Labor of love

Juanita Jaramillo Lavadie: educator, artist, acequiera and historian


Countercultural activism is a big and sometimes scary word, but the work of preserving water rights in Taos County is tantamount to saving the entire sustainable, land-based ethos at the heart of Northern New Mexico’s storied lifestyle.

And this is what Juanita Jaramillo Lavadie is committed to doing, vitally so since administration of the Abeyta water rights settlement went into effect 10 months ago.

“There’s just so much left undone,” Lavadie says about the administering of the 46-year-old Abeyta settlement since March 2017. “The implementation is so volatile, it could be an onslaught, a David and Goliath. The state engineer’s office used to be weeks behind, now they’re months behind.”

A retired public school teacher, oral historian, and graphic and fiber artist, Lavadie’s creative and cultural interests are basically all keyed to the acequia system that supports the land, water and inhabitants of Northern New Mexico in general, and the traditional Hispano and indigenous cultures in particular.

Born into a family of weavers and four generations of educators, Lavadie took both her master of arts in graphic and fiber arts, and her bachelor of arts in visual arts and elementary education from New Mexico Highlands University in 1974 and 1973, respectively. She taught elementary bilingual education for three decades at Taos Pueblo Day School and Taos Municipal Schools, with Spanish immersion the latter 10 years in Albuquerque Public Schools.

She retired back home to Taos in 2014 to the house she built with late husband Eduardo Lavadie, west of Taos Plaza on Trujillo Lane, so-named for her Trujillo family forebears, whom she states came with the second influx of Spaniards into what is now Northern New Mexico.

Since retiring she says she still engages with young people in art and education by volunteering at Taos schools and through Taos Valley Acequia Association, of which she is a board member and a member of the education and leadership committee, which is dedicated to engaging youth and adult parciantes in keeping acequia traditions alive.

“We staged a series of meetings on streams this year [2017] for everyone who uses water from those rivers,” all coming together she says for the first time. They have had five such meetings since last March 2017, including parciantes of the Río Chiquito, Little Río Grandé, Cañon, Río Hondo and the Río Pueblo.

“Abandonment and carbon footprint affects water rights,” she says, something youth in particular need to know about since they can lose their water rights if no one is irrigating their families’ properties. 

“The youth are not getting involved in the acequias,” Lavadie says, adding that her committee has redoubled its education efforts through parciante meetings to address this lack of awareness. The other education and leadership committee members are Olivia Romo, Gael Minton, Pat Quintana, Gabriel Olguín, John Gonzales, Thomas Meyers and anthropologist Sylvia Rodríguez.

“The clock is ticking. People have to start communicating with each other,” Lavadie stressed. “If you have acequia rights, you have to show some kind of usage of the water. If not, you might lose the rights!”

As a Taos Valley Acequia Association board member (of which her husband was actually a co-founder), she says the acequia tradition is vital to maintain. 

“Because this is a really important tradition. And globally, Northern New Mexico stands equal to Spain,” she says, in terms of the acequia system irrigation. “A lot of state acequia associations look to Taos as an example of mediation.”

Besides her non-stop acequia involvement, Lavadie has many scholastic and creative accomplishments. In 1980 and 1983 she was the oral history project director and assistant museum curator with Curator David Witt at The Harwood Museum Foundation in Taos; and in 1981 and 1982, she was assistant museum curator with Art Wolf at the Millicent Rogers Museum. 

Various of her graphic, intaglio print and textile artworks are included in permanent collections of The Harwood and Millicent Rogers museums in Taos and the New Mexico Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe. She lovingly calls her museum years, her “cobwebs and moth balls period,” for all the time spent researching in dusty museum stacks and archives.

The exhibit, “Ciboleros, Comanchero and the People Back Home,” is her most recent exhibit, a show of New Mexico “Hispanic yardage textiles” at the Gutiérrez Hubbell House in Albuquerque, from May to November 2016. As part of the exhibit, Lavadie embroidered a historic map, a colcha buffalo image with hand-spun yarn on woven sabanilla, an “Ojo de Perdiz” diamond twill jerga cloth chaleco/vest, and a “Cibolero/New Mexican Buffalo hunter” shirt.

More than a mile of spun yarn went into the cibolero shirt, she says, half white and half rich dark brown yarn from fleece of the Jaramillo family’s Ramboulelt-Corriedale sheep. Without a pattern or sample shirt to go by, Lavadie worked in part from The Taos News Spanish editor Jerry Padilla’s posthumously published chapter, “Taos Ciboleros: Hispanic Bison Hunters” in historian Corina Santestevan’s directorial opus, “Taos: A Topical History” (Museum of New Mexico Press, Santa Fe; 2013).

“While seeking out local historian and families with ancestral cibolero connections,” she writes in an article about her development of the exhibit (, December 2017), “I also communicated with curators of textiles and Spanish colonial arts at the Santa Fe International Folk Art Museum as well as the Nebraska Museum of Fur Trade and museums in Oklahoma and west Texas. Conversations with aficionados of the Mountain Man Rendezvous confirmed my thoughts,” she concluded about her conceptions for the cibolero exhibit. (The Mountain Man Rendevous was a large commercial trade meeting of fur traders and trappers that occurred regularly in the Rocky Mountains during the mid-19th century and is still reenacted today.)

“Four Centuries of Weavers and Weaving in Taos,” is Lavadie’s contribution to “Taos: A Topical History,” noting the cotton weaving of indigenous peoples who switched to woolen weaving production in Taos Valley with the arrival of the Spanish and their sheep. She denotes, too, the Taos family work ethic, yarn manufacture, and the colors and dyes employed in this long-established trade.

“I choose to work in my studio on projects that have strong meaning and far less monetary value,” she concludes in a January 2016 Green Fire Times piece. “Yet, when anyone feels inspired, called to specific work as a labor of love, transcending from the generations past into the hopes of the future, the soul of the culture and community works into the outcome. It is a way that each one of us can figuratively stand tall among our antepasados and joyfully sing in harmony, in the manner my own dad loved so much. This is when the community threads from the past, through the moment of now, weaves on towards the future with great pride, love, hope and confidence.”


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