Thursday, May 31, 2018

Marta Turok: Dedicated Supporter of Mexican Folk Art to be Featured Speaker at 2018 Feria

by Marianne Carlson

Feria Maestros del Arte 2018 is delighted to announce that Marta Turok will be one of our featured speakers at this year’s Feria. 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. Watch our newsletter for more information on the topics Marta will be speaking on during Feria 2018.

Turok at the Museo de Arte Popular in Mexico (Wikipedia)
Much of Marta’s work over the years parallels the Feria mission: to promote and assist Mexican folk artisans in achieving a sustainable lifestyle and to educate the public as to the danger of losing some of these folk art traditions.

After WW II, Turok's American parents decided to move to Mexico City where they started a postcard business, thus growing up bicultural and bilingual.

Marta attended Tufts University for her undergraduate degree. The university allowed undergraduates to design their own course of study, which she took advantage of as they did not yet have an anthropology program. Her comprehensive senior thesis was research in Chiapas on the history and possible meanings of traditional design elements in Mayan handwoven cloth. This concept was completely new at the time, and subsequent research proved the concept correct, that the elements did indeed have meanings at one time, but most have been lost. During this time, she learned to speak Tzotzil and weave on a back-strap loom. Turok graduated in 1974, with a degree in anthropology and socioeconomics. Later, she studied ethnology at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, graduating in 1978, and in 1996, received a certificate in marketing from the UC Berkeley.

Instead of using her research in Chiapas to start an academic career, she opted to follow a more pragmatic path, helping artisans improve their economic situation, promoting the cultural value of handcrafts and folk art, training artisans in marketing and working with collectors, museum curators and the general public.

Turok worked for a number of government agencies and taught classes on traditional Mexican textile design.  Her government work focused on public policy to raise the status of handcrafts. She has worked with the National Indigenous Institute, and the Fondo Nacional para el Fomento de las Artesanías (FONART) and created the policy guideline to distinguish handcrafts with artistic and cultural value.

In 1988, she was the executive director of the Dirección General de Culturas Populares (Popular Cultures Bureau), the youngest women named to a senior post in the Ministry of Education. During her time there, it grew from 300 to 800 employees, with 17 regional offices. She established the Mexican Sport Confederation as a national entity; with supports the preservation of pre-Hispanic sports and games. The agency also included the publishing of books related to folk art and popular culture, with topics such as purpura, a dye made from the milk of a female sea snail, organ grinders and charro (Mexican cowboy) music from northern Mexico. She also developed a project to preserve weaving and sewing traditions in numerous indigenous communities, providing fabric, embroidery thread and sewing needles.

Photo: Friends of Oaxacan Folk Art

In 1989, Turok decided to transition from government work to that in the non-profit sector. She founded the Asociacíon Mexicana de Arte y Cultura Popular (AMACUP) or Mexican Association of Popular Art and Culture, which focuses on developing contemporary products using traditional techniques. It also works to ensure that this handcraft production is both economically and environmentally sustainable. It has brought goods to new markets, especially international specialty stores and museum gift catalogs, as well as the major Mexican tourist centers of Cancún, Los Cabos, Cozumel and Puerto Vallarta. 

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Today, 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.

Turok is still active academically; giving conferences on topics related to Mexican handcrafts and folk art and has taught seminars and courses. In 2016, Turok and Margarita de Orellana became the co-executors of the collection of more than 20,000 artifacts, books and personal items donated by Ruth D. Lechuga to the Franz Mayer Museum.

Her work has earned her various recognitions: First Place National Contest Award in Marketable Products, First Place Mexico City Export Prize for Crafts Export Enterprises, the Miguel Covarrubias Prize, the Música por la Tierra Prize, AMACUP Marketable Crafts Award, UNESCO de Facto Award for Innovation in Crafts for Mexico and Latin America, and the Van Deren Coke Award of Los Amigos del Arte Popular.

Marta has written several books including:
She has also acted as a contributor to several books including:

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