Wednesday, August 29, 2018

What to Expect Coming to Lake Chapala for the Feria

by Marianne Carlson
We’re all getting excited about another great year at the Feria. Let me tell you a little about the beautiful area where the Feria is held each year — Chapala, Mexico.
There are somewhere between 17-20,000 foreigners living in the greater Guadalajara area. Guadalajara is the second largest city in Mexico — Lake Chapala is 60 miles south and is the largest natural lake in Mexico. The area has grown to be one of the most popular expat colonies in North America.
Living in Mexico is a pleasure and a privilege. One of the things you notice first about this area is the friendly people who greet you with a "Buenos dias!" and a big smile. When you walk down the street, people make eye contact and smile.

Is it safe to come to Mexico for Feria Maestros del Arte? I have lived at Lake Chapala for 20 years and feel safer here than I did living in California. I walk down the streets at night and have never once, in all these years, felt unsafe. The Mexican people have an excellent value system, and they are warm and welcoming.

Unfortunately, Hollywood and the media have created an entire misconception about safety and crime in Mexico. Certainly, in major cities like Mexico City and Guadalajara, like all major cities in the world — you should use caution and common sense. And yes, we do have theft, but usually without bodily harm. By nature, Mexicans are not violent people. They are polite, warm-hearted, and will always offer a helping hand.
On the world stage for crimes of all varieties, the U.S. ranks #22, with 88 crimes reported per 1,000 people. In comparison, Mexico ranks #46, with 3 times less crime than the U.S. as reported by 

You’ll see children, well past dark, playing openly in the streets and in the evening, people are everywhere; many sitting on their front steps, the plaza bursting with activity and everyone gives you an instant big smile and a lovely “Buenos noches,” (Good evening). This is not only charming and a real sense of life and living, but also makes me feel very much part of a safe environment.
In addition to being a safe place to live and visit, Lake Chapala is a beautiful area and considered to have one of the three best climates in the world. The flowers you see every day are exquisite. Mexico is vibrant and alive with color and so much creativity and talent.

And what do we eat here at Lake Chapala — anything you want! The variety of restaurants will amaze you — Greek, Italian, French, German, Chinese, International, Argentinean, Mexican and more. Eating out here is extremely affordable, the variety is immense, everything is close by and it becomes a wonderful way to socialize.
So, in a nutshell, come to Feria Maestros del Arte, feel safe while visiting, and enjoy a beautiful corner of the world. If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact me at and I will return your email promptly. Also, watch a video about the Feria, illustrating what you can expect from the event. Hope to see YOU in November!

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Otomi Embroidery: the next textile trend to watch

Otomi by Tonani Lirio de Los Valles
 For thousands of years, Mexicans have created colorful textiles, which originally identified the maker’s village or ethnic group. Otomi embroidery became popular in the 1960s, when a severe drought forced farmers to find new sources of income. The Otomi people live in the Sierra Madre Oriental Mountains in the central state of Hidalgo. 

Legend has it that the prints’ figures, birds, and animals were inspired by nearby cave drawings. The juxtaposition of negative and positive space makes the patterns appear graphic and modern, especially in monochromatic versions. Native artists draw all flora and fauna by hand, never using stencils. The typical menagerie includes animals like armadillos, roosters, squirrels, and deer. 
All images are hand drawn, using no stencils.

Florencia Hernández Rios and her daughter, Rosa González Hernández, work under the name of Tonani Lily of the Valleys. They are from an Otomí region that borders Hidalgo where the same dialect is spoken, and at the same time live in a pueblo where Nahuatl is spoken. This is why their town has a combination of two embroidery techniques.
In their community of approximately 200 people, the economic situation was very precarious. Women with the desire to support their families began embroidering Otomí tablecloths. Seeing this need, Rosa began to study dressmaking to give the group yet another avenue to support their families. She worked alone for one year to make her first collection. Many did not believe in her project, but she clung to her roots and her conviction, and with great effort, won First Place in the Pahuatlán Semana Santa Consurso (judged art show) 2008. Winning this award inspired the group to continue their work, continually improving the items they made.
Today, Tonani supports more than 50 women artisans, who share Rosa’s goal to continue promoting culture through their clothing and inspire clients with the joy of color and the magic of their fanciful Mexican prints. Vogue magazine has suggested Otomi might be the “next textile trend to watch.”
Otomi by Tonani Lirio de Los Valles
Unfortunately, the Otomi style has become so popular that it has been copied and reproduced by factories in China and India. When you buy from Florencia and Rosa, you are buying items crafted by the women of Tonani and the spirit and beauty of the Otomi people.

