Celebrating Pueblo and Southern Colorado Women This Month, Part I of IV
For most people, the name likely means little or nothing at all. But if you mention the name Eppie Archuleta among weaving aficionados, you’re talking royalty, top of the mountain. The San Luis Valley weaver was a giant in this centuries-old art and recognized for her craft by the National Heritage Foundation’s with its highest honor. She was also featured in a National Geographic article. She was both a state and national treasure.
Mrs. Archuleta, a fourth-generation master weaver, who passed away in 2014 at age 92, was also a teacher who preserved this colorful medium by schooling her grandchildren and great grandchildren in the art as well as scores of others, both children and adults. Mrs. Archuleta both instilled and inspired with her work which spanned a spectrum of motifs, from Chimayo Indian patterns to Spanish Colonial designs, and, along the way, a few more non-traditional and playful images that hang in homes across the Valley and many other places. One of her works was displayed at the Vietnam Women’s Memorial in Washington, D.C. Another was presented to the late Pope John Paul on his 1993 visit to Denver.
Born in Santa Cruz, New Mexico in 1922, she and her husband along with their family relocated to the San Luis Valley following World War II. There, it didn’t get easier. She worked in the fields by day but continued to weave at night. Slowly, life got easier and in 1989, they bought a wool mill they named, plainly enough, the San Luis Valley Wool Mill.
Mrs. Archuleta continued to employ the centuries-old techniques of washing raw wool in tubs over wood burning fires. The wood could be anything from aspen to juniper. She also used specifically selected weeds and herbs to color the fabric. Her unique methods brought color to the wool and life to her art.
“I think of her every day,” said her granddaughter and fellow weaver, Jessie Archuleta from her home in Alamosa. “Her art,” said Archuleta, choking with emotion, “was sharing love.” When Archuleta sits at her own loom, the threads that ultimately compose an image or emotion, carry a bit of her mentor and grandmother. “Every time I put something on the loom,” she said, “it has everything to do with my Grandma. I pray and say, ‘thank you, Grandma for giving me this time to reflect and do what you taught me to do.’”
Retired educator Herman Martinez’s now grown children were among the many proteges of Mrs. Archuleta. “They would work on the loom and on their individual projects,” with Mrs. Archuleta overseeing their work. “She taught them to do placemats and coasters…small weavings they could handle.”
Martinez, who met the legendary weaver in Alamosa, where she would ultimately make her home, was awed by her work. “She could replicate figures of humans…create their features,” he said. She was much more than a weaver, said the former Adams State University administrator. With her fluid bilingual skills, she could associate and find common ground with everyone she met. “She just glowed in confidence and had such a beautiful personality.”
At age fifteen, Mrs. Archuleta’s granddaughter began learning the centuries-old craft. “You’re my apprentice, hita” was the phrase her grandmother would repeat to her over and over. “I would say, ‘OK, Grandma, we’re going to do it.’ She knew I had the heart. She knew who I was and knew that I could do this. She told me, ‘You’re going to be the one.’”
Her grandmother, said Archuleta, was as much a guide as caring grandmother to her young charge both in life and in art. “She taught me that everything’s not perfect…that it doesn’t have to be, and that God is taking care of it,” she remembered. “She was just conditional in her love and her passion to weave.”
Though she learned the skill of the loom from her grandmother, their styles are separate and distinct. “Grandma went out of the lines,” she said, explaining that periodically her grandmother would play with her art and weave silly things like Denver Bronco stuff or cartoon characters, like Porky Pig. “I don’t. At least I haven’t stepped out yet. I just stay in the lines,” she said.
Even though her grandmother would, from time to time, weave more playfully, she, herself, maintains the discipline she learned as a young girl, as Eppie Archuleta’s apprentice. It’s paid off in both the skill that she has honed over the years and the memories that have only deepened from the days of learning a timeless skill from a caring and lovely grandmother. “She was just a beautiful woman.”
Mrs. Archuleta was inducted into the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame in 1997.