Hidden on Isabel la Catolica Street on the southern edge of the historic center of Mexico City lies a treasure. This treasure lies not only in the merchandise for sale, but the history and the people related to the enterprise.
The only thing that marks the location is a small sign with “Victor’s Artes populares mexicanos” hanging off a balcony on one of many similar colonial buildings in the area. The store has no front windows showing merchandise, instead one must use the large knocker located on a very large wooden door to gain entrance. This can be quite intimidating for just a curious tourist, but the effort is worth it.
“Victor’s” refers to one of the store’s founders, Victor Fosado Contreras. He initially made a living as carpenter as well as by making jewelry. In the 1940s, long, long before the Mexican government ever began its programs to promote Mexico’s folk art traditions, Fosa and American business partner Frederick Davis decided to open a shop on Madero street to sell folk art.
The audacity of such an enterprise is hard to imagine today, but at that time very few people, and none outside Mexico’s artist and intellectual communities gave any credence to utilitarian and decorative items made by Mexico’s poor and indigenous communities. These men were ahead of their time.
Fosa began with items he knew about, but as the shop began to have success, he started traveling and learning about more traditions in different places, earning his expertise the hard way. In this environment, son Victor Fosado Vazquez and daughter Pilar Fosado Vazquez grew up. Young Victor followed his father into the business early, becoming a major folk art expert in his own right. His career eventually took him to Cancun, where he worked with the government agency FONART to take advantage of the area’s tourist development for promoting Mexican artesania.
Pilar’s interests in early life revolved around music, and she was a piano teacher for many years. However, in the 1970s her interest in folk art revived, and she decided to take over the Mexico City business, which she continues to run along with a nephew.
Only recently has the store moved to its current location, from its previous one, which despite having been on the much busier Madero Street, was also not very visible from the street. Since its main clientle is not the average tourist, the lack of street visibility has not a major concern. The business deals with fine and authentic artesania, and stock includes pieces by noted names such as the Linares family and important community traditions such as the lacquerware of Olinalá, Guerrero. Most of the pieces in the store are small, and there is a locked area with antiques for sale as well. The clientele mostly consists of collectors and institutions such as museums, both in Mexico and abroad. The store has been a stop for specialized tours, such as those related to art and Mexican history, and has been mentioned in media such as the New York Times and NBC news, generally as a tip for those looking for something out-of-the-ordinary.
Pilar has worked with supplying artisans for many years, noting the changes in production as older craftspeople die and younger ones take their place (or often, not). While Pilar has done some collaboration with museum publications, unfortunately, she has not given serious consideration to documenting her experience or knowledge.
There is no currently active website or Facebook site for the business as the writing of this post. The address is Isabel la Catolica 97, Col. Centro. Hours are from 11-730pm