The mystery of pineapple pots

Pineapple pots by Hilario Alejos
Did you ever wonder why pineapple pots, one of the most popular of Mexican folk arts, 
come primarily from a place where pineapples don’t grow?

Pineapple pots are particularly popular because pineapples have long been a symbol of warmth, welcome, friendship and hospitality. But how did pineapples get linked to hospitality?

The magazine Southern Living tells this legend about pineapples:

The sea captains of New England traded among the Caribbean Islands, returning to the colonies bearing their heavy cargoes of spices, rum, and a selection of fruits, which sometimes included pineapples.  According to the legend, the captain would drop anchor in the harbor and see to his cargo and crew. Once his work was done, he would head home, stopping outside his house to spear a pineapple on a fence post. This would let his friends know of his safe return from sea. The pineapple was an invitation for them to visit, share his food and drink, and listen to tales of his voyage.

As early as 1613, the Shirley Plantation of Virginia, a bastion of Southern hospitality, featured a pineapple finial atop its roof.

But, how did pineapples come to be part of the Mexican folk art scene? Some say they didn’t start out as pineapples … they were pine cones. Early buyers of the attractive pots thought they were pineapples and started calling them pineapple pots. Over time, the makers of the pots went along with the name and started making them look even more like pineapples.

Pineapple pots by Hilario Alejos
Hilario Alejos, is a featured artist in the beautiful "Great Masters of Mexican Folk Art" book published by Fomento Cultural Banamex and will be showing his work at Feria 2018. Keep in mind that these decorative pots start when a group of men with picks and shovels extract large chunks of clay which is put into sacks and brought back to the Michoacán village on the backs of burros or mules.

This is the raw material with which Hilario Alejos Madrigal creates his celebrated pineapple pots with their bright green glaze. Hilario’s work stands out for its dintinctive handcrafted appliqué work. He learned the secrets of working with clay from his mother, Elisa Madrigal Martínez, creator of the famous pineapples of Carapan.
In the beginning, they produced handmade utilitarian pieces but were drawn to creating more elaborate objects. Hilario and his wife, Audelia, began to fabricate new figures which they entered in diverse competitions. 
Outstanding are the ornamental pineapples, elaborated with techniques of appliqué and openwork, and whose production requires exceptional skill and mastery. Here is a brief video featuring Hilario.
Pineapple pots by Hilario Alejos
So, they may have started out as pine cones, but they are now, officially, a beautiful symbol of the hospitality and warmth of your home.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Feria Board Member: Rachel McMillen

Feria board member Rachel (R.J.) McMillen, was born in England, raised in Australia, and spent three years in Greece before moving to Canada in 1968. After her husband died in 2002, she decided to find a place where she could live happily year-round and not have to follow the sun. 
Rachel has a diverse background, stating, "I have always been a writer (freelance journalist, newspaper columnist, poet etc.), I also worked as a grade-school teacher, an ESL teacher, a cook on a mission boat, a computer programmer, a systems analyst, an accountant (sort-of), a store owner and manager and a business consultant. I’m still doing the writing, but I’ve retired from the rest!"

Rachel is the author of the popular “Dan Connor” mystery series published by Touchwood Editions, which includes Dark Moon Walking (2014), Black Tide Rising (2015), Green River Falling (2016) and Gray Sea Running which was released this past springTwo of her books were nominated for the Arthur Ellis award.

Like many people, Rachel attended a Feria and then fell in love with the art and the artisans and volunteers. She stays involved with the Feria because of its focus on not only helping the artists but also the entire community.  One of her fondest memories was the time Juana Gomez, an artisan who makes large jaguar sculptures asked the Feria for assistance in order to rent a truck to bring her work to Chapala. After the Feria, where she sold everything she had brought, she came up to the administration table with her entire family and returned the money as a thank you. Rachel says, "We all wound up crying and I still cry when I think about it.

