Susanna Starr’s Odyssey

Starr Interiors celebrates 50th Year

By Virginia L. Clark

Now in its 50th year, Starr Inte-riors seems more vibrant than ever — if that’s possible. One of the oldest galleries in Taos, its uniquely beautiful courtyard accents the wraparound gal-lery rooms just north of Taos Plaza on Paseo del Pueblo Norte, seducing every passer-by into its welcoming embrace.

Susanna Starr inspects yarn (Courtesy photos)

Since 1974, owner Susanna Starr has carefully chosen each piece created by a select group of Zapotec weavers, peo-ple indigenous to the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca. The heart and soul of the gallery these past 50 years bene-fits both weavers and their collectors. Besides continuing their fine weaving traditions, Zapotec weaver villages now boast most modern conveniences and advanced education, plus doctors, den-tists and other professionals. Starr and her family members main-tain a close and personal connection with each weaver, a labor of love now spanning three generations producing the high quality, extensive range of size, color and design of this creative and functional art form. As of spring of this year, Susanna and son Roy Starr were with the weavers in Oaxaca, overseeing this year’s works, including their exclusive “Line of the Spirit” collection representing a different approach to more traditional South-western rugs.

“‘Line of the Spirit’ incorporates design elements from cultures all over the world,” Susanna said by phone in a mid-March quasi conference call from the mountainous village Teotitlan del Valle of Oaxaca. Each one-of-a-kind rug is a piece of art, Roy and Susanna explained. Some large pieces take more than half a year on the loom, “But every weaving is infused with spirit” — hence the name, “Line of the Spirit” weavings, which not only carry traditional geometric patterns from vari-ous weaving cultures, including nomadic tribal design inspirations from Turkey and the Middle East, but also design elements from Navajo, Zuni, Hopi and Plains Indians of the Southwest.

Susanna Starr points out shamanic floating elements and sacred symbols in an Autumn rug Friday (April 16) at Starr Interiors in Taos.

Trading is as old as human history, whether for goods or services,” Starr says in the dedication of her and (late partner) photographer John Lamkin’s book, “Our Interwo-ven Lives with the Zapotec Weavers: An Odyssey of the Heart” (Paloma Blanca Press; 2014). “It doesn’t have to be exploitative nor impersonal to be successful. Rather if it is infused with joy and happiness, it can provide a vital, important and enriching aspect of our lives.” Susanna arrived in Taos in 1973, after six months roadtripping down to the Yucatán Peninsula and beyond, with then- husband Ian and three children Mirabai, Roy and Amy Starr. The suburban NYC life they left behind was barely a memory after six months living in a camper, which they continued to do in the eastern Taos neighborhood of Cañon that summer, “reveling in the beauty of Taos, and making new friends,” she told Tempo in a Mother’s Day 2021 article.

“My mom was very adventurous — she was on the vanguard of things,” Roy says about her instant attraction to Oaxaca and surrounds in those early years. “Cancun didn’t exist then. It was nothing but rough roads down into the jungle … It’s really about heart connections. She lets business take care of itself.”

Roy says they sometimes lived on food stamps, and after one Mexico trip they spent all their allotted $750 on weavings and ran out of money — they had to get cash wired to make it home. “We just kept on keepin’ on,” Roy says. “Business was a byproduct of what she really wanted to do: be with the weavers.” Her book stays close to these “interwo-ven lives” that first entwined their fam-ilies and cultures in the Mexican village marketplace half a century ago. The thousands-year-old Zapotec cul-ture was largely unknown to the Amer-ican public at that time, Susanna says, “so it was our job to not only show the hand-loomed pieces, but to introduce them to the [Zapotec] culture.”

Visiting Starr Interiors, you can see, touch and appreciate the products of this ancient culture. The entire gallery bears the hands and hearts of the Zapotec weavers. Built around 1860 — the same era as the nearby Taos Inn — the adobe walls present the charming, historic courtyard that over-flows with vibrantly-colored flowering plants from spring to fall. The adobes also offset the captivating fiber art of rugs, wall hangings and pillows — all beckoning a welcome into the interior showrooms. One side of the building is dedicated to Starr Interior’s “Line of the Spirit” designer collection, representing the ongoing collaboration of Starr and the group of weavers carefully chosen for the collection since its inception more than 35 years ago. Master dye-maker Alta Gracia Morales created a unique palette of vivid, satu-rated colors using hand-carded, hand-spun wool, stirred in dye pots over open fires. Her son Jacinto, a master weaver himself, is the present art director and liaison between all the other weavers on the project.

On the other side of the building are specific displays of individual work by master weavers representing their own traditional designs and color pal-ettes. Many “vignettes” provide ideas for how weavings and pillows work together to create a special addition to a space and show the range of choices between the various weaving families represented, all of whom Starr has known for decades. “We want people to have something that touches them, whether created for ‘Line of the Spirit’ collection or from the individual weavers’ own creativity,” Starr told Taos News in 2021. “They come from their hands to our hands in a very personal way. … Rugs, wall hangings and pillows bring an important presence to a home, providing a special warmth as well as the aspect of décor, and are a direct connection to an important weaving tradition, representing the heart and spirit of a people and its culture.”

For their 50th anniversary celebration, Starr Interiors is having major sales throughout the year, including 50 percent off various collections. A special event will be announced when planning is finalized. Be sure to stay tuned and drop by.