The Wild North

Image result for durango mexicoFate has taken me from Mexico City to Victoria de Durango, the capital of the state of Durango. Despite being a state capital, Durango City is small and isolated. It is connected to Zacatecas, Parral, Mazatlán and Nayarit though highways, but major highways here did not exist as late as the 1980s and even in the 1960s, only dirt roads led to the town.

Although this is changing, Durango still gives the impression of a cowboy town. While there are efforts to bring tourism here, the city’s economy is still that of a regional center, where people from the country come in for supplies.  SUV’s and trucks are a common sight as are women in traditional Tepehuano dress.

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Puente de Ojuela
Tepehuano indigenous dress

It is an interesting mix of central Mexican colonial buildings (the northwestern edge of where you will find this), food based on beef and green chilis (mostly poblanos) as found in Sonora and parts of Chihuahua and the urban sprawl that has grown up in the past couple of decades. A local gringo told me that Durango lost its complete isolation once the first Walmart opened in 1993.

The state of Durango is very rugged territory. Many areas are still not accessible directly from the state capital and the state boasts four indigenous peoples, many of whom still live traditionally. The most numerous are the Tepehuanes, but there are important communities of the better known Huichols and Tarahumaras as well as some Nahuas which migrated here from central Mexico after the Conquest.


Like much of the US’s Wild West, northern Mexicans come from (sub)cultures accustomed to self sufficiency, and most of the state’s handcrafts reflect this fact. Also reflected is the fact that is this Aridoamerica, which did not see the rise of major empires as those that developed further south. This means that most crafts here are of the utilitarian sort and not usually geared toward any kind of goods for upper classes. Much of it is done by the native peoples, with a small but growing number of artisans associated with the state’s School of Painting, Sculpture and Crafts. The two largest categories of crafts relate to pottery and textiles, which vary from extremely rustic to reinterpretations of traditional designs. Heavily represented for their small size are the Huichols, who are famous for their yarn paintings and beadwork, although this work is better known in Jalisco and Nayarit.

A visit to the state’s Museo de Culturas Populares gives a brief but good overview of this, with guides ready to give a tour in Spanish. Unfortunately, individual items and shelves lack labeling, though most of the rooms have signs in three languages (Spanish, Tepehuana and English) to explain the unifying theme.




20180812_121703_HDRBy far, the finest of what is to be found here are related to the production of the School of Painting, Sculpture and Crafts as well as winning pieces from the state’s annual handcraft competition, which provides the best of the state’s indigenous creativity. School pieces tend to lean toward pottery and glass work. The rest range the entire gamut of materials including wood, leather, maguey fiber, wool, clay, basketry beads and paper mache (cartonería).  There is also a large and interesting collection of decorative masks, the likes of which seem more African than Mexican. The staff here is friendly and willing to help with contact with Durango artisans.



Largest plant “carpet” in the world

Carpet in progess in Acaxochitlán, Hidalgo

Mexico takes its parties and festivals very seriously. It has a number of craft items that are specifically made for an event, only to be destroyed during or discarded after. If you have ever had the pleasure of whacking a piñata or seen the presentation of ice sculptures or intricately arranged food, this concept should not be particularly strange.

One of these crafts is the making of “carpets” from various organic materials, which are arranged on the ground in patterns and/or images. These originally developed as a way to prepare routes for religious processions. This makes sense on several levels, it marks the route as sacred space as one or perhaps more religious icons will be passing by, and it probably also worked as a way to cover up rather ugly road, especially in the old days when horses and other animals left their droppings on often muddy thoroughfares.

This tradition still lives on in many parts of Mexico and Central America and can even be found in part of the United States. The carpets are made from materials which are locally abundant, and in the case of live plant material, seasonal. These plant materials include flowers, leaves, small branches, wood chips, seeds and bamboo. Another very common ingredient is sawdust which has been colored,  a way of using what might otherwise be simply discarded.