Alebrije by Enrique Fabián Ortega
When asked what her favorite type of folk are is, Rachel hesitated and then said, “Alebrijes …  but then there’s Catrinas, and the Mata Ortiz pottery, and the pineapples, and the weaving, and the embroidery . . . .” 

All the heart that Rachel brings to her writing and to her love of Mexican folk art and its artisans makes her the perfect co-ordinator for volunteers and so many other aspects of the Feria.
Catrina by
Alvaro de la Cruz


Monday, August 20, 2018

Feria Board Member: Steve Checkoway

by Martin Ibarra
Feria Board Member Steve Checkoway came to Mexico in 2002 to work in San Luis Potosi in the metalcasting industry.  After he retired, he and his wife Beverly moved to Ajijic in 2005.

Steve attended the Feria in 2005 and 2006, then became a “shlepper,” helping with set up and tear down in 2007. After what he calls making the unfortunate mistake of suggesting a better way to make the name tags, he was immediately appointed Name Tag Coordinator and then joined the Board in 2008, where he now has responsibility for Admissions, Raffle, and the Appreciation Luncheon as well as Name Tags.  

When asked why he stays involved, he laughs and says, “I stay involved because you'all on the board won't let me get away.  Seriously, I'm not as "into" the art as much as most of you are; I just enjoy contributing my organizational abilities as my contribution to the Mexican community, and I really enjoy seeing the "so happy" artisans as they are preparing to leave on Sunday.” Steve says he stays involved with the Feria, "Because it provides awareness to both the Mexican and ex-pat communities of the situation of so many of these artisans and the status of Mexican folk art in general.”

Asked for a memory about his time with the Feria, he recalls, “using flashlights to see (and sharing tequila to keep warm) with members of the hosting team, back when the old buses sometimes arrived 'rather late.’” 

by Ignacio Garcia
When asked about his favorite folk art, Steve says,"Several years ago my wife Beverly & I met Martín Ibarra* and Ignacio Garcia.  We now take visitors to their homes/"studios" several times a year, so I guess I'm partial to Martín's virgins and Nacho's molcajetes**.  We're also happy and proud that we got Nacho into his first Feria a few years ago and that he'll be at his third this year."

*Ibarra was recently called one of the three or four best artists of his genre in Mexico by Bernardo Colunga (brother of the sculptor Alejandro) and has had his name mentioned in the same breath as regional pottery legends Jorge Wilmot and Jose Bernabe. Martin is a true folk art artist who exemplifies the best in Mexican handicrafts.

**The tradition of carving basalt in Mexico is believed to have begun with the Olmec peoples of the Gulf Coast in the second millennium B.C., if not earlier. Many of the Aztec sculptures still exist despite massive destruction by the Spaniards, who considered them to be heathen idols.  

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Behind the Scenes: Donna Williams, Feria Coordinator

Donna Williams
Creating the Feria is somewhat like building and stocking a Walmart on Thursday and taking it down again on Sunday afternoon. 

On Thursday, buses pull into the Chapala Yacht Club and hundreds of artisans each with dozens of boxes and bags of artwork have to be directed to the right tents, helped with any last minute issues, and reassured that everything is going to be okay. 

Thursday looks like an ant hill that’s been dumped onto a new piece of ground, but by Friday morning at 9:30, everything sparkles. Artisans are in their booths, art work attractively displayed, the coffee is hot at the food and beverage stations, colorful decorations adorn the booths, and signs identify the vendors, the art and where the bathrooms are.

The magician who makes all of this happen is Donna Williams, Feria Coordinator, with many dedicated volunteers helping, of course. Donna herself is tall, calm, elegant, looking as if she had done nothing more than wave a magic wand. She sparkles as much as the Feria grounds. 

How does she do it? “I spent 35 years as an ER nurse,” she says, as if that explains it all, and maybe it does.

