Friday, March 22, 2019

New Artist: Weaving a life on a back-strap loom

One of the new artists at the Feria this year will be Ma. Trinidad González García who tells us that the back-strap loom was part her life long before she was born. 

Her mother and grandmother dedicated their lives to weaving in order to sustain the family. For this reason, her mother taught Trinidad and her three sisters the art of loom from a very young age. When she was 10 years old, Trinidad wove ayates (a cloth used to make a cloak-like garment made from the fiber of the maguey plant, similar to henequen or sisal), rebozos and huipiles

It was because of this craft, that Trinidad and her sisters and brothers were able to study and each finish a university education. Trinidad graduated as a veterinarian. However, unlike her sisters and brothers, she was the only one who decided to return to her roots. 

For some years, she dedicated herself to her profession, but never left the threads and the loom — sometimes to have an extra income and sometimes only for the pleasure of creating. Sitting down to weave always made her feel more complete, more creative and more connected to the community. 

Little by little, she began to notice that the loom made her feel more alive. She left her career and returned to weaving full-time.

In 2013, with the support of her family, they opened their first store Artesanías Domitzu, a family business dedicated to the elaboration of crafts on the back-strap loom. With a reputation for quality, the business grew and eventually they added another store. Now, not purely a family business, they are a social enterprise in which the community participates. 

The loom has become one of Trinidad’s most important treasures, because it has brought some of the most satisfying experiences of her life. Not only has weaving given her the opportunity to win state and national awards, to present lectures and teach courses, it has given her a new dignity as a craftswoman and she will leave an amazing legacy for her daughter.

In the team of "Artesanías Domitzu" they currently have 10 women: 7 artisans, 2 seamstresses and 1 designer — some weaving full-time, others give free classes to members of the community. They are one of the few families that preserve the back-strap technique of "tres alzaderas" or "doble vista", techniques that due to their complexity are in danger of extinction. 

Revitalizing the use of the back-strap loom has allowed them to understand their identity as part of the Hñahñu people, which at the same time, has led them to acquire the commitment to preserve the craft.

The group has won many awards such as: 

  • Third Place at the Gran Premio Nacional de Arte Popular in 2015 in Mexico City, 
  • First Place in Concurso de Fibras Vegetales in 2015 in Campeche, Campeche, 
  • Third place at the Gran Premio Nacional del Arte Popular in 2018, México City.
Winning prizes has become a family tradition. Trinidad’s mother, Martina García, has won the Presidential Grand Masters Award for Arte Popular and her daughter, Frida Díaz, has won First Place in the Young Creators of Mexican Are Popular Contest.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Fair Trade Art: Spread Happiness

National Geographic’s Novica has a startling mantra: spread happiness.

With a business model of connecting artisans to a global marketplace of socially conscious customers, Novica’s banner states: Over $90.2 million sent to artisans so far! 
They focus on both ...
  • happy artisans: Fair prices, no binding contracts, and the freedom to make a success of their craft by building a sustainable business. 
  • happy customers: Unique handmade products, great value, and the joy of helping to nurture and elevate the craft of global artisans.
From: Museo Textil de Oaxaca
After traveling for a few days with Linda Hanna, Oaxaca coordinator for Feria Maestros del Arte, we started talking about the idea of paying a fair price for the pieces of folk art we found along the way … and, of course, the whole idea of “haggling.” 

It seemed to be a good subject to write about and I was delighted to find that Novica already has ten principles in place. On their webpage linked below, they go into the details of how they implement each principle. 

What is Fair Trade? 

In simple terms, it's the belief that everyone should be fairly compensated for the work they do.
The fair trade movement has 10 guiding principles...
  • PRINCIPLE 1: Create opportunities for economically disadvantaged producers.
  • PRINCIPLE 2: Be transparent and accountable.
  • PRINCIPLE 3: Conduct fair trade practices.
  • PRINCIPLE 4: Pay a fair price.
  • PRINCIPLE 5: Guard against child labor and forced labor.
  • PRINCIPLE 6: Promote gender equality and non discrimination.
  • PRINCIPLE 7: Ensure good working conditions. 
    Article by Joyce Wycoff, volunteer with Feria Maestros del Arte

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

What Is Mexican Folk Art? DRAFT

Is there a line where Mexican folk art begins and ends?

