In Search of Bertha Cruz, Arrazola, Oaxaca: Poinsettias on the Dragon

Bertha Cruz is a young, talented painter of alebrijes.  She has been a featured artist in Jacobo Angeles’ gallery in San Martin Tilcajete and the prices on her larger pieces (if you can find them) can command up to $500 USD or even more!  Bertha’s husband does the carving of the the copal wood and she does the very fine and detailed painting using miniscule brushes dipped carefully into tiny paint pots.  My sister and I found her home a few years ago because we wanted to support her directly.

Portrait of Bertha Cruz

Bertha became a mother almost two years ago and with her small daughter tugging at her skirts it’s been harder to consistently produce a large body of work.  Bertha tells me that she no longer exhibits at galleries in Oaxaca city because she prefers to be paid directly and avoid the commissions.  People know her work now and make the 30 minute trip to Arrazola (usually by taxi) to see her.  Directions are sketchy and you just have to follow your nose.  She has no telephone number and the street address is illusive.  If you know a little Spanish that doesn’t hurt, since once you are in town you can ask anyone where is the house of Bertha Cruz and they will tell you.

El Dragon by Bertha Cruz, Arrazola, Oaxaca

How on earth did I get this dragon home? you might ask.  Yes, I succumbed and bought it!  That body is carved from one entire piece of copal wood and then intricately painted.  I wrapped and wrapped with bubble and foam, and then wrapped again, then tucked it between the folds and layers of clothing in my suitcase.

Dragon Wings Detail -- Bertha Cruz, Arrazola, Oaxaca

You can see some of the Zapotec design detailing on the leg in the foreground and on the tail.  Bertha was seeing Noche Buena flowers in bloom during this season and replicated them on the tail.  We know this flower as poinsettia.

A Bertha Cruz Bear Eating Watermelon

You can catch a taxi close to the Zocalo (I usually hail it at the corner of Fiallo and Hidalgo).  The cost is usually 100 to 120 pesos per hour.  The round trip will take about an hour, so you can figure the total cost by how much time you want to spend in Arrazola.

Directions:  Go into Arrazola and at the Community Collective Gallery turn right.  Turn left at the first street.  Go up the hill and turn left at the first (next) street.  Bertha’s house will be the first one on the left past the corner.  The gate is bamboo and there is a wagon wheel decorating the front fence.  (Sorry I can’t give you better directions.)  You will have to take your chances that she will be home.  When we arrived she wasn’t there.  Disappointment set in.  We wandered a few other shops (as soon as they saw us coming, the prices shot up. I should have removed my silver bracelet.)  Then we returned about 30 minutes later to discover that Bertha had returned.

Unpainted lizards, Bertha Cruz, Arrazola, Oaxaca

The work room is piled with semi-completed pieces.  Ears, tongues, tails are unattached to their animalitos.  If you see a body you want, Bertha knows which parts belong to whom.  Lizards, bears, armadillos, skulls, and dragons peer down at you from shelves and up at you from the floor.  The table is covered with larger pieces.  The workshop is part of Bertha’s home, so don’t be surprised to see the bedroom door ajar.  Most importantly, don’t bargain!  When you buy directly from her, the prices are incredibly reasonable for what you are taking home.  I have written another article about how to pack and carry alebrijes yourself if you don’t want to pay for shipping.  Disfruta mucho.

Bertha's Vision: Bear and Goat

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