One of the 85 booths being set up
Volunteers adding color to the Feria
Donna moved to the Lake Chapala area in 2002 from Sedona, Arizona, and went to the first Feria 17 years ago. By the time she went to the second, she had decided she wanted to be part of the event. It didn’t take long before she was not only part of it, she was the behind-the-scenes magician and on the Board of Directors. When asked what keeps her volunteering, she quickly talks about the joy of meeting and helping the artists. “The tears and hugging,” as she calls it. She visits many of the artists in their villages as she and her husband travel around Mexico.

You can almost always recognize long-time volunteers because they have the coolest outfits they’ve collected over the years. When you see Donna, say “hi.” She may not have time to stop and talk but she will beam a smile on you that will make you sparkle, too.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Feria Partners: Fundación con Causa Azul & Novica

The Feria’s mission to promote and preserve Mexican folk art is spreading slowly through other organizations as well. The Feria is now partnering with other organizations having similar missions. One such group is Fundación con Causa Azul.

The reality of artisans is complicated. According to Sedesol, in Mexico there are nearly 12 million artisans, of whom 55% live in poverty. In Jalisco, there are about 400 artisans that represent 13 fine craft techniques; some of them endangered. Clearly, this is not the best-case scenario for artisans, who, through the teachings of their parents and grandparents, have created unique and soulful pieces from generation to generation. These people, who put their talent and effort into the creation of wonderful pieces, deserve a better quality of life.

Fundación con Causa Azul believes it is necessary to emphasize the importance of artensania (handcrafts) and start to unleash a movement. Their Artisan’s Day campaign aims to generate positive information regarding artesania — the objective being to increase appreciation and expenditures in Jalisco.

Follow them on Facebook: @fundacionconcausaazul or contact Ana Ramírez

Feria Maestros del Arte has also begun working with Novica, another organization dedicated to bringing awareness to the plight of endangered art, however, their cause covers the globe.

Novica offers artisans fair prices, no binding contracts, and the freedom to make a success of their  craft by building a sustainable business. They sell unique handmade products, and offer you, the customer, great value and the joy of helping to nurture and elevate the craft of global artisans.

The idea for NOVICA came to co-founder Roberto Milk in a flash of inspiration during a Portuguese language class at Stanford in 1995. Inspiration for Novica’s social mission comes from Roberto's missionary grandmother. Affirmation that the idea was a good one, came from Mina Olivera, Roberto's wife, and her mother, Armenia Nercessian who was then a Human Rights Officer with the United Nations. Confidence to push forward with Novica also came from a strong family heritage of championing social causes and artisanship, along with enthusiastic support from three of Roberto’s Friends.

With their team of dreamers assembled, their mission was now clear — they were going to reinvent the import/export process for artisans and find a better way to sell their products to the world. They incubated the idea for five years and launched Novica in 1999.

Scripps Ventures invested in Novica’s first major funding round, providing capital for a large ad campaign. Novica billboards soon appeared throughout New York City. This captures the attention of National Geographic, who think our ads look a little too much like their famous yellow border. They ask Novica to use other colors, however, soon after, National Geographic came on board as a major investor, giving Novica instant brand recognition, and allowing them to reach a wider audience of art and culture lovers. To date Novica has sent over $88.1M to artisans around the world.

The clear association between these two organizations and the Feria is not yet clearly defined, however, it is clear all three have similar missions and the stage has been set for the future.

Meeting the Artists: Inside the making of Mexican Folk Art

Back-strap loom showing the purpura purple
While many people love Mexican folk art, not as many understand how it is made and what makes a piece found in a local market place different from the work of the carefully chosen artisans who display their art at the Feria. Last year, to help people understand the processes and materials that are the foundation of Mexican Folk Art, the Feria initiated a series of educational presentations by some of the artisans. The series was such a hit that it will be continued this year.

A story that was heard frequently last year comes from the presentation by the group of weavers from Oaxaca know as Dreamweavers. Several people reported that they had admired one of the Dreamweaver huipiles or other pieces of work but didn’t truly understand its beauty and uniqueness until they attended their presentation. There they learned about the men who go into a hazardous sea to pry the purpura snail from the rocks and gently coax its “milk” onto the cotton yarn they carry. In the sunlight this milk turns a luxurious purple. The presentation included a video and a chance to hold one of the endangered purpura shells. 

Rug by Jacobo Mendoza
The Dreamweavers presentation last year helped lead to this year’s theme: The Colors of Nature and they will be back this year to share their amazing story and more about what they are doing to protect the endangered snail. 

