SANTA FE, N.M. — Fans of Rio Grande textiles may soon have a way to verify the authenticity of their collectibles if a resolution passes the 51st New Mexico State Legislature.
House Memorial ll would formally recognize the northern Rio Grande weaving tradition in order to preserve a heritage craft and protect the market from fakes.
The traditional methods of wool production and weaving are unique to the area and deserve to be protected and conserved for the benefit of future generations, said Camilla Bustamante, a board member of the Northern Rio Grande National Heritage Area in Española and instructor at Northern New Mexico College. Rep. Debbie Rodella, D-Española, is sponsoring the measure.
The effort toward authentication was driven, in part, by a profusion of fakes being mass-produced both in China and on the East Coast.
“It’s really to address the knock-offs,” Bustamante said of the memorial. “It’s happening all over the world. We’re just looking for the governor to direct support for licensing and verification to help with establishment of a credential that identifies the weaving as authentic.”
Standards have yet to be established, she added. But several experts, or “maestros,” including Robert Ortega of Ortega’s Weaving Shop in Chimayó and NNMC weavers, have volunteered to help address the issue.
Ortega was traveling and could not be reached for comment Friday.
“It’s not going to create a brand,” said Tom Romero, executive director of the Northern Rio Grande National Heritage Area. “We need to preserve what is done and do it in a way that continues the practice.”
Imitation rugs diminish the cultural importance and value of the originals, he added.
Bustamante was careful to say such licensing would be purely voluntary and designed to help the artists who produce traditional weaving.
She compared the concept to the old guilds operating in Europe during the Medieval period. They guaranteed craft standards and took on apprentices.
“It’s not an uncomplicated process,” she acknowledged. But it’s (ensuring) something people have been doing for multiple generations is documented. If someone doesn’t want the validation, they don’t have to.”
Bustamante hopes a board can begin forming to develop the criteria within a year.
But National Heritage Fellow and multiple Spanish Market award-winner Irvin Trujillo was skeptical of the idea. Trujillo is a seventh-generation weaver who operates a shop called Centinela Traditional Arts in Chimayó.
“I don’t want to say I’m angry, but I’m surprised,” he said.
“I work with weavers every day, and I try to improve their skills. I view licensing an artist as stifling. Artists and craftsmen create things. Every generation has added to the previous generation. To define it to a period and a product is ludicrous.”
Trujillo said he once saw an imitation Rio Grande vest from India.
“I’m always changing so that no one can define what I do,” he said. “It’s the difference between a product and art. All my life, I’ve pushed that boundary.”