A Pueblo Initiative: Creation of a Folk Art Collective, Nocheztli

Reblogged with permisson from Friends of Oaxacan Folk Art
The traditional folk art culture of Oaxaca’s pueblos is at risk. As master artists age and die, many in the next generation are responding to the lure of the promise of more stable work, outside of the arts world, and sometimes even beyond Oaxaca. FOFA was formed in 2007 to address this looming crisis, devoting special attention to young artists by running contests, creating exhibitions of winners’ works that are memorialized in catalogs, and offering workshops on marketing and cultural history.
We are deeply impressed that o ne village has taken the initiative to preserve folk art traditions. In San Antonino Castillo Velasco, a pueblo in Oaxaca’ s Central Valley about forty minutes’ drive from Oaxaca City, the Garc í a family has understood this challenge and responded to it. Brother and sister ceramicists — who have been long-term participants and winners in FOFA contests since 2008 — and their mother and father, himself a master ceramicist, inter-wove some elements of FOFA’s projects with their local traditions and resources to create a unique approach.
Master Ceramicist Don José García, Sr. and his wife Reyna Teresita Mendoza
We share their remarkable story with the hope that you will support their efforts. The Garc í as have created a collective, Nocheztli  (the Nahuatl word for cochineal, a natural dye) , that is accessible to all members of the community. They have opened their family home and ceramic workshop, Manos Que Ven (Hands that See), as a meeting space.
José García, Jr.: Winner in Ceramics in FOFA’s 2016 young folk artists’ contest; Honorable Mention in FOFA’s 2008 and 2011 young folk artists’ contests
Sara García: Honorable Mention in Ceramics in FOFA’s 2008, 2011, 2013, 2016 young folk artists’ contests
Young people in the community are encouraged to join the collective and participate in a variety of workshops. These include media such as clay, paper and glue , flor inmortal ( dried flowers), embroidery, and other inexpensive materials. Community leaders have linked these folk art projects to traditional customs and ceremonies. On one occasion participants learned to make papier m â ch é masks for Xintagul , aZapotec custom associated with the Day of the Dead. A mask-making competition was held in which senior artists served as judges who awarded prizes to winners in three different age groups.
Participating artists at the collective
Nocheztli successfully brought several generations together in the community’s only cultural space. Young artisans took advantage of the common space and the chance to learn from the older generation.
Then the earthquake of September 2017 hit, seriously damaging the Garc í a family ‘s roof and floor. Although the Collective has received contributions of materials necessary to repair them, funds (about $1,200 US) are still needed for labor.
This difficult setback has inspired the Collective to think ahead — and to think creatively. Since this is the village’s only site for artistic collaboration, Nocheztli is eager to improve its space to allow exhibiting and selling artwork.
Additional participating artists
Nocheztli has shown that creativity and sustainability in the folk arts may require new sources of support and collaboration. FOFA salutes their initiative, and urges our members to contribute to the special fund we are hosting to assist the collective with reconstruction and enhancement of its facilities . Click on the “donate” button below — contributions are tax-deductible. We hope that project inspires artists elsewhere in Oaxaca to think beyond traditional individual and family-based art making.

Dressing children with love

by Shannon Pixley Sheppard of View from Casita Colibrí blog

It’s been all about boys in my family — two sons, a stepson, and a grandson.  That is, until eleven months ago when finally a girl — my granddaughter — made her much welcomed entrance into the world.  Of course she is adorable, but so were her brother, dad, and uncles.  However, I must admit that clothes shopping for a little girl is so much more fun, especially here in Oaxaca.

Naturally, I had to go to the current Museo Textil de Oaxaca exhibition, Vestir hijos con amor (Dressing children with love) — very timely for the upcoming Día del Niño on April 30

The curator’s note explains that the textiles shown “are not the sumptuous accouterments of an ancient aristocracy, but children’s clothing of the poorest people in Mexico and Guatemala… made of cotton and wool.”

“In setting up this exhibit, we have tried to show how textiles intended for children make visible the love felt for them by the first nations of this land.”

