Wynema Chavez Quintana discusses her work as a head ager/dyer in the film industry, a job that requires a skillful understanding of color and textiles and collaboration across many departments.
Wynema Chavez Quintana (Kewa Pueblo) works as a head ager/dyer, a job title that evokes the existential but is mostly situated in the playful make-believe, ie. New Mexico’s film industry. In a recent interview, Chavez Quintana discusses what her highly creative and collaborative career entails. This interview was edited for length and clarity.
I think ager/dyer is my favorite job title.
Have you ever seen that bumper sticker that says “I Love Aging & Dying”? Everybody sends it to me when they see it. They’re like, “This made me think of you!”
I have! Did someone you know make it?
I don’t know what it’s from. I’m always like, “Why would somebody have a bumper sticker that says that?” [laughs] but I think it’s really cool. It is kind of a weird name though. Everybody’s like, “What is an ager/dyer?” But it makes sense when you explain it.
Will you explain it?
It’s a two-part position working with textiles. The first part is aging clothes to look old, bloody, with bullet holes—whatever the script asks for. We often don’t know what’s gonna come through our doors. It can be so weird, like, “Can you make this look like it’s been around for seventeen years, then it fell in the desert, and this other person found it?” You have to use your imagination to help the designers’ imaginations come to life. You’re like, “Okay, I think this is what they’re saying.” It’s a journey.
A lot of the dyeing we do is because of high-definition TV. White looks too white in HD, so we tone it down a little bit. We also make colors for characters. Designers have mood boards and will oftentimes not be able to find certain colors for a character’s outfit, so we create those colors and hone in on their palette.
How has your background helped shape your work?
To go way back, my parents, grandparents, and basically all of my ancestors are artists. I grew up in a studio watching art being made all the time. Learning crafts and how to make things were my favorite things to do as a kid. A lot of times we didn’t have resources or a lot of money, so I would see an article on how to make something and figure out what we had to be able to make it. It was a lot of manipulating materials to make something look awesome in the end.
Which is what you do now! Do actors ever want to keep the garments?
Yes, they steal them! They’re like, “Wow, this is real.” I was taught the old-school way, so you don’t only age the outside of the pants, you age the inside, as if they were getting it dirty. Especially method actors, they get really happy and proud that their pants are aged on the inside. I even age the inside of the hat, because you never know when it’s gonna fall off or fly away and you see that shot. If it’s not aged inside, that’s your name. That’s where my meticulousness comes in.
What’s the wildest part of your job?
I pretty much touch what you see on camera. It all comes through my shop. That’s so mind-boggling to me.