Handcrafts sculpted by an artist

DSC_0018Miguel Angel Rosas is an unassuming and quiet 64-year old man.  I found him and his work on the periphery of the Jardín de Arte (Art Garden), a Sunday outdoor art market held at the park behind the Monumento a la Madre in Mexico City. On a makeshift table, in the street, there were a number of small pieces in a curious blueish stone. But it is the cut of the pieces is what really attracts the attention.

Rosas is not really an artisan. His career as an artist spans over fifty years with public works in his native Veracruz and Mexico City. He specializes in working with materials from his native Ciudad Mendoza valley in Veracruz, especially the blueish limestone, but he also works in clay, wood and some bronze. He also has a interest in fossils from his area, which can wind up in his works.

His interest in art and stone began when he was a small child. Despite its name and short distance from a superhighway, Ciudad Mendoza was and still is a very rural area of Veracruz, mostly because it is a valley surrounded by high mountains. There are still a significant number of people there who wear traditional dress and speak Nahuatl. He spend time as a child climbing hills and mountains and collecting local rocks and fossils. He worked in a number of artisan stone workshops in the area. About 30 years ago he came to Mexico City to study art at the La Esmeralda School but stayed only one year as he felt that there was too much emphasis on theory and the actually artistic work was “too easy.”

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Rosas has developed most of his career in Veracruz, with a main workshop in his hometown.  His larger works can be found in Ciudad Mendoza and number of towns in his region as well as Mexico City. In 2018, he unveiled a work called El Hombre y sus Circunstancias in the town of Nogales, Veracruz.

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Much of his work is inspired by pre Hispanic pieces, especially his faces and busts. Other tend to be semi abstract works. All stone sculpture is partly determined by the natural shape and properties of the rock. For this reason, at least, none of his indigenous-inspired pieces are copies of those found in archeological collections. He states that they are often a mix of influences from various pre Hispanic cultures as he is not partial to any of them. As for artistic influences, he cited only one, British artist Henry Moore, whose work was also influenced by Mexican pre Hispanic art and architecture.

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He was lived and worked in Mexico City with son Paulo for the past six years, selling at the Jardin de Arte as an artisan, rather than an artist. One reason for this is that the pieces he can carry from his workshop to the site are small. I suspect that indigenous themes might contribute to this classification.

Despite the long career and success in placing public works, including one in the Santo Domingo square of Mexico City, Rosas and his son live very very modestly. Although his stone pieces are made of the rock from his home valley, he has no truck with which to bring the raw materials or finished pieces to Mexico City. He told me that they are brought one-to-three at a time, depending on size, using public transportation. He admits this is a very tough way to do this, especially on the Metro, but he is dedicated to the limestone of Ciudad Mendoza.

 

 

 

 

 

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Beautiful dolls of any size and shape

By early 2015, things were tough in the home of daughter and mother Marelsy Castillo Ocampo and Merry Ocampo Aguilar. But it was also the beginning of something great.

17883781_1740009796290587_6814153584884417841_nFor Castillo, years of battling her weight, dealing with job discrimination, bullying and a dysfunctional relationship had brought her to an emotional crisis. Ocampo, a teacher, had been injured in a car accident, that left her unable to work, forcing early retirement.

The turning point came when mother decided to take her sewing skills and new free time to make her daughter a cloth doll. Not just any doll, but one that reflected her daughter as she is, to look like her as much as possible. When Castillo came home one day and saw the doll, the impact was immediate. She could see herself in the doll as she is, not the way society wanted her to be. The gift changed her life and helped her to accept herself.

Very quickly the two decided to start producing the dolls and make a business out of it, calling them Melinas. By November of 2015, the two went to an exhibition with a number of the dolls. Initially their target market was young girls, but the dolls were a much bigger hit with women over the age of thirty. Encouraged by the response, they reworked the prototype to this new market and entered the project into a competition called Start Up México, sponsored by Universidad Anáhuac. Out of 26 entries, the Melinas won. The win not only earned them the right to be mentored in developing the business but it got the attention of media, including MTV which included Castillo in a documentary on entrepreneurs.

