Called the “matriarch” of Hispanic weaving in New Mexico, she made her own dyes from plants and flowers, constantly invented new designs, and taught others how to weave, including fifty-two direct descendants in her family.
Born in 1898 in Chamita, New Mexico, Agueda Martinez learned to weave at the age of 12 and continued to improve her weaving talent until it became a source of both income and inspiration for her. She has been called the “matriarch” of Hispanic weaving in New Mexico.
She made her own dyes from plants and flowers that added to the original color in the stripe and diamond-shape design of her tapestries. She constantly invented new designs for her work and often stated that she never repeated a weaving design. She was known for her complex designs and natural dyes. She also taught others how to weave. In her own family, 52 direct descendants have learned to weave. She stated that weaving “…is the most important thing I do.”
Martinez needed a context for that “most important thing” and that was the maintenance of her lifestyle and heritage so that her work was always in tune with nature and heritage. For her, nurtured by the rhythms of nature and the traditions of her dual ancestry, Navajo and Spanish, a life apart from the earth she cherished was unthinkable. She had a deep-rooted relationship with both the land and her family that enabled her to achieve a simple yet effective harmony with her environment that is reflected in her work. She led a self-sufficient life through her farming, gathering herbs, and weaving rugs and tapestries for sale. She also taught weaving before she began to receive national recognition for her art.
In 1975, Martinez received the prestigious Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts. A few years later, she was the subject of the Academy Award nominated documentary film, Agueda Martinez: Our People, Our Country. In 1980, she was selected as the first Feria Artesana Honoree by the Albuquerque Museum, and in 1981 The Smithsonian Institution purchased one of her weavings for its permanent collection.
She said that she would weave “until the day I can no longer move” and until then “Ya me va hallar bailando en el telar,” “You will find me dancing on the loom.”
Awards: Agueda Martinez received The Governor’s Award for Excellence in The Arts in 1975.
Helen R. Lucero, Ph.D. Curator of New Mexican Hispanic Crafts & Textiles. Museum of International Folk Art, Santa Fe, NM.