Master Weaver Isabel Pérez Mendoza
At 30 years old Isabel is the youngest of the formidable Master Weaver triumvirate of the Pérez Mendoza sisters. She began backstrap loom weaving at 8 years old and with 22 years of experience she is the equal of her sisters; her work is simply beautiful with well-rendered designs and clarity of color. Isabel is also the first and only member of her family to have completed high school which makes her other sisters quite proud. She graduated with a degree in accounting (because, as she says, "I like to count!"), but as there aren't jobs available, she became a professional weaver. She lives a kilometer or two away from her sisters at the home of her husband's family, along with their 7 year old daughter.
Isabel enjoys weaving because it is an expressive art - one that also allows her to maintain her home and feed her child. It's the creative aspect of weaving that she loves the most -- the designing and placement of jaspe, choosing the colors and tinting the thread with natural dyes, the whole of the completed weaving. Her eldest sister María Florinda taught her how to dye with natural plants. She noted that it's nearly impossible to control the end tint because every dye bath renders slightly different colors, depending on when the plant was picked, how much is used, how long the threads stay in the bath, the type of mordant used, etc.
When we came to her home to visit she was working on a gorgeous jaspe shawl woven from thread she had hand dyed from the sacatinta vine. Sacatinta grows abundantly over the walls and fences in San Juan, but as she informed us, it is so cherished for the blue & violet tints it produces that she often has to purchase the dried plant at the market. Although her weaving repertoire is varied from woven coasters to rebozos, her favorite types of weavings are the "turtle" weave ponchos and the 5-paneled bedspreads.
When beginning an interview, the weaver will often act formally towards me for a while. Not so with Isabel, she began giving me grief nearly immediately and this despite the fact that we came to her home with a whole crew of people. Her easy manner and warm sense of humor made us all feel immediately at home.
Although MayaWeavings has so far been able to acquire only a couple of Isabel's weavings, I'm looking forward to including more of her work among our collections. In the future we're also hoping to carry some of her bedspreads. If you'd like to special order one before then, let us know.
We left the interview asking Isabel what her dreams are. She answered simply - to give a good education to her daughter, that she can go to the university and choose a profession which allows her to use her full array of skills and fulfill her deepest desires. Isabel added that she would continue fighting until that goal is met.