Face of the goddess Yolihuani in the Feria de Flores carpet

In the past century, the making of these carpets has extended from processions to other events, both religious and secular. Holy Week, Corpus Christi and certain patron saint celebrations are still the backbone of this tradition but carpets of varios types are being made for other occasions and being placed in other venues, not just roads. These include Day of the Dead monumental altars, in plazas for cultural festivals and even recently for the official opening of Disney’s movie Coco.  Certain towns and events are particularly associated with this tradition, in particular the Night No One Sleeps in Huamantla, Tlaxcala, where volunteers spend the night making the carpets that the procession honoring the city’s patron saint will pass over.

Figure of a stork in wood chips, bamboo and other materials

The growth in importance of these carpets has been matched by growth in size. Previously, the use on roads meant that while length was not restricted, width was. The use of plazas and other venues gets rid of that restriction. The result is the creation of carpets that are more works of art, rather than repetitions of decorative motifs.


dsc_01481.jpgOne of these carpets is created each year for the Feria de las Flores (Flower Fair) held at the Xochitla Ecological Park just to the north of Mexico City in August. The purpose of the fair is to cultivate awareness of Mexico native flowering species and their role in the culture. Each year the “world’s largest carpet” is created in an open field at the park, every time with a different theme. The theme for 2018 was Yolihuani: fuente de vida (Yolihuani: source of life). This carpet was on display during the weekend of August 4 and 5, extending over 2,500 square meters. The size meant that materials with larger sizes were used, including pine branches, bamboo, various types of live potted plants (including some in danger of extinction in Mexico), nopal cactus pads, grass, thousands of flowers and even trunks of trees cut into circles to provide visitors paths to walk within the carpet without messing it up.

The work was designed by Alfombristas Mexicanas of Huamantla, Tlaxcala, who have done such works in various parts of Mexico and abroad in countries such as the United States and Australia. They were assisted by dozens of volunteers who come to the park in the days preceeding the event to arrange the ton of materials needed to make the image.

Although more of a painting that a carpet, it did share one very important aspect with its antecedents… at the end of the event, it disappeared.


From paper to wire

My apologies for not writing for the past weeks. I had to dedicate the past month or so to finishing my book and getting it off to the publisher!

Female skeleton with violin by Saulo Moreno

A little over a week ago my Facebook lit up with expressions of sorrow for the passing of maestro Saulo Moreno Hernández in July 2018. The name rang a faint bell, but I didn’t really know who he was. However, the praises of Moreno’s work by Mexico’s cartonería community obliged me to look into his story.

And I’m glad I did. Maestro Saulo was and was not a cartonero. He was both an artisan and an artist. He was born in a village so small in the state of Puebla that his birth certificate does not state a town. Son Mario believes the community has since disappeared. However, Moreno grew up in the hustle and bustle of one of Mexico City’s major markets, where he was first exposed to various kinds of traditional handcrafts for sale there. His artistic abilities  appeared early in life, as did his desire to make things from castaway materials- bottle caps, scraps of wood and metal and much more.

His artistic talent was such that he was accepted into the prestigious Academy of San Carlos in 1950, but he only lasted here a year. Not only were finances an issue, he did not like to be told what to draw and paint and how to do it. The experience left a bad taste in his mouth and he abandoned the art world for good.

Instead, he continues tinkering with making items, skeletons in particular, out of various materials, doing sign painting to earn enough money to live on. He spent more years in the city but eventually moved to the small town of Tlalpujahua, Michoacan to be with his second wife. Here is where the maestro developed his reputation as an artisan.

Though he did a number of creative works, including painting, he is best known for his wire and paper figures he named alambroides. These figures are Moreno’s reinterpretation of cartoneria, Mexico’s paper mache tradition. For traditional craftsmen, an “alma” (lit. soul) is a support structure made of wire or split reeds, meant only to give pieces (especially larger pieces) sturdy support. The best of these artisans almost always work to hide that this alma even exists.

In Moreno’s case, the wire is as important and most frequently more important than the use of paper. In all pieces, the wire is meticulously worked to form details and give shape far beyond what other artisans do. Some pieces, usually skeletons, are mostly or completely covered in some layers of paper and can look fairly traditional. But in most cases, especially with real and fantastic animals, the paper covers only a small percentage of the piece, allowing the wire work to shine. In some cases, paper is left off completely.

