FONART is the national fund for promoting arts and crafts in Mexico. Folk art and crafts of every type from every Mexican state are represented. Textiles, red and black ceramics, Talavera, carved wood figures, beeswax candles, tinware, etc. The pieces are more collector quality than what you would find in crafts markets like Mercado Cuidadela. Prices are higher, too, and there is no bargaining. Some FONART shops have more variety and a wider selection than others.
The largest and main repository where the pieces come in, are catalogued and priced, is the flagship FONART Galeria Patriotismo, Ave. Patriotismo. No. 691, Colonial Mixcoac, Mexico D.F. Tel. 50-93-60-60 or 50-93-60-61. I discovered it on my search for a hand-hammered copper vase from Santa Clara del Cobre, Michoacan.
The trip by taxi from the zocalo/centro historico takes about 30 minutes in moderate traffic. I went on Saturday morning at 10:30 a.m. Weekdays are probably longer. The hotel arranged the driver for me and I paid an astonishing 300 pesos for the round trip that included a 45-minute wait, but I was on a mission. You could take the Metro or a taxi on the street for far less.
The next largest FONART store is Galeria Reforma, Avenida Paseo de la Reforma, is closer to the historic center than Galeria Patriotismo, but is not within walking distance.
Galeria Juarez is within walking distance of the Zocalo, but has limited choice and staff helpfulness is variable. When I returned to buy a copper piece I had seen on my last visit in August, I arrived to find the store dismantled and the copper display decimated. The clerk told me all the copper was moved to Galeria Patriotismo, which is why I ended up paying 300 pesos to go there. When I arrived, the staff told me, no, they didn’t have any pieces from Galeria Juarez. I asked them to call to find out the discrepancy in stories. Seems all the copper had been moved to the Juarez storeroom. The clerk either didn’t know, didn’t ask, or couldn’t be bothered. So, when I returned, someone else took me to the storeroom where I climbed a 20-foot ladder to find my pot piled up on one of the upper shelves.
Why a copper pot from Santa Maria del Cobre? It represents an important pre-Hispanic indigenous craft. Usually, I like to go directly to the source and find the artisan who creates the most outstanding work. But, Michoacan is one of those places where the drug cartels have established a foothold. Because of that, it is not someplace I plan to visit soon. And, these pieces are incredibly beautiful.
Allan Gurganus wrote a piece in last week’s New York Times about why he collects, the passion and the psychology. I understand. I struggle with my desire to live a simpler life and have it surrounded by artfully made beauty in support of artists and crafts people whom I admire. How to reconcile this? I don’t know.
No photos allowed. No exceptions. Bags are checked at the door. A guard watches over the treasures. Still, with the obstacles, the best place for folk art shopping.
At Remigio’s, an indigenous textile clothing shop at Isabel la Catolica #30, Centro Historico, Mexico City, I found this antique hand-woven Triqui maize basket. I asked my friend Lupe to model so I could show it to you.