The city of Oaxaca offers the best handcrafts shopping experience, bar none, in Mexico. Not only is just about every handcraft of the state available there, the city itself… food, museums, buildings make for an experience that is hard to beat even without artesanía. Most handcrafts are made in the three valleys where Oaxaca City is located, but very few are made in the city proper. One exception is the making of gold and silver items, especially jewelry.
Filigree (filigrana in Spanish) is a jewelry making technique that takes thin gold or silver threads, to meticulously bend, curve and twist them into fine intricate designs. The technique first became established in Oaxaca state in Juchitan, on the coast, where it is still one of a number of techniques used. The technique migrated to the state capital, where it has become the dominant form in fine jewelry. The technique begins with gold, but far more commonly, silver wire, which usually is somewhat flattened. Small bits of this wire is then shaped into various forms then soldered together. If an antique appearance is desired, the metal is oxidized.
One important filigree item is earrings, which are made with a wide variety of designs, from flowers, geometric patterns, dolls, animals, nets with pearls, leaves and even skeletal figures of Day of the Dead type.
Despite its history, the tradition of filigree work is in danger of disappearing, with production far reduced since the mid 20th century and few living masters of the art.
Delfino García Esperanza (1945) is from the city of Oaxaca, and currently is the head of a prolific silver and gold jewelry making family. Delfino works today with one of his sons, Valentín Julián, producing both tradtional heirloom and new designs. In addition to filigree jewelry, the family makes crowns for religious images and more in both silver and gold. One of these can be seen on the Our Lady of Solitude at teh Parish of San Baartolomé Apostal in the city of Oaxaca. His pieces may also include pearls, semi-precious stones and coral.
Sons and other members of the family have workshops, which cluster near the patriarch’s. One of these is Jose Jorge Garcia Garcia, who specializes in silver filigree jewelry, especially bracelets, both delicate strand and cuff style. He learned from his father and uncles, but established his own workshop at the age of just 25.
Starting at age 10, Juan Manuel Garcia has been working silver for over sixty years in Barrio de la Noria and is one of the best that Oaxaca has to offer in the field. He was not born into a silverworking family, but sought out the opportunity to apprentice when he was still a boy. Over his lifetime, he has name an uncountable number of items, mostly necklaces, bracelets and the classic earrings the area is known for. His creativity has won him various awards at handcraft competitions, including teh Genoveva Medina Award and being named a “grand master” by Fomento Cultural Banamex. He founded his own family workshop, aptly named Taller Familia Garcia and is training one of his granddaugthers in the trade, traditionally men’s work.
Arturo Salgado Vasquez was born in the city of Oaxaca, but his family moved to Zimatlán de Alvarez, a short ways south when he was 11. His older brother taught him how to craft jewelry which he was been working for over four decades.
Salgado’s family workshop was established with is wife, Martha Sara Tellez Gopar, who learned from Salgado. Today the couple adn their three daughters all work in silver, and one granddaughter is learning as well. Tellez won third place at the national Hugo Salinas Prize in 2008 and Salgado’s (along with daughter Ruby) work has been recognized by the state of Oaxaca. One aspect that distinguishes the workshop is the insistence on sticking to old techniques, and to a large degree, traditional designs. Everything is done by hand.
(Featured image: Bracelet with silver filigree and turquoise by Mario Perez Cortes on display at the Manos y Alma de Oaxaca exhibit)