Alambroide figures by son Mario

For this reason, much of Moreno’s work was not accepted by traditional cartoneros. This is one reason why he is not as well known as other artisans from his generation. Other reasons include that he was reclusive and eccentric, living in an area with no cartonería tradition.

That is not to say his work was completely overlooked. He was actively promoted by various popular art experts, collectors and gallery owners such as Chloe Sayer, Marta Turok and Rick Hall. He was invited to exhibited and talk about his work in Mexico, the United States, Canada, Europe and Japan.

Until only recently, it looked like maestro Saulo’s alambroides might die with him. However, he had five children very late in life and the oldest, Mario, became recognized as Saulo’s heir, but not until the 2010s. He is young man, married with small children. In some ways, he has his feet more firmly planted on the ground. He moved to nearby city of Atlacomulco and learned to repair computers and the like to provide better for his family. However, when it comes to making alambroides, the artist shows through. He not only conserves his father’s style with only small changes, he mentioned several times how “jealous” (celos) he is regarding this work. He is somewhat adverse to teaching others and publicity, and while he admits his father’s negative experience with traditionalists, he himself is loyal to this new tradition. The good thing about this celos, is that maestro Saulo’s legacy will live on and has a bright future with this young man.


My many thanks to Mario Moreno and his family for receiving me only a week after maestro Saulo’s death in order to be able to add him to the book.

Weaving community

The central highlands of Oaxaca has been a major draw for cultural tourism in Mexico for decades. There are several reasons for this. The first is that Oaxaca has the highest percentage of indigenous population, as well as communities which have preserved much of their traditional lifestyle. While the capital of Oaxaca is a relatively modern city, with modern creature comforts alongside colonial charm, the rest of the valley is dotted with small towns and villages with the sights, sounds and smells of the countryside. The second is very likely food. While every region in Mexico has wonderful dishes, the overall gastronomy of Oaxaca cannot be beaten. I certainly have never had a bad meal there.

Preciosa Sangre Church in Teotitlan del Valle
Rug from Teotitlan at the Museo Estatal de Arte Popular de Oaxaca

A number of these small towns specialize in one or more handcrafts and are linked by a tourism route. The most well-known of these can be visited by car in a day or so, and include the rug weaving town of Teotitlan del Valle.

Teotitlan is a Zapotec community, where most residents still speak this language. Weaving here goes back a very long way. The area had to pay tribute to the Aztec Empire, which it did yearly in woven goods. Those weavings were done on backstrap looms. When the Spanish conquered Oaxaca and refounded Teotitlan in the Spanish style (including building a church with the broken stones of the old temple), they introduced two things that define the town’s work today: the pedal loom and wool.

While wool initially was used for clothing (the Spanish preferred it), eventually the town specialized in the making of rugs. The most traditional of these have indigenous Zapotec designs, but as the tourism industry drives most of the sales both in Oaxaca city and the town proper, modern designs, including imitations of figures from painters such as Picasso can be seen.

401px-RugsTexSaleTeotitlan1There are a couple of caveats to buying rugs here. While the town has made its reputation on the making of wool rugs colored with natural dyes, many rugs here are wool blends with synthetic dyes. 100% virgin wool, especially locally sourced, is expensive and sometimes not available. Dying with plant material and the famous red of the cochineal insect is time-consuming and becoming a lost art. The result is that true traditional rugs are much more expensive and do not have the eye-catching colors that synthetics can produce. Most of the roadside stands catering to tourists will only have these cheaper options. To find true traditional rugs, it is necessary to visit workshops which actually make them. Almost all of these are on the narrow streets of the town off the main square and beyond, and most lack signage to locate them. However, two artisans which do make and sell 100% wool rugs with natural dyes are the workshops of Porfirio Gutierrez and Arnulfo Mendoza.