It isn’t just the girls who are dressed with love in these indigenous communities.  The clothing of the boys is also just as lovingly detailed and decorated.

There is even an interactive component for children — a play area where they can assemble and decorate textile pieces.  The Museo Textil de Oaxaca is located at Hidalgo 917, at the corner of Fiallo and the exhibition, in the Caracol room, runs until July 1, 2018.

The Coco boom

Many stories about Mexican handcrafts, including those published here, talk about the struggles that artisans have selling their products and making a decent living. This is often because their work is unknown outside a small circle and/or their work is underappreciated.

But that is not to say that there never is any good news. The guitar town of Paracho, Michoacan is experiencing a boon, thanks to the Disney movie Coco. In the movie, a small boy dreams of being a musician, playing a white guitar, encrusted with pearl details and a black skull.

The design of this guitar is the brainchild of former Paracho resident and guitar maker Germán Vázquez.


The making of guitars in this town was established by Vasco de Quiroga, who established a system of trades (copper working, pottery, etc.) among the different indigenous communities of Michoacan after the Spanish conquest to improve the situation of these people. The fruits of his work can still be seen today and is so important that he is affectionally referred to as “Tata” (grandfather).

The community of what is now Paracho was assigned the making of guitars and vihuelas (a three-stringed variation of the instrument). This region of Mexico, as it was part of the Tarascan Empire, was no stranger to trades and crafts so the indigenous took to the making of the new instruments with relative ease.

Paracho_requintoThe guitar has since become an important part of Mexican culture, especially related to charros (cowboys) and mariachi. The vihuela remains important because mariachi bands lack percussion instruments, and it provides the background rhythm.

While musical instruments are made in various parts of Mexico, Paracho is recognized as the premier locale, but this has not always meant prosperity. For much of the 20th century to the present, the market has been under pressure from cheaper imports, most notably from Asia. Mexican craftspeople find it difficult to compete on price as labor costs here are higher and Paracho workshops are small.

Cocomania is widespread in both the United States and Mexico. It has been a blessing to spreading familiarity with many of Mexico’s traditions, those not seen by the average tourist such as (Oaxacan) alebrijes, Day of the Dead and the importance of life-like skeletal figures called calacas. But the benefit to Paracho is particularly important as it draws attention to the quality of the guitars made here, and perhaps most importantly, the cultural connection between the playing of Mexican music on Mexican-made instruments.



Where it comes from


Huipil made by Artesania Códice Amuzgo

One aim of this blog is to highlight not only the products of Mexico’s artisans, but the community, culture and conditions in which they are created. Without this knowledge, just simply seeing the products in a store or market, it is not possible to fully appreciate what you are buying. Indeed, it is not really possible to know if what you are buying is a true Mexican handcraft, rather than an imitation mass-produced in Mexico or abroad.


For many communities, the making of a traditional handcraft is one of very few ways to earn money. This can be for various reasons, from the lack of economic opportunities in the area, the desire to maintain a traditional way of life, or restrictions on what members of a group are permitted to do (e.g. traditional women staying at home).

The Amuzgo are an isolated ethnicity located on the Guerrero/Oaxaca border, in a region called la Costa Chica. They are one of Mexico’s smaller indigenous groups, but have managed to keep their language and many of their customs. Most are located in an around the town of Xochistlahuaca, Guerrero, but even smaller communities can be found. One of these is the tiny community of Zacualpan, just outside the regional commercial city of Ometepec. Despite its proximity, life here is very distinct from that of the nearby mestizos.

Carnaval in the town


It is best to let resident Jesús Ignacio Benito Gómez himself describe life there.

In my community, Zacualpan, we from when we begin to learn to speak, our parents teach us to speak as our mother tongue Amuzgo. When we go to primary school, which in the community is a bilingual primary where our teachers teach use to use Spanish as well as to write out mother tongue.

In the same community, from an early age, we work in the fields and learn to sow corn, beans, sesame seed and cotton to use to make clothing and to sell. The city of Ometepec is our market where to go to sell our crafts even though there isn’t much success here nor is our ancestral work particularly valued.

