by Jean Pierre Larochette
A theme is described as the subject of artistic composition, the unifying quality of an idea, or, as in music, that which is repeated with variations. When I was first confronted with the need of a theme to bring a framework to short tapestry workshops, I developed small cartoons (designs intended for tapestry), thinking that in the effort of interpretation the student would practice a variety of specific techniques. In the 1960’s I did not have other models for short, “intensive” workshops, a rarity then when teaching a craft such as tapestry, which traditionally requires years of study and apprenticeship. The themes I proposed at the time evolved predominantly around form, introducing technical complexities in a gradual manner.
The theme of Maiz came to us in the most unpredictable way. Around the month of October, every fall season, we embark with Yael in the twenty two hundred mile drive from Berkeley, California, to El Tuito, in the state of Jalisco, Mexico. In the last years we noticed the valley of the Yaqui River in Sonora, one of Mexico’s largest agricultural areas, turning increasingly in to a one-crop field of corn. Along the highway new gigantic silos grew overnight like ugly concrete and metal mushrooms, its contents to be exported for fuel, while the diminished production of local corn is exposed to gene contamination. Because of recent international trade agreements Mexicans are increasingly consuming poor quality grain, mostly imported from the US. About three hundred organizations, most of them started by indigenous and campesino farmers, had united under the banner of Sin Maiz no hay Pais (Without Maize there is not Country) to protect over fifty original varieties that are still cultivated today. It is in southern Jalisco, and in Oaxaca, that the oldest known examples of maize (teocinte) cultivation have been found. To the adage SIN MAIZ NO HAY PAIS! Yael repeated: SIN MAIZ NO HAY TAPIZ!
The rhyme stayed with us. On the way to El Tuito we knew that we had found an interesting theme for the upcoming tapestry retreat there. What we could never imagine was the creative power of Maiz at the hands of the dear weavers that annually join us for this event.