Beads and baubles

Blondin4Most artisans in Mexico live and work where there were born. There are interesting exceptions,  such as Gabriela Diaz and Oscar Becerra who have lived, created and taught abroad.
Far less common, but just as interesting, are those foreigners who develop a passion for a particular handcraft here, such as the work of Argentinian Susana Buyo, who developed her style of alebrijes in Mexico City but now lives and teaches in Mazatlan.
Marcia Blondin is another example. 66 years young, she is a Canadian who has lived in Puerto Vallarta since 1991.
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The artisan

Most foreigners who begin creating in Mexico usually take on a Mexican tradition and add their own flavor to it, but Blondin’s work is a bit more complicated than that. There are North and South elements in her work, but they have more to do with the materials she works with and the people she interacts with.

Blondin’s work is to make recycled jewelry, something that began very simply and very organically 6 years ago. She has no background in anything artistic or creative but her life along the Pacific coast brought her in contact with interesting bits of stuff that would wash up on the beach. Like many people, she picked up things that caught her eye to use in simple mosaics and necklaces. She considers her first works purely as learning experiences.

 

 

Hating waste and liking the challenges that recycling gives, she widened her “sources of supply”.  As many foreign retirees live in this area, many have old and broken jewelry, silk scarves and blouses and other heirlooms that are unusable in their original state, but can’t be simply thrown away. The idea is to take these pieces and rework them somehow so that they can be worn or otherwise used again.
She primarily uses vintage silk for collar necklaces, one of her best sellers, using old scarves, blouses and men’s ties. Most have been either worn to the point that they have been overmended, or they belong to a mom or dad who recently died. Blondin believes these pieces have a “soul” that no new material can match.
Trips home mean visits to thrift stores (not a thing in Mexico generally) and access to more jewelry, beads and baubles to spark her imagination.
The mix of sources means that her work can either be creating something where the client provides most (or the most important) of the raw materials, or creating pieces for sale to a more general market.  Either way, the use of recycled materials means that now two pieces are exactly alike. However, there are certain styles of products.
“Mixtos” are pieces, usually earrings that are a mix of materials, old and new. The base are recycled items, which generally include something from her own past,in particular a bead from a necklace her father gave her mother in the 1950s. With earrings’ weight is an issue. Blondin says these earrings are meant to be worn “for a good time, not for a long time.” The weight is an issue even though the mix often include usually-shunned plastic bases to keep the weight down.
Blondin has literally sold pieces that she was wearing while walking down the street. However, most of her sales to the public occur in the Puerto Vallarta area at the Marsol Friday Market by the pier and the Three Hans & a Rooster Market on Saturdays. She also has a few pieces on consignment but generally avoids this sales method. Most sales are to tourists and foreigners, making the business relatively seasonal.
The work is as much for her own pleasure as it is for making any money. While Blondin admits she should create an online presence, she does not feel any overwhelming pressure to do it soon. She is concerned that such work would take away from the face-to-face sales she enjoys.
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Semana Santa handcrafts

In case you do not have your plans set for the Holy Week vacation period here are some suggestions for this year.  Because it is such a major holiday season in Mexico, many tourist destination have events during this week, and many have a section dedicated to Mexican handcrafts, with actual artisans and often with high-quality products (which usually sell out very fast) Here are three examples:

descargaThe Tianguis Domingo de Ramos (Palm Sunday Market) is a major event for the small city of Uruapan, in the heart of avocado-growing country, but still fairly unknown to tourists outside of Michoacan. While the market is worth going to on its own, there is much more, parades other events dedicated to the state’s indigenous peoples, a food market to die for and one of two of the state’s major handcrafts competitions. While there are events all week, for shopping, Palm Sunday is recommended as all the best stuff sells pretty much on the first day or so. The area does have a reputation for being unsafe as it is on the edge of the Tierra Caliente (where drug routes are) and the Michoacan highlands. However, I have been here and the town proper is quite safe, especially for this event. There are major hotels in the town center and most of the city is walkable.

8Alex4Cartoneria116The Festival de Cartonería (Paper Mache Fair) celebrates Mexico City’s tradition of making figures for celebrations and holidays such as piñatas, Judas effigies, skeletal figures and alebrijes. This annual event began only in 2012, but it has quickly become an important venue for a craft tradition that has not yet received its due. The event extends from Holy Thursday to Easter Sunday, but I recommend visiting on Saturday afternoon, when they “burn” (really explode) various effigies of Judas… either as the traditional devil figure or more creative images…often of politicians. It is one of still few events that can obtain permits for this activity.

Artisans all over the central valleys of Oaxaca will be out in force for the tourists with many different small exhibitions of local handcrafts. All of the towns with handcraft traditions such as San Bartolo Coyotepec, San Martin Tilcajete, Arrazola and others will have events during the week, especially on Easter weekend. A list of ferias and expos for the state can be seen here.

