Restoring the Legacy of Moses Williams: A Case Study of Emancipation

AAHGS 45th National Conference banner

Thrilled to announce that my presentation proposal, “Not Yet Completely Free: Gradual Emancipation and the Family of Moses Williams, Philadelphia, 1776-1833.” was accepted for the 45th AAHGS National Conference this October!  Appreciate the opportunity to share, learn and contact other genealogists and family historians at this wonderful event, hosted by AAHGS President LaJoy Mosby. 

The conference theme is “Fighting Erasure: Staying Visible by Keeping African American Genealogy and History in Focus.” This centers on the “role of preserving and spotlighting African American history and genealogy in the broader narrative of American history.” 

Silhouette of Moses Williams, Cutter of Profiles, 1802
Silhouette of “Moses Williams, Cutter of Profiles, 1802″Library Company of Philadelphia.

Here’s my abstract for my presentation, “Not Yet Completely Free: Gradual Emancipation and the Family of Moses Williams, Philadelphia, 1776-1833.” :

When the word slavery comes to mind, many think of the US South, rather than the Northern states. Northern slavery’s history is less well known, particularly in states with gradual emancipation—Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut. This presentation focuses on the family histories tied to the silhouette artist and museum artisan Moses Williams (1776-ca 1833), to glimpse African descended, Free People of Color and the challenges faced in their process of emancipation. The reality of bondage challenges the image of Philadelphia, a city so closely identified with national freedom. Important clues for Moses Williams and his family are contained in archives that includes the Pennsylvania Abolition Society, and records for his former enslaver, the Maryland-born portrait painter and Philadelphia-museum owner Charles Willson Peale (1746-1823). Peale held Williams’ parents between 1776-1786, and freed Williams in 1803. Most archival material on the Williams family is excavated from the Papers of the Peale Family, newspapers, deeds & census records. While the origins of Williams parents remain a question, records suggest the situations that Free Black Philadelphians contended with under the 1780 act for Gradual Abolition. Freedom was negotiated and paid for with terms of service at a tender age. This case study shows how the increased availability of digitized records and community research helps restore the experiences of free Black families to a larger historical narrative. 

My deep thanks to Nancy Proctor and Dean Krimmel of The Peale Baltimore, who have invited me to share my work on Moses Williams, who now has a museum space and internship program named after him; and to Carol Soltis, of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, who is currently studying Williams’ technique and style for the profiles he produced, that numbered nearly nine thousand. Williams’ family members experienced degrees of unfreedom in different ways, and I seek to acknowledge their resilience by considering the ways they sought freedom at the cusp of the nineteenth century.

Come Celebrate Juneteenth with The Majani Project in DC!

Flyer for Family 365: a Juneteenth celebration Event

Will you be in Washington DC this Saturday?

This Saturday June 15, The Majani Project is holding Family 365: A Genealogy Block Party to celebrate Juneteenth, National Independence Day. Honoring ancestors is the order of the day!

I’m so excited to say i’m one of the genealogists who’ll be participating in this event. I’ll be zooming in & chatting with Kenyatta Berry, former host of Genealogy Roadshow, LaJoy Mosby, President of AAHGS and guests about how to get started with genealogy– even if you haven’t started before. Let’s get into it!

The indoor/outdoor event happens between 1-5pm at the Episcopal Church of the Atonement, more details below:

About the event: Ties of the Black and Brown communities in DC go deep! Chuck Brown is the father of go-go, but did you know about the music’s Latin influence?  We’re excited to announce a first-ever event in a celebration of similar and shared heritage, history, and identity. Plus—discover how to unlock the secrets of your own ancestry with renowned genealogists LaJoy Mosby, President of AAHGS, Dr. Ellen Fernandez-Sacco, with special guest  Ms. Kenyatta Berry, former co-host of the “Genealogy Roadshow” will also be here!