Work is very scarce in our community and the pay is very low.  Often it is not enough to pay all of our expenses such as education, food and health.

Most of us are extremely poor.

Our family grows and harvests cotton. Afterwards we clean and spin it manually into thread using (a spindle called) a malacate.

Personally, as an Amuzgo, I want to get ahead and get a degree. I am knocking on doors to help commercialize the work I do with my mother to pay for my studies and transport.

The family business is called Artesanía Códice Amuzga. It consists of five members of a family ranging in age from 2 to 44 years.  The work in the family goes back more generations than Jesus knows, working with locally grown cottons designated at green, brown and white. The cotton thread is dyed with natural dyes and the finished products made individually on backstrap looms, taking anywhere from 3 to 12 months of work. These products are traditional from ceremonial huipils, robes, blouses, but can also include items like napkins and other household items.


Spinning cotton on a malacate


They do not have a fixed market stall. They sell where they can, trying to get buyers who give a fair price, whether that is in the Ometepec area or other regions in Mexico. In general, however, they do better selling directly to the consumer than to intermediaries.

Benito’s education allows him to be more open to the use of the Internet than many isolated artisans. He can be contacted by email at chuybenito@hotmail.com or Whatsapp 741-104-48-28


Featured image – Matriarch Porfiria Gómez of Artesanias Códice Amuzgo by Rafael Rodriguez.

Art on a common object

For urban artisans, sites like Facebook have been a blessing, allowing them to promote and sell their work to people who might not ever see what they do otherwise.
In the case of the work of Victor Hugo Castro Herrera, this is certainly the case. While I am connected to hundreds of artisans on this medium from all over Mexico, his work stands out here.
It is not particularly for what he makes, but rather his eye for design and color that makes his simple notebooks and keychains pop out.
He is all of 23 years old, but has been drawing and painting since he was a very young child and has been winning art competitions since he was 15. He was born and raised in Ciudad Juaréz on the border, but like most of Mexico’s artists, came to Mexico City to study.
He is one of those cases where art meets handcraft. He discovered central and southern Mexico’s penchant for fine handcrafts in the markets of the streets of the capital and fell in love with the colors, designs and culture they represent.
Wanting to incorporate elements of this into his work, he began by painting designs on cotton t-shirts, then onto sneakers, cell phone cases and other items. This had a practical side, as he sold these items to friends and classmates to help pay school expenses.
The success of these ventures as well as graduation has led him to establish his own workshop called VADI Artesanías. Like most of Mexico City’s almost-entirely-unknown artisans, he is located on one of the gritty suburbs of the metropolis, in his case, Ciudad Nezahualcoyotl, just east of the city proper.
Vadi01He began with keychains sporting hand sewn and hand painted fabric elements, but the focus has since switched to the making of blank notebooks with decorated covers. Castro does make the books himself completely by hand, it is the design and painting of the covers that make his work really stand out.
Each notebook is not only hand-painted but each is unique. Most of Castro’s designs are based on Mexico’s colors, culture and art. However, being in Mexico City means exposure to foreign influences, which can be seen in his interpretation of works like Van Gogh’s Starry Night to characters from pop culture appearing on his notebooks. But even where the theme is not Mexican, Mexican elements, such as color schemes make themselves known.
No two notebooks are painted the same, varying in overall design and/or detail choices, with the aim of creating something inimitable.  Castro believes that he must like the product in order to be able sell it, so the work reflects his tastes and priorities. He states his goal is “to let (people) see through his work the true color of Mexico, that people know that Mexico is simply art.”
Most of his sales now occur in the Mexico City area, but since most of his advertising is through Facebook he has reach in other parts of the country as well. They seem to have wide appeal, young and old, men and women, but clients do have an interest in Mexican culture in common. Castro’s hope is not only to extend his reach more into other parts of Mexico but also abroad. Right now, he works alone at home but hopes to have a store and even employ others in the craft.