I’m in the kitchen with Francisco Bautista on a hot summer day and he’s holding a jar of dead bugs. He scoops a few into his hand, adds a couple drops of lime juice, and as he begins crushing the bugs into his palm, they instantly transform into a brilliant red color.
These are cochineal bugs, insects that live on the nopal cactus in Mexico. Francisco uses them to create natural dyes for the intricate, award-winning wool tapestries and rugs he and his wife, Laura, weave at their studio here in the town of Sandy, Oregon. While they use dozens of other materials to dye their wool, this is clearly Francisco’s favorite.
“It’s magic when you’re working with cochineal,” he said.
Francisco and Laura were born in Teotitlán del Valle, Oaxaca, in Mexico, a town renowned for its weaving. “Ninety percent of the people in the community know how to weave,” Francisco said. He recalls walking down the streets, day or night, hearing the sound of looms rhythmically working in every doorway. “You just hear that beater compacting the weaving on the loom. It’s a beautiful sound.” Weaving has been in both of their families for three generations.
For Francisco, weaving is more than a craft, it is an expression of his soul. “I have my heart connected to my brain and everything flows through my hands into the warp,” he said. “Every single detail on that piece represents me. It’s in that weaving.”
Since moving to Oregon in 2003 (joining Francisco’s uncle in Sandy, where he’s lived for over 40 years) the Bautistas have continued to weave the traditional Zapotec designs. “These designs, they’ve been in my culture for centuries and we weave them because they remind me of my ancestors, my family, my roots.”
But they’ve also continued to improvise, finding inspiration in mid-century Bauhaus patterns and in the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest. “Weaving is more than a museum piece. It continues to grow with each generation as a living art, combining tradition with new expressions of color, imagery, and symbolism,” Francisco said.
The Bautistas show their work at Northwest craft fairs, art festivals, and through their website. But now their mastery is attracting attention outside of Oregon. In August they were featured at the American Craft Council’s show in San Francisco (a virtual show this year, in the midst of the pandemic) and their work appeared in the pages of Architectural Digest magazine.
And as Francisco and Laura Bautista continue to conjure up new designs, their 16-year-old daughter, Cinthya, and 12-year-old son, David, are quickly becoming master weavers themselves, each working on their own looms. It’s a development Francisco could only have dreamed of years ago.
“Watching my two kids now weaving, I have no words to describe how happy I am, how I feel,” Francisco said. “My language, my culture, our traditions in Mexico. I’m teaching them all those details, everything that my dad and my grandpa taught me, I want to pass it to the next generation.”