Zenon Hipolito crafted his own looms, the largest being ten feet wide. He brings a portable
4x4-foot loom to art fairs and demonstrates his craft, which requires constant attention
to the mathematics of the design. Geometric figures are complex, but the curved figures,
whether a bird or flower or sun or moon or animal image, are the most difficult to weave
and likely to be least appreciated by the casual viewer. “When did you begin weaving? I
“When I was eight,” he said. His father, a master weaver, taught him, and Zenon had to
learn the most difficult designs first, the curves.
“How often do we challenge the student with the hardest first,” I wondered? Zenon's eyes
gleamed, and his Mona Lisa smile turned radiant when he spoke of his father, who died in
“The best yarn comes from Chichicapan, a town near Oaxaca. They raise their own sheep
and have the best handspun wool.” Sheep and goat wool is used in its natural color or is
naturally dyed in earth tones. A bluestone is ground to make indigo; yellow comes from
the onion, green from the pepper tree, and walnuts or pecans provide brown. The cochineal
insect is dried and ground to create a deep red.
One may see a cruciform and think of the cross, but it's a compass indicating cardinal
points and the elements of life: earth, sun, water and air. Browns and grays are earth colors.
Reds and yellows honor the life-giving sun. Blues and green represent water and white air.
Zenon showed me a carpet with the sun at the center, which was composed of four elements
and colors. I was thinking phases of the moon and sun. “The moon is in eclipse,” he said.
But a sliver shadowing the crescent moon was a deeper blue. “Every time my mother saw
an eclipse, she put water outside to relieve the sun.” This personal experience became part
of the carpet.
A carpet may use any number of aesthetic elements, stylized geometric figures, negative-
positive images created by designs and offsetting adjacent colors. “The butterfly represents
long-lasting life and the caracol (snail, stylized spiral) we believe continues life; your cul-
ture goes on and on and on. The center is energy, our belly button, Mother Earth.” Pat-
terns of four repeat, as there are four steps in life. Checkerboard crosses using squares and
triangles symbolized the life force and energy. The cloud motif, a symmetrical pattern of
small squares arranged from the center point of the cloud in a six-to-four-to-two ratio is a
sign of plenty and an abundant harvest. Repeating triangles in an arrow pattern, stylized
scales or feathers, are signs of long life and energy. Butterflies, geometric Xs or threes