Even if you dont speak Spanish or Otomi, Perez’s charisma is hard to miss. She genuninely enjoys the promotional aspect of her work, something very valuable to her misunderstood art. This ability has allowed her to represent Otomi “Maria” dolls, as well as Mexico, in countries such as Turkey, Italy, Venezuela and Chile. The dolls themselves have gone all over the world.
Maria dolls are those small rag dolls that are ubiquitous in tourist markets in Mexico, These are often-poorly made, and quite possibly not handmade to be sold as cheaply as possible. It is also likely they are not make by the people they originated with. This has made the dolls overlooked as a collectible handcraft.
Perez works to change this. Always dressed in traditional Otomi clothing, with ruffles, lace and exquisite embroidery, she was born and raised in the municipality of Amealco, Queretaro, where the dolls originated. For Perez, the dolls are not trinkets, souvenirs or collectibles, they are the gifts lovingly sewn by mothers and grandmothers for their little girls and a part of her own childhood.
Efforts in the 1970s aimed to help families in this very poor area earn money through the dolls, but unfortunately they became highly undervalued, selling for as little as 20 pesos (just over $1USD), made with cheap materials and glued on eyes, hair, etc. Perez shuns this to use high quality muslin and other materials, with hair and all facial features sewn on, and even the embroidery of the clothes is hand done. These dolls are the finest made in the municipality, and her home contains many recognitions for her work, including third place in the National Mexican Folk Toy Competition in 2012.
Case inside the Perez Pascual family shop in San Ildefonso
Perez’s main product is this famous doll, which is from Santiago Mexquititlan in the Amealco Municipality, but it is important to note that she is from San Ildefonso Tultepec in the same municipality. This town has its own variety of doll, which Perez makes and promotes as well. It is quite distinct. Instead of a head and body similar to a stuffed animal, San Ildefono dolls start off with a heavy muslin material which is rolled then bent to form the head, hair and body. Arms are rolled and attached, but are generally inmoble. Legs are missing, but the doll can stand thanks to a very heavy muslin embroidered skirt. The “hair” is the tapering end of the tube, wrapped with yarn to mimic a kerchief. This doll also traditionally carried its own small child.
Starting in 2005, the Perez Pascual famiy is only one of number of families that make a living off dolls, but the thirteen women involved are the first to work assembly-line style. This may devalue their work for some, but it is not all that unusual for tasks to divided in other handcraft traditons, with certain members specializing in certain tasks. They are also the first to sell wholesale because they can make between 150 to 200 dolls in a week. Most of the work is done in a small workshop in Perez’s home, with the exception of embroidery, which is usually done after hours in individual’s homes.
The quality of the dolls allows them to be sold from about 300 pesos ($18USD) to 1000 pesos ($500) depending on size and details. Their clients include FONART, the government agency that promotes Mexican handcrafts, along with department stores, and handcraft stores in Amealco and other locations in Mexico. Most of these dolls find their way into upscale shops in Mexico City and tourist areas. Perez’s and her sisters’ specially-made dolls can also be seen at the municipality’s Doll Museum as well.The family is a regular participant of Amealco’s National Festival of Handcrafted Dolls, which attracts about 8,000 visitors to this small, relatively isolated town in November.
Unfortunately, the Perez family is not online but can be contacted through the Amealco Municipal Museum.