You have to imagine this: Chip Morris, scruffy, sometimes cranky author of A Textile Guide to the Highlands of Chiapas is standing in the plaza before the church in San Andrés Larrainzar, Chiapas, telling stories. He’s telling in English, but tossing off comments to passing locals in their own Tzotzil language.The story that sticks in my mind is about Hairy Hand (a gruesome Maya creature, sort of like Grendel) and his epic underwater battle with San Andrés. The memory—the story, the teller, the cobblestones under my feet, the blustery clouds overhead—are vivid, even though it happened a decade ago. Chip had a way of focusing one’s attention.
You just don’t forget Chip Morris. Working with him and his brilliant editor/co-author Carol Karasik on his last major work, Maya Threads: A Woven History of Chiapas, was a privilege. Traveling with him to the Tzotzil communities of the Chiapas highlands, an education. Watching him negotiate relationships with local community leaders, joke and trade insults with local women, encourage local artisans, rail against authority, drink with whoever had some pox, nuzzle and calm crying infants (he loved little kids)—Chip was complicated.
But what he gave to his adopted home in the Chiapas highlands is beyond measure. So much would be lost if it were not for his almost 50 years of research and observation and tireless advocacy.
We had a launch party for Maya Threads at Na Bolom, the study and research center in San Cristóbal where he contributed so much. Everybody came: Maya men and women from the villages, fellow researchers, expats, young Maya students, museum colleagues. There were music, tributes, plenty of pox. Chip loved a party, but being the center of attention made him shy.
His wake last month was at Na Bolom too. It marked the passing of a “living treasure,” in the words of the late Maya scholar Michael Coe. It marked the passing of an unforgettable man.