After a few days of traveling with Linda Hanna, the Oaxaca coordinator for the Feria Maestros del Arte, it would seem that there might be a distinction between "folk art" and "not folk art. 

Yesterday we met Brian Gregorio Corres in his workshop. Brian is a clay artist who was a winner of a Friends of Oaxacan Art (FOFA) exhibition in 2013. He won a study scholarship that gave him new insights. In 2015 his work was rejected as “not folk art.” 
Brian Gregorio Corres entry for 2015
I’ve heard similar stories which prompted the question, 
What is Mexican folk art? 
Marianne Carlson, founder of Feria Maestros del Arte provides a starting point:

Folk art is fixed in traditions that come from communities and cultures with shared values and traditions that express and foster cultural identity.

Folk art encompasses a range of utilitarian and decorative media, including cloth, wood, paper, clay, metal and more.

Folk artists are persons skilled in a form of handmade distinctive creations that can be either utilitarian or decorative. They embody the traditions of their culture and artistic techniques and are either taught by family or apprentice with artists. 

Wikipedia offers a general definition: Mexican handcrafts and folk art is a complex collection of items made with various materials and intended for utilitarian, decorative, or other purposes. Some of the items produced by hand in this country include ceramics, wall hangings, vases, furniture, textiles and much more. Interesting, however not very useful for determining the criteria for inclusion in the category of Mexican folk art.

After saying, "First, no one can agree on what it means,” one site goes on to define it as: "Folk art" is mostly utilitarian or decorative art created by an unaffluent social class of peasants, artisans and tradespeople who live in rural areas of civilized but not highly industrialized societies.

The Mexican Folk Art Guide offers this definition: Folk Art is the name given to the artistic creations made by peasants, indigenous people or craftsmen with no formal artistic training. A folk art item is handmade and has a functional purpose opposing an art object that is made for aesthetic purposes only. Most of the folk art creations are made by anonymous people but they can be identified with a region or ethnic group culture.

As Linda and I discussed this question, we came up with possible elements of a useable … and useful … definition: 
  • style … useful or decorative, figurative rather than non-objective (abstract) 
  • materials … local, natural 
  • creator … primarily self-taught, often from a long lineage of artisans and local traditions 
  • process … hand-made, small quantities
Another element that comes to mind is … for lack of a better term … connection. Connection to spirit, to the elements (land, water, sky, plants and animals) of the local areas, as well as to traditions of culture and religion.

So here’s the challenge: How would you define Mexican Folk Art? We will update this post with other suggestions.

Gayla Pierce offers thoughts (see comments) and a quote from Japanese philosopher Sōetsu Yanagi:

“It is my belief that while the high level of culture of any country can be found in its fine arts, it is also vital that we should be able to examine and enjoy the proofs of the culture of the great mass of the people, which we call folk art. The former are made by a few for the few, but the latter, made by the many for many, are a truer test. The quality of the life of the people of that country as a whole can best be judged by the folkcrafts.”
– The Unknown Craftsman – A Japanese Insight into Beauty, Sōetsu Yanagi, Kodansha International, New York, 1989

FYI ... here is the FOFA newsletter highlighting the young folk artist winners exhibition. It is a remarkable show if you get a chance to see it.

The new folk art exhibition Mostrando la Fuerza de Mi Pueblo (Showing the Strength of My People) opened on December 8 at the Museo Estatal de Arte Popular Oaxaca (MEAPO) in San Bartolo Coyotepec, Oaxaca. FOFA President Arden Rothstein, and Treasurer Deborah Huntington represented the organization at the opening celebration. The exhibition's sixty-six art pieces are the winners from FOFA-MEAPO's August 2018 competition. 

I was lucky enough to meet the young palm jewelry artist, Mónica Díaz Martinez. She will be showing her fabulous work at Feria Maestros del Arte 2019 ... November 8-10.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

What does Mexican Folk Art mean to you?

Black pottery mona by Magdalena Pedro
When Marianne Carlson, founder of the Feria Maestros del Arte, was asked that question about what Mexican folk art meant to her, she responded with … 

“We’ve frozen your bank account!”

What?! Apparently those were the first words she heard on the morning she sat trying to write her monthly column for the newsletter. As the day unfolded, it got worse and worse.

Marianne explains how that question took her to a different place. “As I continued to bemoan my financial state of affairs, I swiveled around in my computer chair looking at the walls and shelves in 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 pottery doll) from Magdalena Pedro in Oaxaca.