Cactus, furniture and floods

Most of Mexico’s traditional handcrafts come from small rural towns, and few are smaller or more rural than Venta Vieja, Guerrero, located north of the state capital Chilpancingo. It is rugged terrain, with little tree cover, which means that major rain events such as the hurricanes Ingrid and Manuel that hit Mexico in 2013 devastated the tiny village of about 100 families, even though they are far inland. Most homes were swept away or made uninhabitable by the flash flooding. Below is a video with English subtitles about the devastation and reconstruction.

The village is even smaller now as some were not able to rebuild. Those who remain maintain a rather precarious existence with subsistence agriculture and furniture making. It is a 100% populated by native Nahua, with just about all of the population speaking this indigenous language, with some not even speaking Spanish.

It is these communities that events such as the twice-yearly Expo de Pueblos Indigenas are designed to help. Sponsored by National Commission for the Development of Indigenous Communities (CDI as it is commonly referred to), the Expo is one of various programs to help indigenous-owned businesses start or improve their business. Most of these are related to handcrafts and one of the major goals is to wean these creators from their dependency on middlemen, selling more directly to end users and making a better profit from their work.

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No automatic alt text available.This past May the To Neluayo group participated in the Expo, their first. It comes on the heels of support to start gaining a presence online, both in Facebook and a soon-to-be-launch website. It is a family affair with 3 generations in several branches. This is typical for these workshops. What attracted my attention was the quality of the work as well as the use of the dried skeletons of a local type of organ cactus. To Neluayo says that the cactus is from the local mountains, but it is not harvested but rather collected after the plant dies naturally. This might be the case today, but I have to wonder if that will be a sustainable plan in the long run. However, it is best that if these resources are going to be utilized, and the recent devastation did result in a lot of dead trees, best that the local people benefit as much as possible.




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It´s never too late to make an impact

DSC_0045Few stories illustrate this point better than that of Angela Ramírez del Prado of Tultepec, State of Mexico.

This suburb of Mexico City is best known for the making of fireworks, which unfortunately also includes the occasional disaster such as the explosions that tore out a huge chunk of the fireworks market back in December of 2016.

When Ramírez was growing up, none of that existed. Born in 1928 (and turning 90 on 16 May), the area was all rural farmland with Mexico City far away. She described her childhood as very happy, raising chickens and the like but noted with a hint of regret that she only learned “her letters” and some very basic arithmetic. The family was poor, even more so when her father became incapacitated and she and her brothers had to work to make ends meet. This was her first contact with fireworks making.

DSC_0062Her economic situation did not improve after marrying a local farmworker, so she did what so many poor ingenious Mexicans do, they take what is available and create products, to sell here and there… often for almost nothing. Over the years, Ramírez became adept at all kinds of handcrafts, crediting television for teaching her many of them as soon as it was available in her area.


However, none of them involved paper and paste (cartonería) a craft that is heavily associated with fireworks. While fireworks can and are set off by themselves, very often they are affixed to colorful large figures such as devils (Judas effigies), figures of bulls and even alebrijes. Tultepec attracts much local tourism during several holidays when fireworks and these figures take center stage. The largest of these is the celebrations of the town’s and fireworks makers patron saint, John of God. Here toritos (little bulls) take center stage.

Only about 20 years ago, Ramírez hit upon an idea. She saw the crowds that came to Tultepec to enjoy the shows and realized that no one was selling any kind of souvenirs for them. Many do not know the processes or traditions associated with fireworks. So she took on another handcraft, fashioning figures in paper and paper of fireworks makers and sellers to sell at these events. The idea was a success and since then several others in the town also do this work. She went on to create more elaborate scenes such as processions and branched out into other themes such as scenes of what life was like in Tultepec when she was young. Her work began to receive official recognition starting in 2001 from local, state agencies as well as cartonería organizations.


Although she still has many ideas and is still overall in very good health, her hands and eyes no longer permit her to create her figures herself. It remains to be seen if the family will continue doing what she did as they have a thriving business making more traditional figures as well as renting dance and holiday costumes.


