March 19th is Artisan Day (Día de Artesanos), when the country celebrates its artisans and handcrafting heritage. This heritage is strongest in areas where indigenous and colonial-era culture has been best-preserved.
LtoR: Talavera pottery, wood toys and a silversmith polishing at the Museo Nacional de Culturas Populares
The majority of cultural institutions related to handcrafts and/or folk culture in Mexico have events on this day, including exhibitions, conferences, dances, fairs and more, often extending into the following weekend, sometimes longer.
LtoR: Peacock “tree of life” from Puebla, jaguar figures from Chiapas and colonial style wood horses from Guanajuato.
A large but typical event associated with the day occurred at the Museo Nacional de Culturas Populares, a federal museum of Mexican folk culture located in the Coyoacan district of Mexico City. Collaborating with the federal agency FONART, the museum held a fair to exhibit and sell tradtional Mexican handcrafts, with 86 artisans from 19 Mexican states participating. There were a large range of goods from textiles, lacquerware, stone carvings, copper, glass, leatherwork, paper mache (cartoneria), toys, tin objects and more.
LtoR: Mazahua embroidery and artisans, wire and reed jewelry from Tabasco and mother-of-pearl incrusted boxes from Hidalgo.
Día de Artesanos is also a good occasion to premiere a new event aimed to promoting a handcrafting tradition.
Mexico very first national reunion of mask makers is taking place on weekends from 18 to 31 March. Organized by Mexico City mask makers and brothers Eduardo and Carlos Garcia, the aim of the event promote and raise the status of mask making in the country.
This first edition exhibits masks made from wood and wax, has a number of talks but the main attraction is the exhibitions of the various dances that the masks are associated wtih. This is only right as it is impossible to divorce the making and wearing of masks in Mexico from the festivals and rituals they are associated with.
The artisan of honor at this event is wood mask carver Alejandro Vera Guzman from Santiago Juxtlahuaca, Oaxaca. He specializes in masks depicting the devil for a local dance aptly named “Dance of the Devils.” But these are no ordinary masks. Devil masks are common in Mexico. To obtain their scary or shocking appearance, most artisans rely on bright colors, depictions of blood and/or grotesque features. However, most of Vera’s masks have relatively minimal distortion. Their impact instead comes from their fierce looks. The reason for this is that Vera considers what he does as art, rather than just something to sell.