Sunday, June 10, 2018

Zipiajo: Two Model Artisan Collectives

What is an artisan collective?

Colectivo Cuanari, Zipiajo, Mexico
Weaving, pottery, basketry and other indigenous crafts have been around for hundreds or thousands of years. However, there is little today that cannot be made faster and cheaper than these crafts made by hand. From a logical, profit-and-loss point of view, most crafts would be turned out in a plastics factory somewhere in the lowest-wage countries. 

There is something, though, about things made with natural materials, by hand, using the craftsmanship, designs and symbols that have been handed down for untold generations. A huipil, woven on a backstrap loom, hand embroidered with spun-cotton thread, dyed with the gently and hand-gathered milk of an endangered sea snail, is not the same as a garment churned out in a factory in China, even if they look similar. 

Artisan in Zipiajo, Mexico
However, competition between the worlds of handcrafted arts and factory produced decorations is fierce. To stand out from the world of machine-produced plastics, artisans have to continuously upgrade their skills, improve their designs, and learn how to sell their goods to the world. For the women or men living in remote villages in Mexico, trying to subsist by producing the rugs, pots, blankets, wood or leather goods that have been produced in their villages for as long as anyone remembers, can be overwhelming.

Thus was born the idea of working together, sharing work, materials, ideas, identity and money. In Mexico and other countries where indigenous people still make crafts in time-honored ways, village artisans have been joining together to improve their arts and their income. Some artisans report that, before joining a collective, they were making only a few pesos an hour. With the help of the collective, their products are better, in more demand and their income, while still extremely low, has doubled. 

Zipiajo: Two collectives working together

President Maria Elvia Bartolo at the Feria
Terry Baumgart, Feria artist co-ordinator for Michoácan has worked extensively with two  collectives from Zipiajo: Collective Cuanari (Morning Stars), an all women textile group, and Zirati (the name of the tallest mountain near Zipiajo), a ceramics group of both men and women. Both groups will be part of Feria 2018.  

Terry has great admiration for the work of these collectives, not only because of the lovely cross stitch blouses and shirts and their primitive clay pots and figures, but also because of their methods of handling their collective work and income.

Terry states, "Maria Elvia Bartolo is the president of the Zipiajo collective. They are my all time favorite collective at the moment. I know of no other group like them in Mexico. For decades they have had the understanding among their members that if someone wins a prize, all the artisans that submitted work to try to win a prize get to share the prize money. The prize winner keeps 50% of the money and the other 50% goes to their fellow artisans in their group. I think this is a fabulous idea as it keeps the interest and enthusiasm up to keep doing their work with the intention of improving their quality. 

“Because their village is remote, it is expensive to make the long journey to purchase material, thread and other supplies. It would be prohibitively expensive for each artisan to make the trip individually, so the groups have a few representatives who make the trip to Pátzcuaro a few times a year to purchase their materials.

“Zipiajo is a tiny village, but its artisans are well known and have won numerous prizes at the state and local level. They are highly respected by Fonart, which has provided advice and funds to professionalize some of their efforts. For instance, for the textiles, each woman creates her own design, oftentimes inspired by nature such as a flower, and then Fonart has put lovely books together that have each artisan's design, name and information.

(Fonart: 44 years of promoting the artisanal activity of the country and the human, social and economic development of artisans.)

Fonart produced books featuring Zipiajo artisans

Why the Feria encourages collectives 

Encouraging collectives and their participation at the Feria has long been a support of the Feria Maestros del Arte organization. In order to continue the traditions of Mexican folk art, the artisans need to be able to support themselves and their families. Collectives that share ideas, processes and money tend to be more successful, not only in creating quality products, but also in providing financial support for their families. 

Feria artisans keep all the money from their sales
When artisans show at the Feria, they pay no booth fee, no commission and their travel expenses are covered. Part of our mission is to ensure the survival of the traditions of folk art by making sure every cent from the sales of the artisans' work goes directly to the artisan.

Zipiajo artisans at work 

These photos are from Florence Leyret, a remarkable photographer from France who has been living in Pátzcuaro for several years and shared these photos of the ancient traditional technique of firing in the earth rather than in kilns, honoring a promise Zipiajo President Maria Elvia Bartolo made to the elders to honor and maintain the ancient traditions.