Verbal Gymnastics is bringing Playback Theatre (where storytelling and art meet community) to the party, so get ready for some amazing and interactive improv! We’ll also have the DC Office of the Medical Examiner onsite to highlight Black and Brown missing persons cases. Learn how genealogy is used to solve crime! So come on out—there’s something for everyone!

Date: Saturday, June 15

Time: 1pm – 5pm

Location: Episcopal Church of the Atonement (5073 East Capitol St SE) and 52nd St SE

Admission: Free and Open to All

Highlights Include:

Live Music: Go-Go, The Lilo Gonzalez Band, and More!

DJ Buddah!

Free Food!

Cultural Performances!

Game Truck!

Giveaways!

 Parking:

Street parking and parking lot at Guiding Light Baptist Church (1 51st St SE)

About The Majani Project:

Organized by the Majani Project, a Black youth-focused genealogy nonprofit located in Ward 7, in collaboration with Genealogy Adventures, the premiere Black online genealogy show, this event aims to introduce youth and adults to genealogy to honor the ancestors, unravel family history mysteries, and connect with your roots. 

Mareas de Memoria: Black History & Genealogy in Puerto Rico: 25 April 2004

Mareas de Memoria event flyer

Come to a series of short presentations and a panel discussion on Black History & Genealogy in Puerto Rico! I’m excited to share in the discussion at this event this afternoon, hosted by Taller Entre Aguas & Black Testimony Project.

Join TEA x BTP on April 25, 2024 from 2pm-4pm EST for a special virtual event titled, Mareas de Memoria: Black Puerto Rican History and Genealogy on Zoom.

Register here: https://msu.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_uH4EEuZvTWKWkUNAky1dWg#/registration

Guest Speakers:

Dr. Jada Benn Torres

Melanie Maldonado Díaz

Dr. Ellen Fernandez-Sacco

Thanks to the IOLI & El Museo del Mundillo!

“El Museo del Mundillo: Sustaining Tradition.” 11 Feb. 2024

This past February, I presented my talk, El Museo del Mundillo: Sustaining Tradition, to the International Organization of Lace Inc.

For over twenty years in Moca, the Museo is an important focal point, interconnecting tejedoras, artisans, materials and cultural memory, under the directorship of Don Mokay Hernandez Vale. 

Don Benito ‘Mokay’ Hernandez Vale founded the museum with the support of a group of tejedoras (master lacemakers), some no longer with us. Today, El Museo del Mundillo sits near the town’s plaza in the former 1935 health building on Calle Barbosa in the heart of Barrio Pueblo in Moca.

The museum serves the community by connecting artisans, hosting trainings, coordinating festivals and events. Featured are many examples of local lacemaking, and the institution preserves aspects of mundillo’s history all too often lost when an artisan passes.

Also on display are works that tie mundillo to deeper histories of the island. This is seen in the framed work of Carmen Quinones Marcial & Frances Mendez Colon’s (QEPD) Tejidos de Maguey. Featured is lace made from the fibers of the maguey plant, processed and transformed into a decorative arrangement of fan and flowers. 

This talk covered an overview of the museum, the community’s century’s long involvement with mundillo and the importance of supporting this institution today. 

Here’s a recent tour of the Museo del Mundillo by the Museo de las Americas PR’s #DaleClickaLaCultura initiative:

I’m delighted to learn of one artist’s amazing use of mundillo in their work- artist Glorimar Garcia reached out after my talk and shared her site! – Be sure to check out her installations & projects.

The talk is archived for IOLI members. IOLI VP Prabha Ramakrishand sent a lovely letter of acknowledgement and a year subscription to the IOLI digital journal. So appreciate the gift!