The women’s workshop is located on Avenida Alemán in the north of Merida, Yucatan. It is not only a business; it has a social side to it as well. It provides work to women who have been victims of domestic violence and discrimination. These women work five days a week and as part of their compensation receive psychological therapy.  In addition, mother and daughter participate in conferences on discrimination and domestic violence, and some of the profits of the company are donated to women’s groups. The business has grown such that the dolls are now sold locally, nationally and internationally.  They have sent dolls to Spain, the United States, Chile, Turkey, Scotland, Australia, Chile and Colombia.

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The goal of the company is to provide an alternative to commercial dolls that promote stereotypes about perfect bodies and faces. Each doll is unique with its own “personality” and design and are made-to-order. The dolls come in six different body types, three skin tones, four bust sizes and can even come with only one breast. The dolls are dressed in underwear to show their comfort with their bodies. They have a heart for a mouth to symbolize love and closed eyes to symbolize dreams. Customers can order dolls which different hairstyles and even moles. The dolls cost between 750 and 1,250 pesos depending on the size (ranging from 40 to 60 cm). The workshop produces about 150 dolls per month as each doll takes about ten to twelve days to make.

The duo have since added a new version called a Yatzil, a doll based off the Mayan indigenous people of the Yucatan. The name in this language means “she who is loved.” Targeting the various tourists markets of the region, this version is a little different than others as she wears white knickers and along with a traditional blouse and jewelry. It is a homage to the company’s and family’s Yucatan roots.

Castillo is now the CEO and spokesperson for the Melinas company.  She won the Women for Mexico award given to women entrepreneurs in the country. Women of Mexico. Her story has been published in newspapers such as Diario de Yucatán,  El Excelsior, El Universal, Milenio on television In 2018, she did a Tedx talk sponsored by the Universidad Privada de la Peninsula to share her story.

Photos courtesy of Melinas

Handcrafts and the president

In Mexico, unless you live in a cave, you know that Mexico’s new president Andrés Manuel López Obrador (colloquially called AMLO) was inaugurated on December 1 of this year.  Now this is not a political blog, but handcrafts made their way into this event.

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Credit: elpopular.mx

AMLO was the first president to ask for and receive the “staff of command” (bastón de mando) from Mexico’s indigenous communities. The idea behind the staff and the ceremony is to remind the government and the rest of Mexico’s population of its indigenous peoples, which are often marginalized. The staff was hand carved of cedar in Tlaxcala, and is adorned with ribbons of various colors which symbolize the cosmology of Mexico’s 68 recognized indigenous ethnicities.

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Credit: El Quadratin

Behind the stage, there were meters-tall panels in various colors and patterns. These were also made in Tlaxcala, by artisans in Huamantla which is known for the making of temporary “carpets” of sawdust, flower petals and other organic matter for processions. These panels were made by arranging dried corn husks that were first colored with aniline dyes. The artisans worked 16-18 hour shifts for 22 days to make the 72 panels measuring 360 m2. The task required over 750 bundles of husks. This “vertical carpet” is the first of its kind and of this size, but it certainly will not be the last. The impression the panels made, along with the significance of the ceremony almost guarantees that panels like this will be created in the future.

Inaugurations are all about symbolism, representing what the incoming elected official has promised for the coming term. Im cynical by nature, but I cannot help but hope a little that this very prominent display of handcrafted talent will translate into something good for Mexico’s artisans, especially the indigenous ones.

 

 

 

Piñata party just outside of Mexico City

675px-Pinatas_pinata_stjärnaPerhaps Mexico’s most iconic and most widespread handcraft is the making of piñatas. Despite the growing popularity of Day of the Dead and the paper mache forms associated with it, the piñata remains king of things made with paper and paste. There is no town in the entire country that does not have at least one person who makes them at least part time. Those who make them are called piñateros, not the general term for paper mache artisans, cartoneros.

Originally, piñatas were made with old clay pots that were decorated. If you look hard enough in the State of Mexico, you can still find a few workshops that make these. But for both economy and safety, the piñata is now made with paper mache.