More photos of Zipiajo artisans and their work:

Michoacán Artisan Support Team

Terry Baumgart, the artist co-ordinator for Michoacán, raves about the team that supports local artists and makes the Michoacán presence at the Feria a reality. In this article, she introduces readers to Alice Garcia, Lupe Garcia Rios and Teo Servin Barriga.

Alice Garcia, a volunteer photographer from California, helps with local projects and with the Feria and captures the beauty of the artists and their work. (Photo not available ... photographers are always behind the camera.)

Lupe and  one of her pieces of work.
Guadalupe (Lupe) Garcia Rios, in addition to assisting in the co-ordination of Feria artisans from Michoacán has been making pottery for over 24 years. Her specialty is high-fire ceramics, which is lead-free and fired at about 1,250 degrees centigrade. 

Guadalupe has been teaching her craft to her three daughters and one son and they are all now highly accomplished ceramicists as well. Lupe and one of her daughters will be showing pottery made by the family at Feria 2018. Lupe has won national awards and she and her children have won numerous State awards as well.  

Lupe creates extremely complex three-dimensional work that includes pre-hispanic symbols and legends of the past as well as modern day depictions of traditions and customs of their community. This work is crafted on both non-electric and electric wheels which are then fired in a gas kiln. Her more modern, but extremely time-consuming approach differs markedly from the old-style approach of other ceramicists.

International buyers come to the Feria to purchase her concurso (judged shows) level pieces. Recently, a film maker honored Lupe for her work by creating a short documentary film that includes the long trek up the mountain to obtain her clay to the actual producing of her work. Lupe will present this video along with a workshop this year at the Feria. A version with English subtitles is being produced, but you can view the Spanish version here.

Lupe at work.
What is apparent when one talks with Lupe is her spiritual connection with her work and mother earth. In addition to Lupe's commitment to sharing her knowledge and expertise with her children, Lupe has taken courses at the Escuela Nacional de Ceramica (National Ceramic School) in Jalisco and has then shared her new gained knowledge not only with her family, but with fellow artisans in her community. In addition, thanks to the coordination by Brigitte Ordoquy Plummer, the Feria coordinator for Chiapas, Lupe and her family recently went to Chiapas as volunteers and shared some of their knowledge regarding high fire ceramics, glazes, and so on with many artisans of Chiapas. 
Lupe believes that teaching the younger generation is her way of ensuring that her craft will endure.

Lupe's work.
Lupe lives in the village of Tzintzuntzan near Lake Pátzcuaro, one of many Michoacán towns continuing the living tradition of alfarería (pottery making). Clay is abundant in the hills and many Purépecha dedicate their lives to creating both utilitarian and artistic pottery.  
Her designs are inspired not only by pre-Hispanic symbols but also from the countryside and nature. The land around her with its high volcanic peaks, lakes, wildlife and other environmental elements figure prominently in her creations. Using local clay to create each piece, Lupe feels that she is giving back to the earth that which makes her art possible.

Lupe's work.
Lupe with a large work.
Lupe and her daughters in their studio.
Teófila (Teo) Servin Barriga also helps support the artisans attending the Feria from Michoacán. Teo is generous with her knowledge and expertise and has presented workshops locally, nationally and internationally. In addition, she provides advice and orientation to new invitees to the Feria.

Teo and award-winning rebozo
Teo started  embroidering when she was twelve, learning her craft from her mother and has taught many younger family members in order to ensure that the craft continues. Her specialty is colorful hand embroidery work on manta (a traditional hand-woven cotton) or other cotton cloth. Her unique, whimsical, and original designs tell of life in the lakeside communities: farming, fishing, fiestas, including depiction of the traditional old men dances, marriages, trees of life and other themes and events. 
Teo's rich imagination enlivens her charming tapestries (see below for photos of some of the detail in her work). In addition, when a researcher arrived in her community many years ago, she learned more about the prehispanic symbols of the Purepechan people. Thus, some of her designs include these ancient symbols. The result of Teo's work includes a variety of clothing for both men and women, purses, shoes, dolls, pillows and more!
Teo working
Teófila is a very prolific worker and she has won many prizes at concursos (judged shows). She is considered a "maestra sinidal" or expert by the Instituto Del Artesano Michoacano (IAM) and is called upon by the State organization to be a judge in other communities in Michoacan at their judged shows. A book has been written about her called "Bordados para ser Contados."
Teo and her work.
Detail of Teo's work.
More detail of Teo's work.