Conjuros y Ebriedades Cantos de Mujeres Mayas
Century: 21st (2001-2100)
Cover very unusual. A type of layered paper that resembles a face with eyes cut out and nose noticeable. Binding unusual. Entire cover and pages made from natural fibers by Maya Indians in Southern Mexico. Contains a collection of spells, hymns and incantations.
Name: Ambar Past
Name: Taller Leñateros
Artist Information: Stories from a Collective: The Books of Taller Leñateros
by Edward H. Hutchins
In the highlands of the southern Mexican state of Chiapas lies the beautiful colonial city of San Cristobal de Las Casas. In the heart of San Cristobal is a cooperative artist workshop for making handmade paper and innovative books. Founded in 1975 by Mexican poet Ambar Past, the cooperative seeks to preserve, support and promote Mayan and related culture, mostly in the form of paper, prints and artist books. Over the past 25 years it has produced several landmark books. In many cases the best stories are not only the ones found between the covers but the tales that record how the book came to be important in the first place.
A Dyeing Textbook Revives a Dying Craft
At the time Taller Lenateros was founded synthetic aniline dyes had so completely replaced natural dyes that the original recipes, passed down for centuries, were on the verge of being lost. Ambar Past visited the many Indian villages surrounding San Cristobal and interviewed grandmothers who remembered their grandmothers dyeing yarn using natural materials.
Ambar began collecting recipes, though frequently only portions of recipes had survived. By experimenting it was possible to reconstruct the ancient alchemy that was done in generations past. In the process new natural dyes were invented as well. This led to the founding of the Natural Dye School for Native American Women. Ambar crisscrossed Mexico, Guatemala and Nicaragua holding workshops. Since each event was site-specific, a different set of recipes was taught in each area depending on what plants and materials were available locally.
From the start there was a need for a written record that would preserve and pass on the new and rediscovered recipes to future generations. In 1980 one of the first publications of Taller Lenateros was "Bon tintes naturales," an 80-page bilingual (Spanish/Tzotzil) instruction manual for creating natural dyes. Inexpensively offset-printed on newsprint, the book contained recipes, plant illustrations, poetry, charts and a fold-out map for locating supplies in San Cristobal. Each plant description and recipe is in a separate section so it can be taken out to be used or shared individually.
The text sheets are presented in a colorful silkscreened folder with a bookmark of braided threads dyed using the techniques found in the book. The Natural Dye School was a complete success. Within ten years many more natural dyes had been invented, teachers were training a new generation of teachers, and natural dyes were again being used for ceremonial and commercial purposes.
The dye school still exists. Women trained in the program bought their own building and it houses a natural dye cooperative. "Bon tintes naturales" is still in print and in its second edition.
Conjuring Spells and Drinking Songs
After the success of the Natural Dye School, interest at Taller Lenateros turned more and more to papermaking and book production. The Mayans had a long history of bookmaking before the arrival of the Spanish invaders and books were always important to the San Cristobal collective.
Up to this point several books of poetry, a children's ecological book and a collection of autobio- graphical portraits of Tzotzil women had been published. A desire for more books and an interest in recycling fueled a growing interest in handmade paper.
Even before launching the workshop Ambar had gone out to remote Indian villages and to record the songs, poems and stories of Mayan women. In time, she recorded hundreds of hours and assembled the most comprehensive collection of Mayan women's literary works, mostly in the form of conjuring spells and drinking songs. It was only left to share the results of this research in book form.
Over 150 people worked for 23 years to make the book possible. The title is "Conjuros y ebriedades, cantos de mujeres mayas" (Conjuring Spells and Drinking Songs of Mayan Women). The finished volume measures 25 cm (about 10") square, has 200 pages and 50 original silkscreen illustrations by Tzotzil and Tzeltal women. The end papers are recycled paper with palm fronds, logwood and soot added. The three-dimensional cover was created by Norwegian sculptor Gitte Daehlin and is cast from paper made of recycled cardboard boxes, corn silk and coffee.
The edition consists of 1000 copies plus an additional 650 deluxe copies printed on special handmade paper.
The most remarkable accomplishment of this entire project is that it is the first book written, illustrated, printed, bound and published by the Mayan people in 1,000 years.
An eclectic assemblage of objects coving a wide range of human history.