Many cultural centers and others who teach crafts and trades use Mexico’s hard paper mache called cartonería to introduce students to creativity and design. This is not just to children but to adults, too.
It is an economical medium, need only waste paper, a few tools like paintbrushes and no expensive equipment such as kilns. This allows students to experiment and make mistakes without having to worry about cost. Those who find that they have talent and desire go on to other mediums can transfer much of what they learn from working with simple paper and paste.
Eva Gonzalez Guzman is one of
Gonzalez always had a creative bent, studying textile design in college and working for years in factories working on designs of products to be mass-produced. However, she did not find this work fulfilling or creative enough. She changed over to graphic design but found that jobs in this field required too much time dedicated to administrative tasks. She was looking for work that would allow her to spend as much time as possible creating.
Sometime in the early 2000s, she began working with paper in general as a hobby with her daughters, using ideas she got from various arts and crafts shows on television. Both she and her young daughters enjoyed this and this prompted Gonzalez to investigate what else can be done with the material. In 2006, she discovered Mexico City style alebrijes at a workshop taught at a local college and fell in love with the making of these fantastic, sometimes scary-looking creatures.
The discovery of alebrijes is significant as Gonzalez is from the San Marcos neighborhood of the city of Aguascalientes. The state of the same name does have several handcraft traditions, all of which are little-known, but the making of cartonería is not one of them. The class Gonzalez took was given by Mexico City artisan, part of a 20+ year phenomenon of artisans from the capital spreading techniques and forms from this area to most parts of the country.
Despite the fact that cartoneria is almost completely unknown in Aguascalientes, Gonzalez managed to soon exhibit and even sell some of her paper work. Encouraged, she went on to learn high-fire artistic ceramics starting in 2009. Today, she is a full-time artist and artisan, dividing her time between the two media, with an area in her home dedicated to her work.
While there are definite stylistic and thematic differences between her paper and ceramic work, both focus on sculpture, from fantastic and real creatures to skeletons and realistic depictions of humans to abstract forms.
Gonzalez is part of a small group of artisans who are affiliated with the state’s Casa de Artesanias and while she has had success with her work, she states that it is still difficult. One problem is that Aguascalientes does not have the handcrafts reputation that certain other states have and the second is that much of the work she does is little known and relatively unappreciated in the state itself.
Alebrijes are a very recent introduction here with little-to-no understanding of what they are or what their history is. Gonzalez states that many people love to look at her work, but when it comes to buying, many find the glaring colors and fierce appearance intimidating. For this reason, Gonzalez has simplified her alebrijes in the sense that they are usually one identifiable animal with one or two elements of some other, rather than a mixture of several to many elements common in Mexico City. However, this does not mean that they are simple in execution as they often have fine detail (sometimes using toilet paper to make elements like feathers) and intricate painting. The result is something quite different from the alebrijes of either Mexico City or Oaxaca.
Gonzalez also spends significant time now teaching cartoneria in Aguascalientes, to both adults and children. Her adult students are almost all women, which reflect the cartoneria situation in general in the state. (The children she teaches tend to be more evenly divided by sex.) These adults either tend to be housewives who have extensive experience in other kinds of arts and crafts, or professionals with demanding careers, who find making alebrijes and other creatures relaxing.
Gonzalez’s hopes for the future include that Aguascalientes gets more recognition for its craftspeople. She also hopes that the emerging tradition with paper-and-paste done by her and her colleagues continues to grow and becomes more appreciated.