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Text and Photos ©2011 by J. Pint

Photo Gallery

Acelia Garcia, right, 1965

Acelia Garcia, right, in the village of San Sebastian Teponahuastlán in 1965. “People were hostile at first, but they soon came to accept us,” says the art historian. Photo courtesy of A. Garcia.

3 bracelets - Photo by Susy Pint

Three bracelets from Acelia Garcia’s collection show the great variety of designs found in Huichol beadwork.

Book: Chaquira de los Indigenas Huicholes

Garcia's book, Chaquira de los Indigenas Huicholes, ISBN 970 624 469-7 has 175 pages and was published in 2006 by Gobierno de Jalisco.

Two-headed Eagle

 The two-headed eagle design on a bracelet. The mathematical quality of the design is a reflection of an innovative process of transference from weaving to beadwork. From Garcia's book on Huichol Beadwork.


Garcia at Ocomo Palace

Acelia Garcia addressing a crowd of visitors at the excavation of the Tecpan (Palace) of Ocomo in Oconahua, a project she fought for during many years.

Carl Lumholtz, courtesy of Wikipedia

Carl Sofus Lumholtz (1851–1922), Norwegian explorer and ethnographer. "What does a Norwegian man know about Huichol women?"






Acelia Garcia de Weigand Receives Award

By John Pint

Acelia GarciaIn a ceremony held in the Degollado Theater on November 15, art historian Acelia Garcia de Weigand was presented with the “Woman of 2011” award in the field of culture by Radio Mujer which is broadcast in 386 Mexican cities.

Garcia is author of the book Chaquira de los Indígenas Huicholes (Huichol Beadwork), based on observations  and collections she made during the thirty months  she and her late husband archaeologist Phil Weigand lived with the Huicholes in the remote village of San Sebastián Teponahuastlán, Jalisco. Nowadays the Huicholes refer to themselves as Wixáricas (pronounced wee-SHA-ree-kas), which, says Garcia, means “nosotros” (us).

“I was shocked,” said the researcher when she heard about the award; “I thought they were kidding!” These sentiments echo Garcia’s surprise in 1968 when Southern Illinois University Carbondale asked her to teach a hands-on course in Huichol art techniques (weaving, yarn painting and beadwork) even though she didn’t have a degree at that time. Her expertise, in fact, goes back to her childhood when she learned handicrafts in her village of Tepec, Amacueca. Later, in San Sebastián, she was able to deeply analyze local techniques and then apply this knowledge to the beadwork collections of Carl Lumholtz, Leon Diguet and Robert Zingg as well as her own personal collection which began in 1965 and continues to this day.

Acelia Garcia in 1968. Photo courtesy of A. Garcia

Acelia Garcia Weigand in 1968 in the Southern Illinois University Adult Education News, which announced her courses in Huichol Crafts:

Mrs. Celia Weigand displays an example of the Huichol Indian art of Western Mexico which she will teach this fall. The course will include instruction in weaving, yarn painting and beadwork, with students producing their own examples of the craft. The class wilol meet from 7 to 10 p.m. Thursdays for ten weeks. Mrs. Weigand is the wife of SIU anthropologist Phillip Weigand, and learned the crafts in her native Mexico.

Garcia says the purpose of her book, which is an abridged translation of her master’s thesis at State University, N.Y., is to prove “that these designs and techniques belong to the Huicholes of Jalisco and Nayarit, Mexico and to make sure no one else lays claim to them.”

Beadwork and Math

Garcia went to live in San Sebastián in 1965, originally to cook for her husband Phil Weigand who was working on his Ph.D. on land use by the Huicholes. She spent her days with the women, as was the custom, and became interested in how the local designs were being transferred back and forth between weaving, cross-stitching and beadwork. “I was so enthralled by the work of these very intelligent women—none of whom had ever gone to school—that I forgot all about how miserable it was sleeping on the ground. I discovered to my surprise, that beadwork is very mathematical.”

Ethnographers with fleas

Asked about living conditions in the village, she reminisced: “Well, we had a down sleeping bag with more fleas in it than feathers and we slept on the ground and we didn’t mind. We were so happy and so interested in the culture! The truth is, when we first arrived in San Sebastián, people were hostile. Before going there, we had been told not to say we were historians or archaeologists, but “ethnographers” because no one would understand what that meant. But when we got there, we discovered that what actually worried the local people was that Phil, being an American, might secretly be working for a mining company and they figured I was an escort he had rented to fool them.

Acelia Garcia with part of 1966-1981 collection of beadwork bracelets

Smart Huicholes

“So when we got there, we were sleeping out in the open, but pretty soon the president of the community came along and gave us a “room” –with no roof—in an abandoned church that was falling to pieces. Now, they had a disused church there because these people in San Sebastián were maybe the most traditional of all the Huicholes…but they were smart. When a priest arrived among them, they allowed him to make all the adobe bricks he wanted. Then they accused him of something scandalous (It was actually not true), threw him out and used the adobe to build their own town hall.  But we were soon accepted by the people and never had a problem with them, only with the dogs that used to come and rob our kitchen at night.

“Now Phil had a guide to take him out where he could study the use of the land, while I spent all my time with the ladies. In those days, all the Huichol artwork was made exclusively by the women. In time, I learned a lot of Huichol and I got along well with the women.

According to Lumholtz

"Phil had Lumholtz’s book with him and I started reading it and I didn’t agree at all with what he was saying! His description of their behavior was not far from what I was seeing, but the interpretation was different. I didn’t believe everything was symbolic, as Lumholtz claimed. You know, Lumholtz had studied to become a priest and he was biased toward symbolism. So Phil and I would have big discussions on this: ‘You can’t do this and you can’t do that,’ he would say, ‘because according to Lumholtz…’ and I would reply, ‘What does a Norwegian man know about Huichol women? You and Lumholtz can go jump in the lake; I’m going to do what I want to do.’  And I did it my way and I never got into trouble.

“Most of the people who wrote about the Huicholes focused on peyote rituals and sensationalism, and they stereotyped the Huicholes. But in my book there is no sensationalism. I talk about transitions of techniques, how the colors, the designs, the weaving, the cross-stitching changed. You know, cross-stitching done by a Mestizo woman like me and by a Huichol might look the same on top, but if you turn it over, it looks very different. I could see how imaginative they were, so smart!”

Acelia Garcia’s study has never ended. “This is the fifth generation I am studying. Now one of my sources is a policewoman at the Puente Grande Prison and she is doing beadwork for this collection: she and her children do excellent work.”
   Garcia’s first collection is now housed at the Museo de las Artes Populares in Guadalajara, San Felipe 211 at Pino Suarez. It’s open Sundays 10AM to 4PM and Tuesday to Saturday, 10AM to 6PM (Tel: 3614-3891).  You can also purchase a well-made documentary DVD in English on Acelia Garcia and Huichol Beadwork from Explora Mexico, Tel (33) 1086 4428, Email exploramexico@yahoo.com.mx .

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