Monday, March 31, 2014

"Our Interwoven Lives with the Zapotec Weavers: An Odyssey of the Heart" by Susanna Starr

Now taking orders on Amazon (pub. June 1, 2014)

An Odyssey of the Heart
by Susanna Starr
 Photographs by John Lamkin

Photograph by ©John Lamkin
I hope this story serves as a reminder that business is not a negative word. Trading is as old as human history, whether for goods or services. It doesn't have to be exploitative nor impersonal to be successful. Rather, if it is infused with joy and happiness, it can provide a vital, important and enriching aspect of our lives. 
                      –  Susanna Starr, Taos, NM    
Zapotec Women at Market - photo ©John Lamkin


A BEAUTIFUL BOOK, BOTH THE WRITING AND PHOTOGRAPHS. I own a Zapotec rug and appreciate the work of these artists. This book gives them credit where credit is long overdue.--Tom Aageson, Executive Director, Global Center for Cultural Entrepreneurship

A MUST READ FOR ANYONE WHO WANTS TO DO WELL BY DOING GOOD IN THE WORLD. This improbable story about an American "hippie" and traditional weavers in the Oaxaca Valley of Mexico will fire your Imagination and touch your heart. Susanna Starr's life story proves that love, respect, learning and success in business can go hand in hand.--Judith Fein, Author of Life Is a Trip: The Transformative Magic of Travel and The Spoon from Minkowitz: A Bittersweet Roots Journey to Ancestral Lands

Photograph by ©John Lamkin

 With Love it began…With Love it flourished…And with Love it continues.

     OUR INTERWOVEN LIVES WITH THE ZAPOTEC WEAVERS - An Odyssey of the Heart celebrates American entrepreneur and gallery owner Susanna Starr’s forty years of working with the Zapotec weavers of the Oaxaca Valley in Mexico. Starr takes us back to the moment when she first navigated dirt roads into the remote village of Teotitlan in the 70s, and fell in love with the vibrant Zapotec hand-loomed weavings and the warmth of the weavers themselves. She leads us on a three-generational trek of mind and spirit, as the Zapotec families and her own grow in parallels of symbiotic prosperity and mutual respect that reminds us that “business” does not have to be a negative word.

     Susanna Starr is the owner of Starr Interiors in Taos, New Mexico, which began as La Unica Cosa in 1974, and features hand-dyed 100% wool rugs, wall hangings, and pillows traditionally dyed and loomed by the Zapotec weavers.

     OUR INTERWOVEN LIVES WITH THE ZAPOTEC WEAVERS - An Odyssey of Heart reflects Starr’s philosophy that business need not be kept separate, but can be an integral and meaningful part of everyday lives.

     “I hope this story serves as a reminder that business is not a negative word,” says Starr. “Trading is as old as human history, whether for goods or services. It need not be exploitative or impersonal to be successful. Rather, if it is infused with joy and happiness, it can provide a vital, important and enriching aspect of our lives.

     The weavings have been purchased by numerous celebrities including Paul Simon, Sting and Diana Ross, and featured in style magazines such as “Architectural Digest

BOOK EXCERPT:  Introduction

     For a long time I’ve been encouraged to write about the years I’ve spent working with the weavers of a small Zapotec Indian village high up in the mountains outside of the city of Oaxaca, Mexico. Not only have I had this encouragement from family, friends and people I’ve dealt with through my weaving gallery in Taos, New Mexico over the past forty years but, most importantly, I’ve been encouraged by the weavers themselves.

     Now the time has come to tell that story. Far from being a story of running a business of introducing and selling these weavings in the United States, this is a story of the personal interactions that have taken place between me and the Zapotec people over the past four decades. The gallery that I’ve run during this time has simply been a vehicle to promote and distribute this particular art form. In the evolution of the gallery and of the weavings in general, as in any other part of life, many changes have taken place. But, as in any other endeavor, some constants remain.

    For me the most important of these constants is the deeply personal connection I’ve had with particular weaving families as well as with the village as a whole. This connection has encompassed half of my life and the passion remains. Obviously, this is a personal narrative, but it also tells the story of people working together to preserve a culture and to promote a craft that has great impact not only on the individual weavers but on the whole village. The success I’ve enjoyed is mirrored in the success of that village and the individual weavers with whom I’ve been connected.

     The story begins with my first visit in 1974 driving, with my partner Ramon, down a long, dirt road through a somewhat hostile village whose people were resentful of the people of the neighboring village and refused to give any helpful directions. But, continuing on, we eventually reached our destination. We finally arrived in the small square that was the center of Teotitlan del Valle.