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A newcomer to the Holy Week scene can be found in the small town of Zacualpan, Morelos. This is a sugar-cane growing area just east of the city of Cuautla. Handcraft-wise the town is best know for its paper mache work related to its annual Mojiganga event, where groups called cofradias compete with themed costumes with elaborate masks and other accesories which take the entire year to create. This is the first year for this particular event, which will resurrect the Burning of Judas in this area on Holy Saturday along with promoting the handcrafts of eastern Morelos state, including paper mache, ceramics, wax, and textiles including rebozos. Be sure to try the local aguardiente or sugar cane liquor, which holds its own against any rum. The burning of Judas will occur at 6pm on Holy Saturday at the town’s main square.

 

With hands and heart – campaign for artisans

Reprinted from the Fundación Casa Azul blog with permission

Have you ever seen an advertising campaign that recognizes artisans and their crafts? Actually, there are few celebrations around this topic. On March 19 is the Artisan’s Day in Mexico, date recognized by the National Fund for the Promotion of Fine Crats (FONART), since 2013.

The actual reality of artisans is complicated. According to Sedesol, in Mexico there are nearly 12 million artisans, of whom 55% live in poverty. In Jalisco, there are about 400 artisans and 13 representative fine craft techniques; some of them endangered.

Clearly, this is not the best-case scenario for artisans, who, through the teachings of their parents and grandparents, have created unique and soulful pieces from generation to generation. This people, who put their talent and effort into the creation of wonderful pieces, deserve a better quality of life.

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Therefore, in Fundación con Causa Azul, we believe it is necessary to emphasize the importance of handcrafts and start to unleash a movement. The Artisan’s Day campaign aims to generate positive messages in favor of handcrafts, with the objective of increasing their appreciation and consumption in Jalisco. This year’s slogan: “With the hands and heart”, talks about the passion and dedication that is present throughout the whole crafts creation process.

Some of the main elements of this campaign are the realization of a music video with FANKO, a Mexican music band, as well as the creation of a micro documentary, which seek to demonstrate the richness and transcendence of the artisanal topic. In addition, we will be organizing different events, activities and workshops that will take place in academic spaces and which aim to raise awareness around this topic.

High tech for low tech…

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One of the first major publications on Mexican handcrafts, by artist Dr Atl in 1921.

Mexican handcrafts (artesanía) may have started as trades to produce items of utilitarian importance or, sometimes, the creation of products to be consumed only by certain classes of people (e.g. silverware).

The Industrial Revolution took its toll on handcrafted items, wiping or nearly wiping them out worldwide. Where they do survive, it is because their making as taken on a cultural significance.

This is the case in Mexico as well. By the beginning of the 20th century, most handcraft traditions in the country were in a death spiral because of mass production. Such production is still a threat, with the added “bonus” of even cheaper products from abroad.

But artesanía still clings to life in Mexico and there are even bright spots in the tradition. There are two main factors: the recognition of these traditions to Mexican culture and the tourism industry. How this works is for another article.

Promotional video on the artesanía represented at the Museo de Arte Popular in Mexico City

This cultural aspect means that artisans can receive government, NGO and other support other business might not. These include state and federal handcraft competitions and grants, private efforts such as the Feria Maestros de Arte and sometimes spontaneous efforts from Mexican students.

Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Studies (generally referred to simply as Tec) is Mexico’s largest private high school and university system, with campuses in most of the country’s states, especially in the north and center. It has a privileged position with access to the latest technology, and students who can use it.

Animation on the history of the Vochol

All Mexican undergraduate students are required to complete an insane number of community service hours (480) in order to get their degree. How that happens is up to the student and the institution they attend. Since 2011, the Mexico City campus of Tec has a unique program that allows students to create online resources, particularly in Wikipedia called Wiki Learning Tec de Monterrey.

Students are permitted create any kind of content from the text, to photographs, to videos, animations and more. They are also permitted to choose topics, but since one of the coordinators of Wiki Learning is your humble blog author, Mexican handcrafts is a favored topics. Most Wikipedia articles on Mexican artesanía are either authored by us or have been translated from our work in English and Spanish.

Animations on alebrijes and the Monumental Alebrije Parade

But we are not limited to text. We have majors in video, sound engineering and animation, which has allowed us to create everything from short gifs to 15 minute mini-docs. Two examples of our best work relates to artesania. One is a video about alebrijes, done in collaboration with the Museo de Arte Popular and another on the Vochol… a VW Beetle decorated by 4 Huichol families using 2.7 million beads. This piece has traveled to countries in North America and Europe to raise awareness of Mexico’s handcraft tradition.

The beauty of these videos is that all are in Creative Commons Share Alike license, allowing anyone to use the videos for any purpose (with attribution), a requirement of Wikipedia. This not only allows students to use the work as part of their portfilios but individuals and organizations can also promote the video and its content. A must in today’s world, even though very little of traditional media has caught onto this.