Porfirio Gutiérrez, 38, is a renowned Zapotec weaver who, at the age of 12, learned the skill from his father while growing up in Teotitlán del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico. As he recounts, that was the culture; weaving was a way of life.

While weaving is still a source of income for some Zapotecos, many have long since adapted to the influences of time by opting for money-saving alternatives and utilizing less time-consuming practices, such as the use of chemical dyes. According to Gutiérrez, most of the younger generation no longer grow up weaving due to school or other opportunities.

“For me, weaving was a job, but now it’s a choice. It’s my passion. The whole idea is to share, for Oaxaca, for Mexico perhaps, our way of life, our traditions — to preserve them. Maybe not continue what I’m doing, but learn about this process of gathering and sharing traditions, and inspire,” explained Gutiérrez.

This choice and the changes Zapotecos have experienced led Gutiérrez to his current project, Tejedor del Tiempo, where he will share his ancestors’ weaving techniques using a frame loom in local workshops.

Funded by a grant from the Alliance for California Traditional Arts (ACTA), the project is a residency that will be hosted at the Carnegie Museum’s CAM Studio in Oxnard. The museum is collaborating with the Ventura County Arts Council (VCAC) and Mixteco Indígena Community Organizing Project (MICOP).

Two free workshops were offered in June, and more will be offered in July and August. They will be conducted in English and Zapotec, and a Mixtec translator will be provided. Gutiérrez will also be interviewed for Focus on the Masters’ popular Artist Spotlight series on July 30.

“I feel this residency has already had an impact even before it has begun,” said Craig Rosen, director of development for the VCAC. “Since VCAC received the grant (ACTA) award, Porfirio has been sought after by other art organizations in the community, including Focus on the Masters and the Ventura County Museum. His recognition has been increasing on a local and a national scale.”

So what is Gutiérrez sharing?

The history of the Zapotecos, their identity, their art.

Specifically, the natural weaving process that includes washing and sorting raw wool, spinning it into yarn, collecting plants and insects to make dyes and weaving with looms. All of this work is done by hand.

Plants, insects and other natural materials are used to make dye in the Zapotec tradition. Photo by Javier Lazo

At the age of 18, Gutiérrez left his home in Oaxaca for Ventura County, where he worked various jobs. It was when he returned to Teotitlán del Valle a decade later, he said, that he found a deeper appreciation for his culture. Thus, he decided to begin weaving with the figurative and literal assistance of his family, whom he considers his team.

Although everyone is welcome to attend the workshops, they are especially for Oaxaqueños who, like Gutiérrez, are now immersed in another culture or, like his children, were born in another country.

“When abroad in a different state, we’re all family. Their background might not come directly from Teotitlán, but it’s my responsibility to share with them. There’s no distinction of who you are, the woodworkers, the painters — my hope is for them to learn about the weaving process and take this art form their own way, always remember their community,” Gutiérrez explained.

“I hope that anyone who attends who is not a member of an indigenous group will learn to appreciate indigenous people and their customs and to feel good about their presence in our community,” Rosen added.

Martha Jimenez, the curator of education at the Carnegie Museum, is also a weaver, and will work with Gutiérrez through his residency. Jimenez revealed that her desire to continue sharing his work is driven not only by her passion for weaving, but by her background in fiber arts and her perception of the value of maintaining traditions.

“Mexico is a country rich in traditions and Oaxaca is one of its states where indigenous traditions are being challenged by the large migration of its indigenous people to the United States,” Jimenez said. “From an educator’s point of view, this residency is important in that it has presented the opportunity to work directly with the growing Mixteco community, who perhaps have never heard of the CAM Studio Gallery.”

It is hoped that Gutiérrez’s residency will develop lasting relationships between participating organizations and the local indigenous community.

“We are partnered with MICOP, who are strong advocates for indigenous people in the county and who know Porfirio and his beliefs and his intentions quite well. We hope that anyone who is concerned will see the people and organizations that are aligned and realize we want to honor tradition and respect indigenous people and their customs,” explained Rosen.

Porfirio Gutiérrez will be the artist in residence through September at the CAM Studio Gallery, 329 N. Fifth St., Oxnard. Workshops offered July 24-25 and August 8-9, 6-8 p.m. For more information, call 385-8171 or email education@carnegieam.org.