Discovering a small state’s handcrafts

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Wood carved items from various parts of the state

In 2014, the small state of Aguascalientes joined the ever-growing number of Mexican states that have (or have added to) one or more culural centers dedicated to the preservation and promotion of local handcraft traditions.

It’s not so much that handcrafts in and of themselves yield a great economic boon for state coffers, but rather the tourism which it can attract. Tourism in states such as Oaxaca and Chiapas heavily depend on their indigenous cultures. These cultures’ handcrafts not only dominate the souvenir  markets but fine pieces are sent abroad as well as other parts of Mexico to promote the states.  It is logical that other states with handcraft traditions would want a piece of this action.

 

 

Top left: traditional toy showcase, Top right: Display of various textiles, Bottom: tradiitonal and innovative designs on ceramics.

 

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Ivan Puga demonstrating a piece at the Museum.

The Casa de Artesanias (Handcrafts House) in Aguascalientes has quite a challenge in front of them. In Mexico, the state is known pretty much only for the annual Feria of San Marcos and indeed the Casa is located just off the main square of the San Marcos neighborhood to take advantage of the crowds this event attracts. Another issue is that many traditional handcrafts are struggling to survive. For example, pottery making in the state was dead for about 30 years until local artist and artisan Ivan Puga Gonzalez began reviving and reinventing traditional designs in 2010.

The Casa is divided in seven halls, each dedicated to a branch of handcrafts such as ceramics, textiles, basketry (and work with other stiff fibers), traditional toys, wood items, stonework and one dedicated to “souvenirs, “neo-handcrafts” and “hybrid works,” basically for innovations that do not fit any of the other six categories. There is also an area with foodstuffs such as candies, preserves and baked goods.

Left: clock made with layered cardboard, Right: portion of the ceramics hall

Unlike a traditional museum, all of the items on display at the Casa are for sale. The plus for this is sales for local artisans, but the minus is that there is no permanent collection to study. This decision was made because the location is small– a former private residence and space is needed for activities such as workshops, classes, temporary exhibits and the like.

While I have been critical of some handcrafts museums/centers in the past, they are a valuable asset for collectors, especially those learning about any of the myriad of traditions that exist in this country. Without them, traditions would be dying off much faster than they already are.

All photos taken by Leigh Thelmadatter

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