Many of the exact details of the first 40 years of Francisco Urzua’s life are sharp in his mind, but mental health struggles have scrambled their order and lent significance to them in a haphazard manner. The thread that runs through all the multihued shards of memory is the understanding that weaving stills his mind and helps bring together his disparate thoughts. Francisco’s weavings, designed by his stepmother Janice Kimball, explore color, abstract and nature-based patterns, and pre-Hispanic themes. In a technical sense, they are difficult pieces. They demand the precision and focus of a master weaver. The wonder of Francisco’s talent is it unequivocally asserts itself whether his mind is clear or a tempest. Life-changing medication allows Francisco both his genius and the capacity to deal with the everyday details of running his life and business. This wasn’t always his fate.
Francisco was born in Jocotepec in 1968, the first son and second child of a large family that would eventually include 13 children. His father, Teo, was a weaver and opal miner, his mother, Maria de Refugio, a devout Catholic who considered her children gifts from God. When Francisco was very young, his father struck it rich in the opal business and moved the family to Ajijic where he set up a weaving factory. Here, Francisco learned the family trade, working alongside a half dozen professional weavers. Sadly, the success of the factory was short-lived, and the entire family found themselves scrambling for both a place to live and livelihoods.
The years that followed were tough for everyone. A dreamer, Teo started businesses that inevitably failed and spent largely unfruitful years in pursuit of the next big break. The tumult of these times led to the separation of Francisco’s parents and the scattering of his siblings. As a young teen, Francisco went to the United States in pursuit of work, and although he found gainful employment, his mental health began to erode. There were many trips back and forth across the border, successful stretches in which Francisco held down jobs in agriculture, but also months on end where he was literally lost. During one stint, which may have been as long as two years, Francisco hopped the wrong train and ended up hopping train after train trying to find his way back to Guadalajara. He chuckles about it now, but his family was convinced he had died. It was either chance or a guardian angel that led him back home.
This wandering dreamtime life might have gone on indefinitely if his father hadn’t met Janice Kimball. Teo and Janice met through a mutual friend and although it might not have been a match made in heaven, they spent some good years together. Janice didn’t know what to make of Teo’s son Francisco but understood mental illness better than his father and offered whatever stability she could. Francisco eventually moved in with his father and Janice, living initially on the roof in a makeshift room with a discarded plastic kiddie pool propped up on chairs for shelter. In his mind, this was better than the abandoned copper mine he had been living in.
One fateful day when Teo was out of town, Francisco stepped up to an unfinished weaving his father had left on the loom and started working it. Janice was dumbfounded. She had no idea her stepson could weave, much less complete a rather complicated pattern. She scraped together the money for a second loom and was delighted to learn that Francisco’s talent exceeded his father’s. The three of them spent a few productive years together, but the personality clash between Janice and Teo escalated to the point where they separated. Francisco, by now a cherished son, stayed on. The partnership between stepmom and stepson grew.
“Soy más feliz cuando soy laborioso.” I am most happy when I work hard on work that is intense, Francisco admits. There is perhaps a universal truth in this.
Meaningful work brings rise to an incomparable inner peace. Though he considers himself blessed to be able to create these amazing works, it is our community, indeed the world, that benefits from Francisco’s efforts. We are not only gifted with his weavings, but also the story of his inspiring life journey. In the words of his namesake, Saint Francis of Assisi, “…when you leave this earth, you can take with you nothing that you have received-only what you have given: a full heart enriched by honest service, love, sacrifice and courage.”
Editor’s note: We are sorry to report that Francisco died unexpectedly on Friday September 22nd. Francisco was beloved by all of Janice’s friends. And everyone who knew him. Services to be announced at a future time. The gallery is now permanently closed.
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