News Column


July 6, 2014

By Kathaleen Roberts, Albuquerque Journal, N.M.

July 06--The Saraguros make collars of color painted in beadwork. In the 1960s, the Saraguro people of Ecuador lived without electricity and running water with dirt floors. Their children weren't allowed to go to school past the third grade.

"They could go to grades four through six, but that was only for white people," anthropologist Linda Belote said in a telephone interview from Dallas. "Some Indian parents cut their kids' hair and dressed them in white clothes because they wanted them to get an education."

Belote called from the Dallas Market Center, where two Saraguro members of the La Mega Cooperative were selling their beadwork to wholesalers. The center is one of the largest home and gift shows in the country.

The Saraguros are just two of more than 150 artists from 62 countries converging on Santa Fe's Museum Hill the weekend of July 11-13 for the 11th Annual International Folk Art Market. Most of the sellers come from developing countries, where the average income is less than $3 a day, including Afghanistan, Brazil, Cambodia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Kenya, Rwanda, Niger and Pakistan. Italy, Canada, the Philippines, Bangladesh and the Ivory Coast are new to this year's market. Across the past 10 years, market artists have earned more than $19 million, providing them the financial ability to improve their lives.

A retired University of Minnesota/Duluth professor, Belote first visited the Andean people of Ecuador through the Peace Corps in 1962. She kept returning, in part to research the origins of their distinctive jewelry.

La Mega member Rosa Elena Marcos learned bead weaving from her mother when she was a little girl, she said, while Belote translated.

"We use our imagination," she said of the designs. "We see the natural world, we look at the plants."

Because there are no written patterns, Marcos said she retains examples for herself. She uses the money she makes selling her beadwork to pay for the education of her four sons, as well as food, clothing, medical supplies and beading materials.

When Belote first visited the Saraguros, the women knew only one beading pattern. No one could remember its origins. The artists had no needles or nylon thread. They used waxed cotton thread to pass through the beads in a laborious process.

Primarily subsistence dairy farmers, the Saraguros live at an elevation of 8,500 feet, growing most of their own food -- corn, beans, squash and tree tomatoes -- and herding cattle and sheep.

Although they remain proud of their Incan heritage, it did not generate their beading. In about 1900, they searched for wider pastures and crossed the Andes into Ecuador's eastern slopes to the land of the Shuar. The Shuar wore strung necklaces of Czechoslovakian glass beads traded up the Amazon River to Brazil. The Saraguros traded cheese for beads and began making their own necklaces.

"We can't find anything about who started bead weaving," Belote said.

The 1970s brought nylon thread and hair-width beading needles, accelerating the process. The Saraguro technique differs from any other bead weavers.

"They go horizontally," Belote said. "Most people who are bead weaving go up and down. They put the thread over the string between the beads. That creates almost a fabric feel."

The artists never write their ever-expanding patterns down; they carry them in their heads. One pattern resembles feathers. The women call it strawberries, Belote said.

"But it's a crochet pattern called pineapple," she said, adding, "They do shading; they love the rainbow. That's very symbolic to them."

A peacock pattern uses four shades of blue, three shades of purple and three kinds of yellow.

A design by La Mega's Juana Sarango appears in the group catalog with her name on it, a placement considered an honor by the co-op. Sarango learned beading in school at age 10; she joined the group in 2006.

The piece named for her is called "Tejido de Juanita" (weaving of Juanita).

"It's a little necklace -- almost a choker with very fine weaving," Belote said. The piece incorporates an array of Czech fire-polished beads.

Sarango credited the group's "collective memory" for her designs. She uses the money she earns to educate her six children, who range from age 10 to 24.

As Belote and members of the market's training center worked with the Saraguros, the quality of their work rose, along with their business sense. Before Santa Fe, the group had no grasp of marketing, pricing or production deadlines.

Santa Fe'sKaren Domenici (former U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici's niece) became a long-term mentor to the co-op three years ago. Today it boasts 80 women and two men.

Domenici, who holds a master's degree in art history and runs a Native American jewelry business, heard about the mentoring program from a cousin. She signed up for a year and stayed.

"We've seen such progress," she said. "We were able to get them an online catalog. According to the Folk Art Market, they are the only people doing this work. It's almost like tapestry; it's very smooth."

One member told Domenici she spent 600 hours creating a single necklace.

"She said, 'That wasn't all at once; I took breaks,'" Domenici said with a laugh.

Last year, La Mega made $26,000. The money paid for a battered women's shelter, school supplies and medicine.

If you go

WHAT: International Folk Art Market: Santa Fe

WHEN: Friday, July 11-July 13. Opening party 6:30-9 p.m. Friday, July 11

WHERE: Milner Plaza, Museum Hill, Santa Fe

HOW MUCH: Friday opening party $175, Saturday early bird market 7:30-9 a.m.$50; Saturday market 9 a.m.-5 p.m.$15/ advance; $20/day of event. Sunday, family day, $10/ advance; $15/day of event. Youths 16 and under free Saturday and Sunday. Visit


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Source: Albuquerque Journal (NM)

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