With love from Sinaloa

 

Hortensia López Gaxiola is a newcomer to the world of doll making but not to either the arts or the promotion of indigenous cultures. Born and raised in Guasave, Sinaloa, she comes from a fishing family. No one in the family is an artist or artisan, but her mother did have a sewing machine in which the young girl learned the basics of making blouses and dresses. In school, the advanced to making patterns. She went to college earning a degree in language and literature from the Autonomous University of Sinaloa. There, she was a founding member of Filibusteros, a university puppet theater group in 2002, transferring sewing and other skills to the making of puppets and sets. In 2010, she founded her own group called Imaginaria Títeries.

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44929042_2366667320014155_5910954436246634496_nThe idea of making dolls did not occur to her until in 2013, when she found Mayra René’s book on cloth dolls.After reading the stories of various women she was inspired to try the craft herself. She found that while the making of puppets and dolls are not the same artistically, many of the sewing and other skills transferred. It began as a hobby, for her own enjoyment. Soon after, she posted pictures on Facebook to share and started getting requests to make dolls.

The activity has grown into a side business for Gaxiola, called Sinaloíta, what the people of her state are called. She has easily made over 1000 dolls , saying that creating a dolls is making something out of nothing, a very agreeable sensation.

Gaxiola makes dolls related to the culture of the state of Sinaloa and of Mexico. She makes mermaids, images of Frida Kahlo, and dark-skinned nannies called Negritas and those performing regional folk dances. Her dolls are made with new materials but there is an element of yesterday to them. Older people have told her that they remind them of dolls of over forty years ago.

11700814_1119232714757628_6005462929453596835_nGaxiola is also an activist for cultural and indigenous issues. For example, she is active with the Tarahumara who have migrated to the state from their homes in Chihuahua to find work. They are extremely poor. In addition to promoting their cause to authorities, she has worked out an arrangement to have Tarahumara women makes dresses and other accessories for a line of dolls depicting them. The women are paid for their contributions, which make the dolls more authentic. There is interest among the Tarahumara in making the dolls as well, but they do not yet have the equipment and raw materials for this. She is working with state agencies to get this support.

Her work with the Tarahumara is based off her favorite dolls to make, that of the native Yoreme or Mayo people of Sinaloa. These artisans also make miniature clothing, headdresses, belts, bells, musical instruments and more for Yoreme dolls. Unlike the Tarahumara, the Yoreme are better off and there is no interest in making the dolls proper. As far as Gaxiola knows, she is the only person making Yoreme-inspired dolls.

In both cases, she has permission to make and sell the dolls. Buying the clothing and accessories from indigenous artisans raises the costs of the dolls, but the arrangement makes the activity ethical. Her major buyers are still friends and acquaintances along with collectors and the general public through Facebook. She has exhibited her work in various locations Sinaloa (including the Sinaloa Museum of Art), other states, and the Mexican consulate in McAllen, Texas.

50876700_2509913929022826_156248397672611840_nIn 2018, Gaxiola become the cultural director of her hometown of Guasave. She put one of her large dolls outside her office as part of her efforts to promote doll making. She is also working with the small community of Playita de Casillas, Sinaloa to revive the making of cloth dolls as offerings to the patron of the village, the Virgin of the Holy Cross. This tradition declined as commercial dolls replaced the handmade ones, but using two old dolls that still exist, workshops are held to reconstruct how they are made.

 

The artist can be reached via her Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/hortensia.lopezgaxiola

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Melted handcrafts

Handcrafts are traditionally made for two types of purposes: utilitarian and ceremonial. The superimposition of Catholicism over indigenous beliefs in Mexico meant that various old crafts were repurposed and new crafts were introduced.

Perhaps the most pervasive of the latter relates to the use of wax. Candles have been an important part Catholic rites at just about all levels, from home altars and local processions to major masses.

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One important consideration is that the Church has not had very strict regulations about when, how and what type of candles to use. This allows much leeway for creativity. For example, wax of any type may be used, although pure beeswax still has a special status both because of its natural origin and for the way it burns.

ramirezlopezcandle10Until the 20th century, candles were made by hand and thus a handcraft. Today just about all are industrially made. However, there are some important exceptions as well as other items made from wax. Artistically, the most important candles are those which are highly decorated, made for a specific purpose or event.  The most impressive of these are the “velas esquemadas.” Their sizes and forms vary widely, but they usually consist of a single main candle which is highly embellished with wax decorative forms, often flowers and other vegetative matter. Their size can range from 15 cm to over 2 meters in height. These are often created as an offering for the community patron saint on his/her day or commissioned as an “ex-voto” a kind of thank-you for a miracle that is thought to have been received.

These esquemadas are made by working a wire frame over the candle and extending out from it. The metal is covered with crepe or metallic paper on which the wax elements are affixed. These elements are almost always made using wood molds. After molding, they are put directly onto the framework.

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Wax artisan Graciela Ramirez Lopez of Mexico City
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Esquemada candles from the state of Morelos

There are various areas that are noted for work of this type including Mexico City and several towns in the Bajio region of central Mexico such as Salamanca, Villagrán, Cortázar and Romita. Although they are made year round in various parts of Mexico, they are particularly important for the feast of Corpus Christi in the Bajio region. In the State of Mexico, they have become an important part of the feast of the Virgin of Guadalupe, where not only are the wax flowers and leaves colored, the Virgin herself appears in wax.

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Some of the most impressive work of this type is done in San Luis Potosí where esquemada “gardens” are created. These works are large enough to include various kinds of figures and often include elements of other materials. While they are also made in honor of patron saints, this has not precluded the appearance of modern and other non-traditional elements such as images of airplanes and fireworks. The best place to see these gardens is in Santa María del Río (famous for its rebozos) at the beginning of August when its patron saint, the Virgin of the Assumption is celebrated.

Photos by Adam Jones and Alejandro Linares Garcia in CC licenses.