By Marianne Carlson.
Communities rally together all over the world for many reasons. A natural disaster is probably the first thing that would come to mind. However, friends and neighbors also band together for what seems, at the time, a much smaller goal. For example, the Lake Chapala community has opened its arms and embraced a small folk art show—Feria Maestros del Arte — whose mission it is to bring attention to endangered Mexican folk and indigenous art.
The Feria has created a venue where every November artists from all over Mexico come together in one place and sell their art at affordable prices. They promote a wide range of Mexican folk art — world class, up-and-coming, innovative, and traditional — and provide folk and indigenous artisans with a platform that gives them market access.
You may say that Mexico isn’t losing its art, it’s everywhere you look, just drive through Tonalá. Much of the “art” you are seeing in Tonalá is, in fact, commercial tourist art, and is not the “real deal.” That art is churned out by machines and made by the hundreds in the time it takes an artist to make one original piece.
I had a shopper in my former gallery who was telling his friends with much aplomb that the incredibly intricate designs on the Mata Ortiz pottery they were admiring were actually decals, and that the pots were thrown on a potter’s wheel and not hand-coiled as they, in fact, are. Quick to set the potential buyers straight, I explained to the man how he could easily be misinformed about the pottery because this is actually happening with Mexican pottery in the Far East. Samples are copied and decals are applied and merged with the clay through the firing process.
The origins of Mexican folk art can be traced to wisdom and techniques dating back to pre-Hispanic times, abilities that have been handed down generation to generation. Despite the passing centuries, Mexican folk art has preserved its original essence — a common thread throughout has been the creation and re-creation of tradition. This is what is endangered: traditions, techniques, designs, lifestyles — part of Mexico’s history.
There is a tendency in today’s world to downgrade the value of the beautiful and overstress the value of the useful. Because the value of art can be sensed through emotions and requires no intellectual analysis, appreciation of art is ultimately in the eye of the beholder, and its value is whatever you will pay for it. The job of the artist is to awaken that eye, to offer you something you cannot make yourself, something that moves and stirs your imagination and love for beauty.
If you know me, you know how passionate I am about the plight of Mexican folk art. Writing this article, I came across a column I had written some time ago. I feel it might give you an idea of just how much joy a beautiful piece of art can bring into your home.
“We’ve frozen your bank account!” Those were the first words spoken to me as I sat at my computer working. As my morning unfolded, it got worse and worse. So, what does this have to do with folk art? Well, as I continued to bemoan my financial state of affairs, I was revolving in my swivel computer chair looking around my house. Without even realizing it, my thoughts turned from “what am I going to do?” to the happy memory of when I purchased my barro negro mona (black ceramic doll) from Magdalena Pedro in Oaxaca.
Wouldn’t you like to own a piece of art that is so beautiful it can take your mind off your problems? On a day when I really needed something to be happy about, I was reminded, with just a glance, that each object I have purchased has a beautiful artwork that now resides in my home. So, instead of spending more time worrying about a problem that solved itself in time, I decided to write about what folk art means to me.”
For the first time in 19 years, Feria Maestros del Arte will not be held due to COVID-19. We were devastated making this decision; however, our top priority was the well-being of our artisans, hosts, volunteers, and event attendees. As we work though the ramifications of this unprecedented situation, we are exploring other means by which we can financially help our 2020 artisans who will not be able to benefit from this year’s Feria sales, as well as past artists in need. So, what does the future hold for Mexican folk and indigenous art? Only time will tell. But does it not seem likely that potters will abandon gathering their own clay from the earth, having to pulverize and process it by hand, when commercial clays are available? That artists who use the traditional stiff brushes chewed from the midrib of a yucca leaf will begin to use commercially made brushes to paint designs? That rather than take the many hours needed to gather and process wool, spin it, dye it, and then weave it on handmade looms, weavers may go to automated equipment and store-bought yarns?
If Feria Maestros del Arte can help to broaden the awareness of Mexico’s indigenous art in even a small way, then its goal will have been achieved: bringing together artists of time-honored traditions under one roof to share their art and heighten the awareness of the people who come to view it.
SPECIAL NOTE: In case you are not familiar with Feria Maestros del Arte, the artists are selected by a special committee. They pay nothing to attend — no booth fee, no percentage of sales — and they are housed by Lakeside residents while here. The Feria also pays their transportation costs regardless whether they are coming from the Yucatán or Jalisco. For many artisans, the money they earn at the Feria represents more than they would earn in a regular year. Our volunteers and hosts donate their hearts and enthusiastic spirits toward helping the Feria continue its mission. If you are interested in volunteering or hosting an artisan, please email email@example.com.