While her pieces are rustic, there is no denying that there is an artist inside of her. No two faces look the same; all have different expressions based off of people she has met over her lifetime. Positions and scenes have a very realistic feel, and there is heart which cannot be duplicated by someone who has not lived this life. It is the kind of work that brings cartonería up to the level of folk art, a phenomenon that has been happening in Mexico for only about 20-25 years or so. In the future, I hope that some museum will take notice and put on an exhibition of this work.


This traditional footwear has its roots in pre Hispanic Mexico with variations found among the Olmec, Purhépecha, Mexica and other indigenous cultures. The word derives from the Purhépecha kwarachi.

The most original huarache types are simply strips of leather or even ixtle woven through holes made into a sole, which can form (but not necessarily) intricate pattern. Originally, they were made only from leather or braided cord, but the use of rubber from old car tires in the 20th century increased their popularity. The rubber makes for a much more durable sole, and it requires the use of nails to fix the uppers onto the soles, which also increases the shoes’ lifespan.


Huaraches at a market in Zaachila, Oaxaca


Huaraches can vary greatly, from the cheap souvenir type to pairs as fine as any footwear from Europe. The uppers vary from a couple of straps to those resembling modern closed-toe shoes. Some even have holes for shoelaces. What makes a sandal a huarache is that it is handmade and that the upper has at least some braided leather (even if it is only decorative). Commercially-made sandals go by various names, most commonly “chancla.” The importance of the natural upper means that most huaraches are some kind of natural tan to brown color, but multicolored versions are widely available as well. The use of synthetic materials even in the uppers is increasing. Designs have become more complicated and have taken cues from other modern footwear.


Adding decorative elements to a huarache at a workshop at the Museo de Arte Popular in Mexico City. (courtesy of the museum)


Most artisans making the shoes are found in Guanajuato, Jalsico, Michoacan and Zacatecas. Only about ten people in the entire country produce the finest huaraches. Most are sold on the street or traditional markets and can cost anywhere from just 100 pesos and up, depending on style, materials, and craftsmanship.


Huaraches rancheros (Huaracheblog)


The shoes are iconic in Mexico, mostly associated with the indigenous and Mexican farmworkers, both important to Mexico’s view of itself. The name huarache has since come to refer to a common street food, basically, a large thick tortilla with a thin layer of beans inside topped with vegetables, meat, cheese and/or salsa. The name comes from the idea that the base is the size and shape of the shoe’s sole, but most huaraches eaten today are far larger than that.


Huarache with chicken and cheese (Svein Meinguer)


However, they have found favor with other segments of Mexican society and with foreigners as well. They were initially popularized in the United States by hippies in the 1960s. Since then, they can be easily found in tourist markets all over the country. They can be popular among certain, generally younger, segments of Mexican society, especially those which have updated designs.

(Featured image: Traditional huaraches from the north of Mexico on display at the Museo de Arte Popular (Alejandro Linares Garcia))




From paper to ceramic

Many cultural centers and others who teach crafts and trades use Mexico’s hard paper mache called cartonería to introduce students to creativity and design. This is not just to children but to adults, too.

It is an economical medium, need only waste paper, a few tools like paintbrushes and no expensive equipment such as kilns. This allows students to experiment and make mistakes without having to worry about cost. Those who find that they have talent and desire go on to other mediums can transfer much of what they learn from working with simple paper and paste.

Eva Gonzalez Guzman is one of

Gonzalez with two of her alebrijes

these artists.


Gonzalez always had a creative bent, studying textile design in college and working for years in factories working on designs of products to be mass-produced. However, she did not find this work fulfilling or creative enough. She changed over to graphic design but found that jobs in this field required too much time dedicated to administrative tasks. She was looking for work that would allow her to spend as much time as possible creating.

Sometime in the early 2000s, she began working with paper in general as a hobby with her daughters, using ideas she got from various arts and crafts shows on television. Both she and her young daughters enjoyed this and this prompted Gonzalez to investigate what else can be done with the material. In 2006, she discovered Mexico City style alebrijes at a workshop taught at a local college and fell in love with the making of these fantastic, sometimes scary-looking creatures.


