History Herald: Springtime in New Mexico

by Laura Gonzales, Education & Volunteer Manager
The Dye Shed

Wind, allergies, sunshine in some places, snow in others, we all know what that means; it’s officially Spring in New Mexico! It’s the season symbolizing growth, renewal and rebirth. Looking around at the natural beauty of New Mexico we see color springing into vibrancy around us once again. At Las Golondrinas no one loves color more than our talented weavers! They turn plants, minerals, and even insects into natural dyes that transform the wool from our Churro sheep into radiant works of art.

Traditionally, New Mexican weavers have harvested wild growing plants to make dye. One that has always been in high demand for vibrant yellows and golds is “Cota.” This hearty plant is resilient with little water and thrives in the New Mexico wild. Our weavers let spun wool (yarn) sit in a mordant (a substance that binds dye to fiber) of water, alum, and cream of tartar, then soak the yarn in a dye bath made of cota petals. Variations in this process result in an array of golden hues. Cota has been integral to New Mexican life for generations, even used to make a tasty, medicinal tea. (*Please note, this is NOT medical advice. Always consult your health care provider before using home remedies (remedios).)

Herbs and Plants for Dying

New Mexicans in the past, however, didn’t have access to modern healthcare, and so, relied on herbal healers, honorably called Curanderos by their community. This is not a title they would have bestowed upon themselves. To provide the best care they could, curanderos spend years apprenticing and studying, and utilized various types of plants, herbs, and roots to sooth and cure an array of ailments. One of the most important was oshà. It grows in the high sierras and was used in treating colds, lung infections, and sore throats. It was also believed to ward off rattlesnakes and was used by Pueblo and Spanish communities alike to discourage insect infestation along acequia banks (irrigation ditches), which is great because springtime is also when local farmers from rural communities across New Mexico work together to clean the winter debris from their acequias, as they have for generations.

Curator’s Corner: Spindle Whorls

by Amanda Mather, Curator of Collections

Here is a little insight on an overlooked object, but one that helped keep us clothed for a very long time.

Spindles are long sticks used to spin yarn, and the Spindle Whorl is the weighted piece at the end that helps maintain the spindles speed and spin.

Spindle Whorls were made of a myriad of material — coral, amber, stone, antler, and as shown in the photo to your left, pottery. For the past 9,000 years, the spindle and its ever-trusty helper the whorl has been spinning fabrics all around the world.

When weaving artifacts are found, often the spindle is gone, having been made of an organic material (often wood) that is no longer with us. Since the whorl was often made of tougher stuff, it is usually the thing that is found for the archaeological record.

Spindle Whorls have been found everywhere — Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas – where there is fabric to be woven, there are spindle whorls.

The example that is in our exhibition hall at the Ranch is made of a recycled piece of Puebloan pottery that has been repurposed as a whorl. It comes from a 17th century Spanish Colonial archaeological site named LA 20,000, a site for which El Rancho de las Golondrinas is the custodian.

LA 20,000 is a site that has been researched by archaeologists, including Dr. Heather Trigg of the Fiske Center for Archaeology and her graduate students, who come to toil away in the hot summer sun to learn more about Spanish Colonial lives.

Come by El Rancho de las Golondrinas during our season (June through October 1) to watch our talented weavers use spindles and whorls with expert hands — it’s an impressive thing to see to say the least.

Meet Julia R. Gomez

Julia R. Gomez

“I have been volunteering at the Ranch since 2000,” states Julia R. Gomez. “I have learned much about my own history here at Las Golondrinas. My art of colcha embroidery blossomed once I started volunteering here. I was invited to be a part of the “Spinners and Weavers” by Beatrice Sandoval Maestas who was the director of the group at that time. She was a great mentor to me.

I have many wonderful memories of my mother being here and being happy. All my friends helped me take care of her and she felt an important part of the group. I am forever grateful.

I am the happiest when I am talking to the children about the history of this area. They are curious and enthusiastic. I love their stories and responses to questions. Working in the ‘cocina,’ I asked who would be in the cradle and a little girl answered it was Jesus!

I enjoy being part of all the festivals. ¡Viva Mexico! is one of the biggest we have now, but when it started, the spinners and weavers were the entertainment. I was assigned to wear the matador costume because I was the smallest. I danced and carried on and everyone laughed. I found out later that my pants were ripped out in the back end!

I have made many friends over the years and I am always happy to see them return every season. We always have fun! I am blessed to be a part of this beautiful and historic Ranch.”

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Julia is a Spanish colonial colcha embroidery artist.  She uses homespun yarn and natural dyes for her embroidery using the same methods that the Spanish settlers of northern New Mexico used in colonial times. She is one of the few artists who spins Churro wool and weaves Sabanilla. Sabanilla is a textile made during the colonial period in this far northern province of New Spain. It is the background fabric for the embroidery. Julia has been doing colcha embroidery for 30 years! Her mentor was Monica Sosaya Halford. She learned weaving from maser weaver Beatrice Maestas of Las Vegas. New Mexico.

In 2002, Julia’s “Burial Cloth” won the Blue Ribbon at Spanish Market. In 2003, Julia won a Blue Ribbon at Spanish Market for her “Baptismal Rebozo” (shawl) and the Spanish Market Purchase Award. Also in 2003, her “Birds of Northern New Mexico” won a Red Ribbon. In 2005, she won the Santos of New Mexico award at the New Mexico State Fair.

Her favorite project was a cape and scapular that she wove and embroidered for La Conquistadora, the patron saint of Santa Fe.  Our Lady wears her Spanish colonial gown during Spanish Market. The statue is located in the Saint Francis Basilica of Santa Fe. This story is also in a book, The Healing Touch of Mary, by Cheri Lomonte.

In July 2003, Julia was featured in the Santa Fe New Mexican in “El Nuevo Mexicano” page. The December 2006 issue of New Mexico Magazine interviewed Julia for the story: “The Women Who Saved Colcha Embroidery.” In October 2007, Julia’s art was in the New Mexican’s “Neighbors” page.

Her work was selected to be in “Original’s 2007,” a juried and invitational exhibition of New Mexico women artists. It was organized and sponsored by the New Mexico Committee of the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

The awards and accolades have kept coming for Julia. At the 2009 Spanish Market, she won the Collections’ Committee Award for her rebozo entitled “El Convento del Paraiso.” In July of 2010, Julia won “Best of Show” at Spanish Market with an embroidered bedspread (colcha) titled: “Jardin de las Golondrinas” (“Garden of the Swallows”). It is in the permanent collection of the Albuquerque Museum.

In November 2010, Julia was invited to demonstrate colcha embroidery at the Eiteljorg Museum in Indianapolis, Indiana, and in September of 2011, she was a presenter at the International Embroiderers’ Guild convention in Naples, Florida.

In 2012 at Spanish Market, Julia won both second and third place ribbons for her embroidery. More awards continued through 2014 and 2015 and in 2016 she was given the “Women in American History” award by the Daughters of the American Revolution and featured in New Mexico Magazine in an article entitled, “A Stitch Out Of Time.”

Julia is a native of Santa Fe. Her career was in public school education, where she retired after 36 years in the classroom.

Her only daughter, Sarahmaria A. Gomez, graduated from Northwestern University and is the owner of Tu Multimedia in Chicago, Illinois. She is also teaching journalism at Northwestern University.

Julia is a docent at the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art where she teaches embroidery to the members of “Las Bordadoras.”  She is also a docent at El Rancho de las Golondrinas and past president of La Sociedad Folklórica. She enjoys oil painting, playing tennis in the summer and skiing in the winter.