Here are the presentations that are scheduled for this year:

Marta Turok: The challenges of sustainability and natural dyes and the future of two of the most iconic Mexican garments. Leading Mexican Folk Art expert Marta Turok will give us a behind the scenes look at what is being done to protect the future for the Mexican Folk Art world.

Mariano & Cilau Valadez: Overview of the deep spiritual beliefs expressed in colorful Huichol yarn art.

Guadalupe (Lupe) García Rios: The making of high-fired ceramics using ancient Purépecha symbols.

Dreamweavers: Ancient traditions: purple magic from an endangered snail.

Jacobo Mendoza: Beyond colors and shapes … Zapotec rug weaving, symbols and working with colors from nature.

You, too, can host a Feria artist

Enjoy meeting artists in your home
When Carol Bowman talks about her experience hosting Feria artists, she says "these artists drifted in as strangers but left as family members.” She has hosted for three years now and is looking forward to meeting new artists this year.

In their note describing their wonderful experience hosting an artist family from a small town in Michoacán, Margaret and Bill told a story about serving them waffles. It was the artisans first waffles and they loved them so much that Margaret and Bill gifted them with the waffle iron when they left. You can only imagine how proud they were of that waffle iron when they returned home.

Hosting is a unique opportunity to meet the artists
These are only a few of the stories that happen every year as local people host artists from all over Mexico. The hosting process is part of the Feria’s commitment to helping the artisans take home every centavo they earn from the Feria. However, it is also one of the most amazing experiences as the hosts make lasting friends with the artisans and  each of them has a valuable cross-cultural experience.

If you live at Lake Chapala, and would like to open your home to host an artist for these three days of November 8, 9, 10, we would be so grateful to have you join our ranks. This cross-cultural experience can be life-changing for both hosts and artists. For more information, please contact Brenda Byron at  (376) 765-2408 or 331 534 6985 cellphone or email

Chess comes to Feria 2018 ... Why?

Feria board member Roberto Serrano with chess kids
When you come to the Feria in 2018, you’ll see tables of kids playing chess. A natural question would be: What does chess have to do with Mexican folk art? And, like most of the best things in life, the story takes some unravelling.

Playing chess in the Ajijic Plaza on Sundays at 1pm
It started three years ago when Roy Quiriconi, a chess enthusiast, met Roberto Serrano, a community activist, Feria Board member, and shoe merchant (Flexi Stores on the Ajijic plaza and in Chapala). Out of that meeting came the idea of teaching local children to play chess and Roberto came up with the name HuaraChess because it incorporates the idea of community, coming together, unity, and brotherhood with the ancient game of chess. Roy donated a several chess sets, the Lake Chapala Society donated space and some sets and the HuaraChess Club was launched.

Chess, a board strategy game, originated in India in the 7th century and the pieces took on their present shape and powers in Spain in the 15th century. However, it wasn’t until recently that chess was recognized as a significant way to develop intelligence and thinking skills. Recent studies have linked the playing of chess to better performance in schools and better problem solving skills. In spite of that, kids seem to like it.

They also play Saturday at noon at LCS
When the club first started on noon on Saturdays at LCS, it was mainly for children. However, it started to be very popular, so now you can find people of all ages, locals and immigrants, in the Ajijic plaza at 1 pm on Sundays, learning chess, playing chess, having fun together. When they started the club, Roberto didn’t know how to play, now he is an avid player and helped launch the first tournament where 120 people competed in age-related classes. The club plans to hold another tournament early next year.
Tournament Winner

Mentors and volunteers are always needed. And, you can like the club on Facebook at   If you would like to know more about the Chess club, please contact Roy Quiriconi at royquiriconi at 

So, why will the club be playing chess at the Feria? Because the Feria is about more than Mexican folk art. It’s about bringing people together, supporting folk artists around Mexico, supporting the local community, supporting kids. Some kids love art so the Feria helps support the LCS Children’s Art Program. However, some kids are not into art, so giving them a place to play and learn at the Feria seems like a great idea.
It's part of the Feria's mission to be "more than a feria."
Tournament organizers and volunteers