By Melanie Petrucci, Senior Community Reporter
Shrewsbury – On May 6, Porfirio Gutierrez, a folk artist specializing in weaving from Oaxaca, Mexico, visited students at Saint Mary School in Shrewsbury. He was accompanied by Pat Picciano from Margarita’s Restaurant in Northborough.
Gutierrez and Picciano gave a series of live weaving demonstrations and Picciano spoke about its importance to the culture of the Oaxaca region of Mexico to five groups of students throughout the day.
The visit was made possible through Margarita’s Mexican Restaurant’s Culture and Education Outreach program.
“They work with artists in Mexico to introduce and bring back the culture to the United States and they are trying to reach out to expand the education outreach,” explained Stephanie Muzzy, advancement director at Saint Mary School.
The goal is for these live demonstrations will expand the understanding of the Oaxaca history, Mexican culture and family traditions as displayed within the beauty of the intricate Mexican weavings.
“Margarita’s decorates its restaurants with artwork and on our journeys to Mexico we meet these amazing folk artists. It was the owner’s idea to open it up for schools to come in on field trips, usually middle and high school students and then we have this where we go into the schools in our communities,” explained Picciano.
While the demonstrations were taking place, he told the students that Gutierrez was weaving a special piece for their school featuring a “mariposa” (butterfly) and explained the steps and skills involved.
The weavings are made of hand-spun yarns dyed with local plants, minerals and insects. All are sourced from what is immediately available to them.
Materials that are used for dye colors include cochineal insects, tree moss, pericon and indigo. Gutierrez uses potassium alum and simple lemon juice to get the chemical reactions to achieve the desired colors.
During the demonstration, Gutierrez invited a volunteer to help him mix some colors. Fourth-grade student Liam Cincotta volunteered. Using one of Liam’s palms, he mixed ground cochineal insects and a bit of water to achieve a rich shade of red. Then he added lemon juice which shifted the color and it shifted again after introducing limestone.
“We are playing with chemistry and by changing the PH. it creates another reaction,” Gutierrez noted.
In an effort to share this program, she opened the program up for other schools to attend. As such, Al-Hamra Academy sent about 15 students in addition to staff to one of the sessions. Parishioners and members of the community were also invited.
The Gutierrez family’s weavings have been featured in prestigious shows and events such as the International Folk-Art Market in Santa Fe, N.M., and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.
This program was supported by a grant from the Shrewsbury Cultural Council, a local agency supported by the Mass Cultural Council.