A nearly life-sized piece made from paper

The discovery of alebrijes is significant as Gonzalez is from the San Marcos neighborhood of the city of Aguascalientes. The state of the same name does have several handcraft traditions, all of which are little-known, but the making of cartonería is not one of them. The class Gonzalez took was given by Mexico City artisan, part of a 20+ year phenomenon of artisans from the capital spreading techniques and forms from this area to most parts of the country.


Despite the fact that cartoneria is almost completely unknown in Aguascalientes, Gonzalez managed to soon exhibit and even sell some of her paper work. Encouraged, she went on to learn high-fire artistic ceramics starting in 2009. Today, she is a full-time artist and artisan, dividing her time between the two media, with an area in her home dedicated to her work.


While there are definite stylistic and thematic differences between her paper and ceramic work, both focus on sculpture, from fantastic and real creatures to skeletons and realistic depictions of humans to abstract forms.


Dual hearts sculpture in ceramic

Gonzalez is part of a small group of artisans who are affiliated with the state’s Casa de Artesanias and while she has had success with her work, she states that it is still difficult. One problem is that Aguascalientes does not have the handcrafts reputation that certain other states have and the second is that much of the work she does is little known and relatively unappreciated in the state itself.



Traditional skeletal figure in ceramic

Alebrijes are a very recent introduction here with little-to-no understanding of what they are or what their history is. Gonzalez states that many people love to look at her work, but when it comes to buying, many find the glaring colors and fierce appearance intimidating. For this reason, Gonzalez has simplified her alebrijes in the sense that they are usually one identifiable animal with one or two elements of some other, rather than a mixture of several to many elements common in Mexico City. However, this does not mean that they are simple in execution as they often have fine detail (sometimes using toilet paper to make elements like feathers) and intricate painting. The result is something quite different from the alebrijes of either Mexico City or Oaxaca.


Gonzalez also spends significant time now teaching cartoneria in Aguascalientes, to both adults and children. Her adult students are almost all women, which reflect the cartoneria situation in general in the state. (The children she teaches tend to be more evenly divided by sex.) These adults either tend to be housewives who have extensive experience in other kinds of arts and crafts, or professionals with demanding careers, who find making alebrijes and other creatures relaxing.




Gonzalez’s hopes for the future include that Aguascalientes gets more recognition for its craftspeople. She also hopes that the emerging tradition with paper-and-paste done by her and her colleagues continues to grow and becomes more appreciated.


Folk painters and tourist markets

Tepotzotlan is a Pueblo Màgico, a designation by federal tourism authorities that a small town (a day’s distance from a major city) has something special about it to make it worth visiting.

I have been here several times and I could spend a lot of time talking about it. Most pertinent to the art/artisans presented here is that it is different in the sense that it is home to small remnants of what was the north of the Valley of Mexico, before rapid expansion of the metro area filled it with warehouses, industry, highways and tract housing.


The center of Tepozotlan (not really a pueblo because of the area’s large population) makes its living from day tourists, from Mexico City who like to pretend they are somehow outside the city. Like destinations of this type, the sale of handcrafts is important to the overall ambiance.

Sales are usually made through fixed stores, street markets and wandering vendors. I will not say that it is impossible to find and buy authentic, locally-made products in such places, but since the main target is tourists, few people wandering the area know what to look for… and many don’t care.

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Local craftspeople can be found and in the street market in front of the National Colonial-Era Museum (Museo de Virreinato), local producers do have priority. But there are no signs indicating they are and they have to compete with resellers of both crafts and trinkets, which are often cheaper.

However, treasure and surprises can be found in such places. I’ve written earlier about Creaturas, and their unique take on cartonerìa alebrijes and calacas. Near there stall, there is an area set aside for painters from the local area. Most are not professionally-trained and their work may never see the inside of a museum, but they share a passion for a certain local theme or topic.

DSC_0176One is Ramon Ortiz Mayen, who principally sells landscapes of areas in and around the Tepotzotlan area. (The featured image is one of his paintings.) This work is important because he is capturing the remnants of what was a rural farming region. Ortiz paints landmarks such as churches, chapels, stone bridges and other structures that pre-date this industrialization, but they are idealized versions, avoiding depictions the garbage, dirty water and graffiti that is unfortunately common here.  He even adds touches of himself as a child as well as other memories to the paintings.