“Not only had I fallen in love with this doll, it launched a magazine column and a cover on the Lake Chapala Review Magazine in 2008.

“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 over many years has a wonderful story behind it. I have been fortunate enough to meet and spend time with each artist whose hands have molded, woven or formed the beautiful artwork that now resides in my home."

March 19th
is Artisan Day in Mexico 
(Día de Artesano)

Here's the idea ...
Artisans spend hours, weeks, often months creating their works of art. At Feria Maestros del Arte, you have the opportunity to meet the maestros in person, learn more about them, their work, and the pieces you’re buying from them.

Every day should be Artisan Day as their work constantly adds beauty and charm to our lives. However, those artisans never get to see what their work looks like in your home … or when you wear it . . . or even know how important it has become to you.

Since there’s only one official day … March 19th … The Feria wants to honor the maestros and the incredible work they do, and we’d like to invite you to join us in this celebration … so here’s the idea …
  1. Take a picture of a piece of Mexican Folk Art that you treasure. Show or explain what it looks like in your home … or better yet, take a selfie with the piece of folk art you are honoring.
  2. On March 19th, post your comments and photo/s to your Facebook page AND to the Feria Maestros del Arte Facebook page. If you know the artisan’s name, please include that in your thank you message.
  3. Tell them, briefly, what the piece means to you.
 Please join in the fun and honor your favorite maestro, 
piece of art, or just a comment in general. 


"Nahuatl Bújo" by Zeny and Reyna Fuentes was my first piece of 
Mexican  folk art and I think it brings me wisdom every day ...
or tries.
-- Joyce Wycoff

  • If you don’t know the name of the artist and you bought the piece at the Feria, you can find it on the Feria website … just look under the category (i.e. baskets, alebrijes, ceramics, textiles, etc.)
  • If all you have is a photo, that’s okay, too. Please post it.
  • If all you want to do is thank a maestro, just post your thanks.
  • You can post more than one picture and thank more than one artisan.
  • If you’ve had your eye on a piece of work, but haven’t been able to buy it yet, post the picture, and tell the artisan what their work means to  you.
  • What you post is entirely up to you, but we will try to make sure that if you note a particular artisan, they are aware of whatever you post. 

 Here are a few links that tell you more about Día de Artesano —  

Monday, January 28, 2019

Arvada Parrish just wants to make you smile

Arvada with some of her flowers
by Joyce Wycoff
The 2018 Feria bloomed with multitudes of colorful flowers and streamers … the work of Arvada Parrish and 34 volunteers. 240 flowers, 104 streamers, and a welcoming arch with 60 flowers.

Arvada, who made training videos for Intel when she lived in Portland, Oregon, has lived in Ajijic for two years, and says she just wants to create color and flowers that make people smile. 

Arvada started making flowers in Blue Birds when she was six and honed her craft when she was First Lady of the Portland Yacht Club. 

Welcome to the Feria arch
Now Arvada is helping four young girls make flowers, learn English, and explore local sights like the zoo. 
Arvada and friends
Of course, before they go to the zoo, they learn to make animals out of scraps of paper and toilet paper rolls. 
Ideas for next year’s Feria are already swirling around in Arvada's head ... we may have a migration of Monarchs coming our way. 

If you're interested in being part of this creative frenzy, Arvada invites you to email her at:

Friday, January 25, 2019

Is the Feria the Same Every Year?

Manuel Alberto de la Peña, cut-paper artist, new to Feria 2018
by Marianne Carlson, Founder, Feria Maestros del Arte

The short answer is — NO!

The Feria has never been the same two years in a row. Since we’ve heard this comment a few times, I would like to clarify our process.

At least half of the total artisans invited each year are BRAND NEW.  Mexico’s many artisans work in textiles, clay, metal, paper, natural fibers, stone/rock, wood, and many more art mediums. Our primary aim is to have the best artisans in each of these areas, however, it's important to understand that part of the Feria's mission is to help artisans create better lives for their families and villages.

The Feria plan is to invite each newly chosen artisan to show for two years. For some artists, this may be their first experience with a major exhibit of this type. It’s a learning experience for them: how much work to bring? What types of pieces will most appeal to customers? How to price their work? How to pack everything for safe transport? Returning a second year gives them a chance to be more prepared and more successful.