What Lies Beneath: The search for unmarked burial grounds in Hillsborough County

What lies beneath exhibit panel

The Waterman Exhibit Gallery, Institute for Forensic Anthropology & Applied Science, Social Science Building (SOC), USF 15 Sep 2023- 30 Jan 2024

https://www.usf.edu/arts-sciences/institutes/ifaas/programs/what-lies-beneath-exhibit.aspx

The idea of a cemetery often brings with it a belief in permanence. The emotional, physical and community efforts to commemorate ancestors can collide with the sobering reality of what happens when these sites of memory are lost, forgotten or erased by larger forces set in play by Jim Crow.  These erasures wipe away the human traces of a former world built with a difficult history that extends to the Post-Emancipation period.

Myrtle Hill Cemetery & Spanish Park East Cemetery in maps. What lies beneath, USF, Dec 2023

Overbuilt & Conveniently Forgotten

During the time I have lived here, several rediscovered burial grounds beneath high schools and housing complexes appeared in the pages of the Tampa Bay Times, awakening the grief of many over the unmarked graves. In 2019 the bodies of ancestors buried in the Zion Cemetery and Ridgewood Cemetery emerged as recent examples of a history of segregation literally buried in the rush to develop areas of Tampa. Ground penetrating radar found 145 of the original 270 burials from the former Ridgewood cemetery that year, nearly all of them Black.[1] Redlining was the motor for such outcomes.

Museum Studies: Race, Memorialization & the Museum

Over forty cemeteries and burial grounds were identified in the study  undertaken by Dr. Kimmerle and her Ph.D. candidate Kelsee Hentschel-Fey, along with GIS Manager Benjamin Mittler, and Dr. Lori Collins of the USF Center for Digital Heritage and Geospatial Information. Students in Dr. Kimmerle’s museum studies class  “Race, Memorialization and the Museum”  produced the exhibition. 

“The exhibit offers a unique view into the history of the area told through the lens of its cemeteries, utilizing historic and modern photographs, archival documents and maps depicting the approximate locations of newly re-discovered burial grounds, and mixed media sculptures to help convey the story of the buried past. “

Memory Jug, Caitlin Figueroa.
Memory Jug, Caitlin Figueroa. Mixed media.

Images of the Exhibit: December 2023

This fascinating show was created by several scholars who came together in a multi-year interdisciplinary investigation into unmarked burial grounds in Hillsborough County, Florida.  As one walks through the exhibit, the layers of information ultimately defy anonymity, and offers proof of a history told by those who lie beneath the city. To end on the Dozier School for Boys was a powerful note. Here are some of my fotos of the show, that lend an idea of the content. 

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Why this Show Matters

Given the history of this state and the current efforts to obscure Black and Indigenous histories, this exhibit matters.

There remains a profound need for a followup exhibition covering the continued efforts on memorialization by various local and descendant communities as additional sites come to light.  

[1] Paul Guzzo, “NAACP wants reparations for Tampa’s Black cemeteries that government “stole”. Tampa Bay times 27 Feb 2023

https://www.tampabay.com/life-culture/history/2023/02/27/tampa-black-cemetery-ridgewood-naacp/

Resources

See collection of articles on the Tampa Bay Times website:

In search of lost cemeteries A number of cemeteries forgotten through the years across the Tampa Bay area came to light during 2019, most of them final resting places for African-Americans. The new attention to old burial grounds springs from a Tampa Bay Times report in June that revealed the first and largest of them – Zion Cemetery in Tampa.

https://www.tampabay.com/topics/zion/

Black Cemetery Network: Zion Cemetery https://blackcemeterynetwork.org/bcnsites/zion

African American Cemetery Alliance of Tampa Bay https://african-american-cemetery-alliance-of.business.site

Florida Public Archaeology Network http://www.fpan.us

FPAN – Training courses on cemetery care https://www.fpan.us/training-courses/crpt/

AAHGS-Tampa

Dozier School for Boys / Florida School for Boys https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Florida_School_for_Boys

“A Forgotten History of How the US Government Segregated America.” NPR, 3 May 2017. https://www.npr.org/2017/05/03/526655831/a-forgotten-history-of-how-the-u-s-government-segregated-america

Lcdo. Lorenzo Oscar Caban Arocho’s Bienvenidos a Moca

cover, Caban Arocho, Bienvenidios a Moca

Mira lo que los Tres Reyes Magos brought to my house!

