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.
The 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.
Gaxiola 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.
In 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