I’m always looking for things off the beaten path. And rural New Mexico was pretty far from everything else. I’d heard about this collective thing called Española Valley Fiber Arts Center in the small city of 10,000, populated mostly by North American Hispanos, or Norteños, who consider themselves European descended from Spanish settlers of the 16th & 17th centuries. Tewa peoples have lived here for 1,000 years and still today they reside in adjacent Pueblos. Weaving is integral to both the Spanish and Tewa arts, though more culturally identified with the Spanish. I was curious how you’d turn a profit on a cultural product like weaving here in remote New Mexico.
The Española Valley Fiber Arts Center (EVFAC) was founded in 1995 by a small group of weavers who learned that there were many families in their area who had inherited looms but who had little knowledge of the techniques and heritage of Northern New Mexico textiles practiced by their grandparents. With donated looms and donated space, the group began to teach weaving. Now a 501(c)(3) organization located in an adobe storefront in the historic district of Española, EVFAC offers equipment, classes, a shop with fiber arts books and supplies, and sells artwork by its members.
EVFAC demonstrates the power of raising the commercial value of local, traditional craft by creating a supportive ecosystem for that craft to flourish, and to market its origin story. This movement to protect heritage designs as intellectual property is illustrated by the recent legal battle and eventual license settlement between the Navajo Nation and Urban Outfitters. Heritage design and palettes—such as those used by EVFAC artists—are sometimes listed in UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list but are difficult to protect in the legal arena.
I curated EVFAC into a Culture Hustlers exhibition and gathered questions on sticky notes for an upcoming podcast.