A new book by Lic Lorenzo Oscar Caban Arocho, Bienvenidos a Moca. As you can see, this is a big book that is another contribution to a growing list of books on the experience of being Mocano. In it, Caban Arocho brings together his memories with a wide range of photos and publications on Moca. 

This book, as with other generational local histories, take a highly personal perspective and are insightful as they lend a sense of the changes in barrio Pueblo over time. There’s even his reflections on my article on Leoncia Lasalle and her family, that awakened his recollection that she was his partera, the midwife who brought him into the world over eight decades before. 

I’m looking forward to delving into the book— and will post where you can buy a copy. In the meantime, here’s the ISBN number: ISBN 979-8-3507-2470-7

photograph of Lcdo Lorenzo Oscar Caban Arocho

Lcdo. Lorenzo Oscar Caban Arocho, from Bookdatabase online. Note the sleeve decoration made of mundillo. His wife is an accomplished tejedora (lacemaker).

cover, Caban Arocho, Bienvenidios a Moca
Cover, Lorenzo Oscar Caban Arocho, Bienvenidos a Moca (2023)

The New Moses Williams Gallery at The Peale, Baltimore

Daryl Lewis gives silhouette demonstration in Moses Williams Gallery

I’m delighted to share that on December first, Baltimore’s The Peale is opening a gallery named for Moses Williams, who was a silhouette cutter at Peale’s Museum in Philadelphia between 1803 to about 1827.

Daryl Lewis demonstrates a silhouette panel at the Peale Museum, Baltimore, 2023.
Daryl Lewis demonstrates a silhouette panel at the new Moses Williams Gallery at The Peale, Baltimore, 2023

Williams, born about 1776, was a skilled silhouette artist, born into slavery; he and his parents were enslaved by Charles Willson Peale. His parents gained their freedom and Williams grew up working in the Peale family’s Philadelphia Museum, where he learned to prepare and install exhibits.  In the summer of 1799, Williams learned taxidermy as an assistant to Peale, preparing birds collected on the New Jersey Shore. In 1801, he worked mounting the skeleton of the mastodon, and in 1803 became a silhouette cutter at the museum, on the second floor of Independence Hall.  Williams was literate,  probably picked up a bit of Latin, placed his own advertisements in the local newspaper, bought land, owned a home, and was known in the local community. 

Williams, the first Black museum professional in the U.S., now has a center and a gallery named in his honor.  Moments in his life are illustrated by silhouettes that visitors can see with a penlight as they go through the gallery as seen above.

Silhouette of Moses Williams, Cutter of Profiles, 1802
“Moses Williams, cutter of profiles”, silhouette, 1802

Today, the Moses Williams Center is the Peale Museum’s teaching gallery and home to the Accomplished Arts Apprenticeship program, which offers training in exhibition preparation and the historic preservation trades. Their recruiting fairs for the program happen the third week of October for this 32 week program. Launched in 2020, this paid apprenticeship consists of “non-traditional mentorship and vocational training in fine art, curatorial practice, art installation, logistics, and historic building preservation to develop transferable skills using arts as the driving force.”

This is a wonderful way to memorialize Moses Williams’ skills, creativity and resilience. It is in stark contrast to the withering account of him and his family given by Rembrandt Peale in “The Physiognotrace.” published in an 1857 issue of The Crayon. My guess is that this was such an awful perspective that Lillian Miller found she could not bear to discuss it in her bibliography for her catalog, In Search of Fame: Rembrandt Peale 1778-1860. While Peale’s account held no expectations for Williams’ person or future, it is, ironically, the main building block for understanding the context that Williams lived and worked in.

Enslavement, the slave trade and Native dispossession are no longer marginal to the story of Peale’s Museum in Philadelphia. Moses Williams is now a very visible ancestor.