Part of our job is to help them learn how to go beyond the creation of the work and make it a business that supports their families. Sometimes, an artist is not invited to return for the second year, or can’t return because of life changes. And, sometimes, popular artists become so successful they no longer depend as much on the Feria and we make room for other artisans.
César Alfredo Lucano Siordia, new in 2018
The Feria has become a premier exhibition for both artisans and customers. Therefore, the number of applications we receive every year is growing. Our Artist Selection Committee wades through hundreds of new applications each year looking for exceptional work. Over the years we have featured most of the maestros recognized by museums and contests. We favor work that uses traditional methods and materials and has been passed down through generations of artisans. 

The committee members are always on “artist-hunting” trips throughout Mexico and look at approximately 250-300 artisans every year in order to put together a good mix of art forms which are popular and represent the rich tradition of folk art in Mexico. Some of our maestros might be well-known or even famous, but they live and work in remote villages where buyers and collectors seldom see their work. We also search for artists who have taken a particular art form to a new level with their inventive and creative talents. 

Antonia Peralta, palm baskets, new in 2018
Another part of the Feria mission is to help ensure survival of Mexican folk art. As cheap imports using mass production techniques as well as plastics and industrial materials begin to imitate the work of fine artisans, it becomes more difficult for families to support themselves with their fine craft work.

While assembly-line pottery can often look beautiful, it means that the true artisan potters will no longer be able to dig their own clay from the earth, pulverizing and processing it by hand before forming, painting, and firing it into the kitchen ware, pineapple pots, trees of life, jaguars, chickens and other art forms that so enchant us.

Felipe Benítez Miranda, painted wood, new in 2018
In traditional crafts, artisans may use brushes chewed from the midrib of a yucca leaf or from the hair of their children. On the coast of Oaxaca, a handful of men still catch and milk snails by hand to gather the ink that turns into an exquisite purple on huipils that are woven by hand on looms, also made by hands. Insects are gathered from yucca plants and turned into a brilliant indigo while other plants are gathered to create a rainbow of natural colors. These hand processes create works of art that cannot be duplicated.

When people buy paintings or crafts mass-produced in other countries, Mexican folk art and the artisan families who make it suffer.  Many of Mexico’s various forms of folk art, such as rebozos, are already in danger of extinction. Many of the world’s cultures have already lost most of their indigenous art due to the same hardships that face Mexican artists today. In Mexico, we already see more and more artists abandoning their work, their families, and their villages to take jobs in cities where they are assured of a guaranteed income.

This is where the Feria comes in. This is where YOU, the aficionadas and buyers, come in.

If the Feria didn’t offer you new artisans yearly, we know you might not return. If we didn’t put together a good mix of art forms, you might not return. So, we’ve always worked diligently every year to put together the best gathering of artisans we can.

Together, we can help Mexican folk art survive.

Florencia Hernández Rios, new in 2018

This sign found in a local restaurant tells the story 
in just a few words:

  When you buy something
made by hand
You are buying much more than an object.
You are buying hours of 
experiments and failures.
You are buying days, weeks, 
and months of work.
You are buying a piece of heart, a moment 
of the life of another person.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Marta Turok Lectures from Feria 2018

The Feria was honored to have Marta Turok speak about what she sees as the future of Mexican folk art.

Marta is a Mexican applied anthropologist focusing on socio-economic development. Through research, government work, education and advocacy, she has worked to raise the prestige of Mexican handcrafts and folk art and to help artisans improve their economic status. Her work has been recognized with awards from various governmental and non-governmental agencies.  

Marta is the head of CENIDEART, the Research Center at the Escuela de Artesanías (School of Handcrafts) of the National Institute of Fine Arts and is the curator for the Ruth D. Lechuga folk art collection at the Franz Mayer Museum. With the Escuela de Artesanías, she works with accrediting handcraft traditions for the Secretariat of Public Education, as well as does research. With the Franz Mayer Museum she had curated exhibits such as Traditions, Mexican Popular Arts, Lacas Mexicanas, El Juguete en México, Cerámica de Mata Ortiz, El Sarape de Saltillo, 1001 Rostros de México: Máscaras de la Colección de Ruth D. Lechuga and El Arte Popular de Hidalgo: rituales, usos y creaciones. 

Her lectures were recorded and can be seen below.
Click here to watch.
Click here to watch.