     The book is divided by generations. The first generation deals with that arrival and my initial introduction to the weavings. It paints a picture of the early years. There is a description of my own life at that time and the involvement with the Zapotec Indians of the village that was to become life changing for me.

     The second generation is my work with the children of those initial weavers, after having had a long relationship with their parents. This is the same generation as that of my own three children. All of these children are now grown and well into the middle stage of their own lives. Although I am still very much connected to the parents, most of my business dealings over the past two decades have been with this second generation, children when I first knew them, and now associates in the business of buying and collaborating on rug designs and purchases.

     The third generation, who are primarily teenagers and young adults, is now just coming into its own. Once again, there’s the parallel with my own family. In this section we look at the grandchildren who have been raised in the weaving tradition but who have been afforded opportunities their own parents, and certainly not their grandparents, were unable to enjoy when they were of a similar age.

     In this time of instant communications and cutting edge advances in the promotion of products, from smart phones to purchasing online, this narrative illustrates the fundamental exchange, on a very personal level, of real people and the weavings they produce completely by hand. Each of the weavings I’ve ever handled is infused with spirit. I know this to be a fact. It’s not only the spirituality of the people that permeates all that they do, but also the authenticity with which they do it. Each weaving represents part of someone’s life. No weaving machines or equipment of any kind are used, despite the availability of mechanized looms and computerized designs.

     This is not to suggest that the village is backward or unaware of changes that have taken place in the marketplace. Rather, they have chosen to incorporate many aspects of our contemporary world, while at the same time maintaining the integrity of their traditional way of life. But this third generation, as a result of the work and dedication of their parents and grandparents, has been afforded many more opportunities to make different life choices. They have not only had the same exposure to the same things my own grandchildren have, but they have also had educational opportunities the previous generations had been denied.

     The weavers I first encountered had only an early grade school education in the village which was all that was available to them at that time. This second generation saw their children attend the newly built grammar/junior high school. The third generation now has had access to high schools and universities. Weaving is still an option and a good choice for many of this youngest generation but for some, as you will see, their lives are taking different directions. Some things, however, remain the same, among them the sanctity of the fundamental family unit and the continuing importance of maintaining their cultural heritage.

Paperback: 136 pages        Publisher: Paloma Blanca Press (June 1, 2014)

            ISBN-10: 0991095618
           ISBN-13: 978-0991095612
          Product Dimensions: 8 x 8 x 0.4 inches       Shipping Weight: 8 ounces 

Hardback (gloss laminate)                Paperback (gloss perfect bound)
ISBN 13: 978-0-9910956-0-5           ISBN 13: 978-0-9910956-1-2
ISBN 10: 0-9910956-0-X                            ISBN 10: 0-9910956-1-8
LCCN: 2013920484                        LCCN 2013920484
Pages: 136                                   Price: $19.95
Price: $29.95                                      

Susanna Starr is an entrepreneur, photographer, speaker, artist and travel writer. She is the owner of Starr Interiors in Taos, New Mexico, which began as La Unica Cosa in 1974, and features hand-dyed 100% wool rugs, wall hangings, and pillows traditionally dyed and loomed by the Zapotec weavers. Susanna has lived in Northern New Mexico for forty years, and has over twenty years experience in the hospitality business as owner of Rancho Encantado, an eco-resort and spa in Mexico. Her degree in Philosophy is from Stony Brook State University of New York, and she is IFWTWA Regional Membership Coordinator (RMC) for Riviera Maya & Oaxaca, Mexico. Susanna Starr is also the author of FIFTY AND BEYOND: New Beginnings in Health and Well-Being published by Paloma Blanca. Her online articles have appeared in numerous publications, including Soul of Travel Magazine, The Examiner, and the award-winning travel journal, Your Life Is a Trip.

About John Lamkin (Photojournalist)
John Lamkin is a freelance travel journalist and photographer based in Taos, New Mexico (and lives part-time in Quintana Roo, Mexico). He is a board member and Global Membership Chair of International Food, Wine & Travel Writers Association (IFWTWA). Lamkin attended the San Francisco Art Institute and founded San Francisco Camerawork. In addition to food, wine and travel writing, he has worn many hats in public relations, copy writing, technical writing, and poetry writing. He is the former editor of Camerawork Quarterly and Music of the Spheres Magazine, and a member of the North American Travel Journalists Association (NATJA). Lamkin is a contributing writer for Luxury Latin America, Luxury Avenue Magazine, Suite101, The Examiner, Reuters America, Your Life Is A Trip, Jetsetter, and he is also a columnist for The Syndicated News. He is fluent in Spanish.