See my “Racial Theory, Museum Practice: The Coloured World of Charles Willson Peale.” Museum Anthropology, 1996. You can download a copy here.

‘El Registro de Esclavos’: An archive you need to know’ at the 44th Annual AAHGS Conference

presentation title card

Taiguei (Greetings)!

This has turned out to be a busy month! I finished my last article for the series on “Reconstructing Missing Volume of the Registro Central de Esclavos, pt 4” for the forthcoming volume 24 of Hereditas: Revista de la Sociedad Puertorriquena de Genealogia. I hope to submit “Looking for Lorenzo Ubiles, Alcalde de barrio Humacao 1873.” for the AAHGS Journal shortly.

I’m happy to announce that on Thursday October 19, 1:30 PM-2:30 EST, I’ll be presenting “El Registro de Esclavos: An archive you need to know”, at “Hidden in Plain Sight: Recovering the erased stories of our ancestors in the United States and the Caribbean”, the 44th Annual 2023 AAHGS Virtual Conference. Excited to be among so many great presentations & presenters that includes friends & family from Black ProGen Live! Sessions will be available until Dec 31.

EFS El Registro de Esclavos An archive you need to know, title card for presentation

Here’s the description: The process of emancipation in Puerto Rico formally began in 1868, with the registration of over 30,000 enslaved persons using cedulas, small registration forms 6 x 8” in size. The information on these forms were copied to create the volumes of the Registro de Esclavos, issued in 1872. FamilySearch microfilmed two series of these documents from the enormous collection of Gobiernos Españoles collection. These are now searchable on the FamilySearch site as “Puerto Rico Slave Registers, 1863-1879”. These entries shed light on the identities of people as they transitioned to freedom just fifteen years before the establishment of the Registro Civil (Civil Registration) in 1885 and the formal end of slavery in 1886. The information covers name, origin, parents, partner, children, enslaver, physical details and issues around the purchase of freedom, manumission, or even the death of the person listed. The ages range from days old to persons in their 80s. These documents are useful for identifying family members and confirming their identities and locations pre-1885, and who may not appear in the 1910 census. Recently digitized archives on the Archivo Digital Nacional de Puerto Rico (ADNPR.net) that overlap with the information in the Registro de Esclavos will be covered. This work is a contribution to the ancestors, to help bridge them with their descendants.

Antonio Rocha’s “Voyage through Death to Life upon these Shores”: The Malaga Speaks

Yesterday evening, the Middle Passage Ceremonies and Port Markers Project (MPCPMP) hosted Antonio Rocha’s performance of “Voyage through Death to Life upon these Shores”: The Malaga Speaks. Here’s the description of the program, which will soon be on YouTube:

The story of the Malaga, a 19th century ship built in Maine that transported captive Africans, was created and will be performed by Antonio Rocha. Told from the perspective of the ship, Rocha uses song, narration, and mime to weave his way through this historical tale that chronicles the history of the trans-Atlantic human trade and its legacy. Annually, on August 23rd, the Middle Passage Ceremonies and Port Markers Project (MPCPMP) hosts a program to acknowledge this day and the lives of those captive Africans who perished during the trans-Atlantic crossing known as the Middle Passage and the ten million who survived to build the Americas. Through the presentation of this creative work, The Malaga Speaks, MPCPMP offers a broader narrative of connection and the Diaspora – from ship building, to the ocean voyage, to arrival, into enslavement; from Maine, to Africa, across the Atlantic, to Brazil.

Rocha’s performance is a powerful one. He builds and weaves a narrative that reveal layers of history and experiences of the Middle Passage as a knowledge that is both painful and liberatory the deeper he enters into the story of the Malaga. There is a body memory, a visceral space where those who survive decide what they can carry, and what was left by the ancestors for us today.

