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In Las Marías, artisans weave their love through textiles and woodcraft

Frances Hernández Ortiz and Norberto Ortiz Jiménez shine with their talents and knowledge, happily sharing their skills

April 14, 2024 - 11:00 PM

Artisan couple Norberto Ortiz and Frances Hernández specialize in woodworking and textiles, respectively. (Isabel Ferré Sadurní)

Lee la historia en español aquí.

Las Marías.- Frances Hernández Ortiz grew up surrounded by threads and needles. Her grandmother, Julia Colón Ortiz, made sure that the women in her family learned how to weave. Since then, Frances has threaded her life through a craft that risks disappearance.

As a result, the woman has dedicated herself to sharing her talent with anyone interested in discovering the craft that has been her companion for six decades. Despite her roles as a teacher, principal, and school superintendent, she never ceased to create.

“When I was young, ever since I was in school, I made headbands and sold them for 5 and 10 cents. Later, as a teenager in the 1970s, I made things for my friends: clothes, vests, fringes; there was a knitting boom, and I did it and taught others,” recalled the certified artisan in weaving.

Even in her adulthood, Frances remained true to the path charted by her ancestors in her hometown of Mayagüez, continuing to craft intricate pieces with an array of needles.

Frances Hernández with her fabrics.
Frances Hernández with her fabrics. (Isabel Ferré Sadurní)

“I taught my daughter, my granddaughters, and anyone who asks me, I teach them (to weave), because this is a tradition that is disappearing. But I’ve noticed that young women nowadays enjoy it,” she noted, mentioning that her works include “handbags, tablecloths, pincushions, clothing for dogs, for young people, a bit of everything.”

Yet, when it comes to threading needles, she prefers the ones carved by her husband, the esteemed artisan Norberto Ortiz Jiménez. Together, they settled in Barrio Anones in Las Marías over 30 years ago.

“She’s a devoted fan of mine, completely committed, and she loves it when I make her needles from local hardwoods like mahogany, cedar, capá prieto, capá blanco, among others. It’s a very interesting process because it keeps us connected. We’re always together,” confessed the native of Mayagüez as he gazed upon his beloved’s face.

Norberto Ortiz’s sculptures depicting the Three Wise Men.
Norberto Ortiz’s sculptures depicting the Three Wise Men. (Isabel Ferré Sadurní)

Indeed, as Frances was unraveling the secrets of weaving in Mayagüez, Norberto became interested in the art of drawing at the tender age of five.

Without knowing it, their lives intertwined in the pursuit of fine and folk art, respectively. Norberto also worked as an educator and school principal.

“First came drawing, then painting; the majority of my learning was self-taught. I have many skills in craftsmanship: pyrography, carving, which is what I am drawn to the most, coconut carving, engravings, painting on higüera (calabash gourds), and wire work, among others,” recounted the artisan from Las Marías.

Ortiz Jiménez’s work does not go unnoticed. It combines various concepts that enhance the richness of his pieces, framing Puerto Rican culture.

“In my case, I have a solid foundation in drawing, understanding the structures and configurations of objects. Once you know them, you can work with them however you like without losing their essence. Being knowledgeable about each thing’s anatomy is very helpful,” he expressed.

What I try to convey to future generations through my work is that we have influences, although we don’t necessarily have to believe in them, but they contributed to what Puerto Rico is today, its culture, and identity,” he admitted.

His artisanal creations feature horses adorned with patriotic symbols like the Puerto Rican flag and depictions of indigenous footprints.

“Horses are part of our identity, I was raised in that environment. The horse piece was a chunk of wood brought to me by a family member. I put the flag over it. The base has indigenous designs. This composition expresses many elements, sculpture, artisanal craftsmanship. It’s a piece with artisanal elements, but also with elements of sculpture as such,” he pointed out.

“I work with aged woods that are thoroughly seasoned and known to last a long time, typically 20 years or more. I examine the wood, sketch out what it could become, and then explore ideas. I crafted another horse piece using woods that were nearly 120 years old. “It has its history,” he explained.

Additionally, Norberto stated his intention to continue teaching.

I dedicated my life to teaching, and even as a school principal, I always enjoyed teaching. That aspect has been lost, not because of technology, which is not to blame, but because of humans,” he noted.

“The day I say: ‘I am fulfilled’, then I stop existing. Every day I have to accomplish and do a little more than what I can do so I can leave a legacy and serve as an example to the coming generations, and that is important,” he concluded.

For details about the artisans’ creations, contact at 787-391-2150.

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