Arturo Dominguez Guerrero has some professional training as a painter but for economic reasons spent much time doing reproduction work. He has been selling at the Tepozotlan square for about 20 years. What he paints and sells here depends on what sells, and has had particular success with paintings of Mexican folk art, especially Maria dolls. He originally worked on surrealistic paintings but these don’t sell in a tourist market.


Maria Antonia Gonzalez took some art classes locally but does not have professional training. She began selling at the plaza about 20 years ago, shortly after learning how to paint. While she does earn some money selling her painting, she says that she does it mostly for her own satisfaction, working when she has time among her other responsibilities. Even the selling has a personal side to it, as she states she enjoys interacting with the people who come by.

A Pueblo Initiative: Creation of a Folk Art Collective, Nocheztli

Reblogged with permisson from Friends of Oaxacan Folk Art
The traditional folk art culture of Oaxaca’s pueblos is at risk. As master artists age and die, many in the next generation are responding to the lure of the promise of more stable work, outside of the arts world, and sometimes even beyond Oaxaca. FOFA was formed in 2007 to address this looming crisis, devoting special attention to young artists by running contests, creating exhibitions of winners’ works that are memorialized in catalogs, and offering workshops on marketing and cultural history.
We are deeply impressed that o ne village has taken the initiative to preserve folk art traditions. In San Antonino Castillo Velasco, a pueblo in Oaxaca’ s Central Valley about forty minutes’ drive from Oaxaca City, the Garc í a family has understood this challenge and responded to it. Brother and sister ceramicists — who have been long-term participants and winners in FOFA contests since 2008 — and their mother and father, himself a master ceramicist, inter-wove some elements of FOFA’s projects with their local traditions and resources to create a unique approach.
Master Ceramicist Don José García, Sr. and his wife Reyna Teresita Mendoza
We share their remarkable story with the hope that you will support their efforts. The Garc í as have created a collective, Nocheztli  (the Nahuatl word for cochineal, a natural dye) , that is accessible to all members of the community. They have opened their family home and ceramic workshop, Manos Que Ven (Hands that See), as a meeting space.
José García, Jr.: Winner in Ceramics in FOFA’s 2016 young folk artists’ contest; Honorable Mention in FOFA’s 2008 and 2011 young folk artists’ contests
Sara García: Honorable Mention in Ceramics in FOFA’s 2008, 2011, 2013, 2016 young folk artists’ contests
Young people in the community are encouraged to join the collective and participate in a variety of workshops. These include media such as clay, paper and glue , flor inmortal ( dried flowers), embroidery, and other inexpensive materials. Community leaders have linked these folk art projects to traditional customs and ceremonies. On one occasion participants learned to make papier m â ch é masks for Xintagul , aZapotec custom associated with the Day of the Dead. A mask-making competition was held in which senior artists served as judges who awarded prizes to winners in three different age groups.
Participating artists at the collective
Nocheztli successfully brought several generations together in the community’s only cultural space. Young artisans took advantage of the common space and the chance to learn from the older generation.
Then the earthquake of September 2017 hit, seriously damaging the Garc í a family ‘s roof and floor. Although the Collective has received contributions of materials necessary to repair them, funds (about $1,200 US) are still needed for labor.
This difficult setback has inspired the Collective to think ahead — and to think creatively. Since this is the village’s only site for artistic collaboration, Nocheztli is eager to improve its space to allow exhibiting and selling artwork.
Additional participating artists
Nocheztli has shown that creativity and sustainability in the folk arts may require new sources of support and collaboration. FOFA salutes their initiative, and urges our members to contribute to the special fund we are hosting to assist the collective with reconstruction and enhancement of its facilities . Click on the “donate” button below — contributions are tax-deductible. We hope that project inspires artists elsewhere in Oaxaca to think beyond traditional individual and family-based art making.