Thursday, February 12, 2015

"Purpura", a rare purple dye obtained from sea snails

The above phrase captivated me at least twenty-five years ago.  It didn't occur to me at the time that anyone else was captivated by it also.

Imagine my surprise in 2005, when I personally met Marta Turok, who has single-handedly worked within the government of Mexico to accomplish the impossible, the cancellation of a contract with a foreign country to extract this purple dye.

A couple of years later when she was at the Feria Maestros del Arte at Lake Chapala, I traveled there to hear her speak on this very subject.

It's a convoluted story, but, at one point in history, this dye was worth more then silver and gold, I'm told.
It is very laborious and dangerous to extract the dye from sea snails in the state of Oaxaca.

So, imagine my surprise yesterday to meet, at the Writers' Conference another woman whose mission is to protect and prevent the desecration of the sea snails.  Her name is Patrice Perillie. She lives in the state of Oaxaca and formerly practiced law.  She is passionate about her current involvement with the weavers and gatherers of the dye near her home.

As she told me, if the people can have two people and two boats to protect the environment of the sea snails from encroachment, the people of the area will be able to continue to make a living collecting, weaving and making items with the purple dye.  Then they will not have to go "North" to make a living.

She was brought to San Miguel, by her friend and mine, Patrice Wynne.  Now here are TWO dynamic women!  I've known Patrice ever since she came to San Miguel.  A former, very successful bookstore owner in Northern California, she started a company here in San Miguel called Abrazos that makes all kinds of garments and items by utilizing the sewers of San Miguel.  Local Mexican women.  She again has been very successful.

Patrice was recently in Puerto Escondido for the 6th Annual Weaving Exhibition and Sale of the Dreamweavers, as the people I talked about previously are known.

Since she has been in charge of the first Artisan's Market at the conference, she invited Patrice and her group to participate.  They brought a film which will be shown this evening at 7 PM at Patrice's home in San Miguel about the process of harvesting the dye, the making of the thread and the weaving of a garment.
 The two Patrice's.  Notice the wonderful huipil that Patrice Perillie is wearing while Patrice Wynne is wearing one of the aprons made famous by Abrazos.
               Here are more of the items made with the dye.  Huipils, little bags and scarves. ALL
                                                                     natural materials. 
Very few items are made.  If you want to participate in helping to save the sea snails and the purple dye, please contact either of these women on their FB pages or, if you're in San Miguel, go by the Writer's Conference and go to the Artesan's Booth to meet both of them and get more information.    

In addition, if you interested in knowing more about Marta Turok and her accomplishements over the last 35 years, please go to   Her story is fascinating as well, since she has saved so much of the indigenous arts of Mexico.    I'm honored to know all of these women who care so much about the artesans and their traditions.                           


Anonymous said...

In December at the San Pablo Cultural Center in Oaxaca, there was a beautiful exhibit of huge richly toned photographs of the makers and process of making the dyes used in traditional weaving, including purpura and cochineal.... Wish I could remember the photographer's name for you.

Babs said...

That sounds fabulous. Once on TV I saw a documentary on the dangerous cliffs that they climb to get the sea snails. That, in itself, is a testament to the peoples' dedication.
If you think of the name of the photographer, let me know. Thanks.

Retired Teacher said...

I remember back in elementary school learning about how the ancient Phoenicians made purple dye from snails... a very valuable product. Interesting that the same process is going on today in Mexico.

Babs said...

Yes, the purple dye tradition has been going on in Mexico since before the Spaniards arrived! It is amazing to see the process and the beauty of the finished products. I find the whole story absolutely fascinating.

Carol said...

Great article Barbara! Altho it took me a moment of contemplation about how exactly Patrice "uses the sewers of San Miguel" for her products... I immediately pictured a subterranean sewer system!!! Then I realized my mistake! hahaha

I went to her house on Thu for the video and met the weavers and one of the men who collects the snail dye. Fascinating!

Babs said...

Hi Carol - I met the weavers and the man who harvests the dye at the Writers Conference. I had a conflict on Thursday evening with a ticket for Scott Turow so couldn't be there.
I'm sure the weavers and the man will be happy to be home where it is warm and sunny!
I have seen their work before and it is still exquisite. Thanks for commmenting.