For more information about Antonio Rocha visit www.storyinmotion.com

Check out the MPCPMP’s Resources page: https://www.middlepassageproject.org/resources/

Tejer la vida: Lacemakers remembered

Olga Hernandez making lace at the Festival de Mundillo, Moca

I was blessed to meet an elder generation of lacemakers tejedoras or mundillistas–, before they passed on.  I met  many amazing people when I was involved with field research for my project, thanks to happening upon Ada Hernandez Vale in Jaime Babilonia’s Farmacia in the Plaza, the heart of Barrio Pueblo, Moca. 

Ada was carrying her chihuahua, Trompito, and in Spanish asked me if I was looking for mundillo, which is handmade Puerto Rican bobbin lace. Actually, I was there following a burning genealogical mystery about some of the Babilonias in Barrio Pueblo, but her question stunned me.  No, I answered, and added, I didn’t know what it was. She shot back, “how can you not know about mundillo if you’re from here? Come to my house, I’ll show you.”

My husband Tom and I walked a couple of blocks to her home just off the plaza. Over the next three hours, Ada proceeded to haul out work that i’ve never seen before. “This is mundillo, and my brother Mokay is opening a museum.  I want you to meet him.” As with other families in Moca, members of the Hernandez Vale family were long involved in mundillo thanks to their mother, Julia Vale Mendez (1906-1991), as makers of telars, as lacemakers and brokers of encaje puertorriqueno. This led to Mokay (Benito) Hernandez Vale’s establishing el Museo del Mundillo on Calle Barbosa thanks to the support and efforts of a group of lacemakers who shared this vision.

Researching in Moca

This is how my research began, a series of projects that tie together origins, trade networks, slavery and family histories. While this research culminated in a book chapter, “Mundillo and Identity” in Women and the Material Culture of Needlework and Textiles (2009), there’s more left to do. 

Mundillo is important, as the women who worked in the pueblo had a network of production and community that maintained relationships within and without the island. They produced lace that connected the sacred to the secular, that marked rites of passage through delicate edging and decoration that spanned generations. 

Ser tejedora – to be a lacemaker was a skill set that held so many social and historical connections. The activity is visible in the 1910 Federal census and then spreads by subsequent census as young women learn the skill in school and from each other as the Industria de la Aguja begins to swell.  Puerto Rico was the first maquiladora, and the history of mundillo falls on the edge of that history. 

Literature on mundillo

Cover of A. Hernandez Mendez, Historia y Desarrollo del Mundillo Mocano.

The first book on the history of mundillo is by Augusto Hernandez Mendez (QEPD), Historia y desarrollo del mundillo mocano. (Moca, 1993). He was an educator and administrator involved with literacy, and cultural celebrations, amplifying the efforts of many.  What’s great about his book are Capitulo VI and VII, which covers the artisans who serve as ambassadors of the craft, and the artisans involved with producing the tools, patterns and lace in Moca. The mini-biography of each person is accompanied by a photograph. 

The second book is Antonio Nieves Mendez, ed. La industria del mundillo en la zona urbana de Moca: Reconocimiento general de las propiedades de la zona urbana de Moca asociada con el produccion del mundillo. (2011, Lulu.com) The study maps out the dissemination of mundillo within the town from 1885-1930. These books are incredible genealogical resources if you happen to have family from Moca, because of the focus on women artisans and teachers. 

My contribution to this literature is  “Mundillo and Identity: The Revival and Transformation of Handmade Lace in Puerto Rico” in Maureen Daly Goggin and Beth Fowkes Tobin’s Women and the Material Culture of Needlework. (Ashgate 2009) This chapter on the development of mundillo provides a larger historical perspective. By tracing the practice as global one, it shows mundillo’s spread on the island was tied to school training in the 1930s. This left mundillo as an adjunct to the activity of the Industria de la aguja, the Garment Industry, which provided piecework to thousands of women across the island.

