustenance and warmth as they continue to do today.  That's particularly true on the Navajo Reservation where the sheep are now called Churro and you can get a mean Lamb Taco.  Try La Posada, the Mary Colter designed railroad hotel in Winslow, Arizona for a couple of those babies.

For 300 years 70% of the Rio Grande Valley's inhabitants earned their livelihood in the textile industry but that had all but died by 1900. Today there is a small, struggling wool industry in Taos, Chama and Mora.  At this writing two wool and weaving enterprises in Taos are closing or downsizing.  One, the handsome Weaving Southwest at Taos’s 100% corner that has offered magnificent rugs, brilliant yarns and looms for a couple of years is adopting a a less costly internet model and a small upstairs weaving studio half a mile west of the Plaza.  The other is closing for good.
But the heart of the wool and weaving culture still beats in the village of Mora 45 minutes east of Taos. There Tapetes de Lana, literally tapestries of wool, has soldiered on since 1998.  Started by Carla Gomez, Tapetes was founded to keep alive New Mexico’s wool history, to provide economic opportunity for the poor rural agricultural community and to keep young people in their ancestral homes. Though it has enjoyed some longevity fully half its workers and trainees are Anglos from afar.  So there’s yarn being made and rugs are being woven but not necessarily by the people for whom the opportunity was created.  It's a bittersweet coda to be sure.   

Still Tapetes de Lana is rich in the earthy textures of native wool and naturally dyed yarns and boasts a treasure trove of Industrial Revolution era spinning equipment in the factory out back.  The machines dating back to the 1880s are a visual feast of gears, bobbins and whirly gigs.


Daryl A. Black said...

Loved the history and background you gave today's blog. The first photograph is luscious. Soft, rich, telling, but understated. The second mechanical photograph at Tapetes in Mora, in black and white, couldn't be better.

Steve Immel said...

Thanks for introducing me to the plant out back. That was a real treat.

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