While they are fantastically popular with birthday parties, the most traditional use for piñatas is at Christmas, more specifically during the posadas, reenactments of the search of Mary and Joseph for lodging before Jesus is born. This use was established in the town of Acolman, State of Mexico, the birthplace of the Mexican piñata, which hold a festival every year in honor of its native handcraft.

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Statue of monk breaking a piñata in Acolman

The 33rd edition of the feria de piñatas is held from 14-15 December 2018, and centered on the Acolman monastery which introduced the breaking of the piñatas as an evangelical tool, replacing a similar tradition formerly dedicated to the Aztec god of war. The event is regionally very popular bringing attendees from various municipalities here north of Mexico City.

The festivas has various activities over the weekend, with horse racing, the selection of a fair queen and various artistic and cultural activities. But the star of the show is the exhibition and sale of piñatas and other handcrafts, as well as an offering of regional cuisine. It is also worthwhile to note that the town of Acolman has been named a Pueblo Mágico, primarily because the huge early colonial monastery has been kept in very good condition… along with the piñatas of course!

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Acolman monastery in Acolman, State of Mexico

 

Mexican Dreamweavers

42645327_2388223821217796_4239816054743760896_nMexican Dreamweavers is an organization of foreigners on the coast of Oaxaca that supports local artisans in various ways. It works with two cooperatives based in the Costa Chica region: a women’s cooperative that focuses on weaving and  the other for men that makes a special purple dye and carves coconut shells. The main idea of ​​the organization is to give artisans access to markets that they otherwise would not.

The organization has its origins in the teachers’ strike in Oaxaca in 2006, when tourism to the state dried up Patrice Perillie is an immigration lawyer. The weavers in the area initially came to her to ask for help to go to the United States, but she told them that their weaving work was too important, so she would work to help them stay.

Her insistence on helping the weavers make a living with their skills came in part from a fortuitous experience. While visiting the city of Oaxaca (inland), Perillie bought a huipil for a girl. Neither she nor the girl knew anything about it, but it was light and Perillie thought it would be good to use it on the beach of Puerto Escondido, where she lives. He found out about a project to paint Converse sneakers and went to investigate. She could not buy any of the slippers, since they were talked about, but she met the local weavers of Amuzgo. One of them informed him that this same huipil was from this area and could even tell who had achieved it. Perillie took this as a sign.

 

So, Perillie started selling out of her house in Puerto Escondido and the business grew.  In 2008, she worked with a group of foreign expatriate friends to create a craft fair in Puerto Escondido, an important tourist town. The fair was a success, not in the least because of the group’s ability to reach expats and other foreigners, a vital market for Mexican handcrafts. From this beginning over nine years ago, it has become a yearly event, held on the third Sunday of January.

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Originally the event drew tourists and others who were already in the area, but now there are people who travel specifically to attend. The organization also works to bring the groups’ work to other parts of Mexico and the United States, receiving  invitations to other events such as the Art Masters Fair in Chapala, Jalisco and the International Popular Art Market in Santa Fe, New Mexico, as well as non-handicraft events such as an exhibition dedicated to Frida Kahlo at the Botanical Garden of New York.

Although the Amuzco in Guerrero are better known for the working of native Coyochi cotton, Perillie insists that the coastal Mixtecs in neighboring Oaxaca are really the last to fully depend on growing, harvesting, spinning and weaving the fiber without buying supplemental commercial cotton.  Another distinction in their work is the use of a purple dye made from a local native purpura pansa mollusk. Not all purple garments are made with this dye, and those that are are significantly more expensive. The main reason for this is that the animal is endangered. The cooperatives have programs to manage the snail populations, including campaigns to dissuade local snail collectors to avoid these to sell for food.

By supporting these artisan you can help keep them at home weaving, instead of fleeing to El Norte to make a living. This is a reverse migration project of www.laabogadadelpueblo.org. For more information, you can contact Patrice Perillie by phone US (646) 290-5544 México (954) 102-1792 and by email at mexicandreamweavers@hotmail.com

Photos courtesy of Mexican Dreamweavers from their Facebook page.