Las Tejedoras: Algunas artesanas de Moca

Olga Hernandez Rivera making lace, Moca
Olga Hernandez Rivera, Tejedora, Festival del Mundillo, November 2005, Moca, P.R.

Olga Hernandez Rivera stands among the expert tejedoras of Moca. Her husband is a artisan in wood, who makes a range of elegant telars, the base for working lace with bollillos.  With roots in barrios Cerro Gordo and Centro, Olga has lived in Barrio Cuchillas for decades with her family.  When I visited Moca some years ago, Olga introduced me to other mundillistas and showed examples of her work.  She told me about one of her teachers, Andrea Lopez Rivera (1928-2003), who did much to teach mundillo to women in Moca through the Servicio Extension Agricola.

Nelly Vera and Yolanda Romero Aviles lacemaking in honor of Virginia Rodriguez Arocho, 2007.
Master tejedoras Nelly Vera Sanchez & Yolanda Romero Aviles, lacemaking in honor of Virginia Arocho Rodriguez, Moca, 2007. Photo: Ellen Fernandez-Sacco.

The death of Virginia Rodriguez Arocho brought the tejedoras in the community connected to el Museo de Mundillo out in remembrance of her at her wake. Nelly Vera Sanchez is among the lacemakers recognized by major cultural organizations and was named a National Heritage Fellow by the Endowment for the Humanities in 2021. Yolanda Romero Aviles is an accomplished tejedora, Among the items that she creates are lace covers that edge the lower sleeves of judicial robes. These areas of mundillo add contrast and do not detract from the robe as a symbol of the court. By wearing mundillo, one communicates knowledge of local tradition and cultural pride. Romero Aviles’ sleeve covers are extensive– about 6″ in width. Her works feature advanced techniques in bobbin lace to create a ground interspersed with floral and abstract motifs. 

Magda Rivera kindly showed me her shop, which features a memorial to her mother, the tejedora Julia Bosques Torres (1911-1992), who learned to make lace at age 8. In 1940, she established a shop in her home for buying and selling lace and other items that she ran until her death. (Hernandez Mendez, p108)

Memory wall to Julia Bosques, Magda Rivera’s Mundillo shop, Moca, 2007. Photo: Ellen Fernandez-Sacco
Magda Rivera shows a baby doll with dress of mundillo in basket w tejidos. Moca, Puerto Rico, 2007. Photo: Ellen Fernandez-Sacco

Maria C. Guadalupe made lengths of lace along with a range of amazing small gifts to children and adult’s clothing. These works are embellished with edgings and panels of mundillo and delicate embroidery, as in this dress below:

Maria C. Guadalupe, dress with mundillo panels and embroidery. Moca, Puerto Rico, 2007. Photo: Ellen Fernandez-Sacco
Dona Maria Lasalle newspaper feature, Mundillo collection, UPR-Mayaguez.

Although there were a number of women who practiced mundillo in Moca, a smaller number achieved fame for their work and their shops, as did Dona Maria Lasalle (1914-1913). The mundillo she is working on is an old model that predates foam– that narrowing of the center of the upper armature happens with the banana leaf stuffing of earlier years. Still it holds its complex pattern using dozens of bollilos (bobbins).

Rito Vargas & Maria Lasalle, Revista Moca, Nov-Dic 1979.

She was married to Rito Vargas Gonzalez, a carpenter, furniture maker and friend to my grandfather, Alcides Babilonia Lopez, together they kept the tradition of el Velorio de los Reyes celebrated in Barrio Pueblo still held today. Their son Rito Vargas Lasalle continues to promote their memory.

Maria Lasalle was cousin to Virginia Arocho Rodriguez, whose mother Juana Rodriguez Lasalle and grandmother Dionicia Leoncia Lasalle gave the account of their enslavement to the historian Luis Diaz Soler in 1945.

There’s much to the history of mundillo, and I am fascinated by how it interconnects its practitioners, its exhibitors and its wearers. Looking forward to sharing more about people connected to mundillo.