Category Archives: Folk Art

Another Promised Land: Anita Brenner’s Mexico at the Skirball Center, Los Angeles

Once the dust of Mexico settles on your heart,

you will have no rest in any other land.

On September 13, I joined Patrice Wynne and Gloria Orenstein at the Skirball Cultural Center in West Los Angeles for a curator-led preview tour of this landmark exhibition, Another Promised Land: Anita Brenner’s Mexico.

The exhibition runs through February 25, 2018.

The term promised land is rooted in a vision of freedom and liberation.  Emotionally, it has meaning for peoples seeking release from oppression who want a secure life where one can become fully realized without restraint. Jewish identity is intertwined with Israel as the promised land. African-American slaves looked to the north as a promised land. Oppressed peoples throughout the world continue to seek asylum in America, their hope of the promised land where opportunity and justice prevail. (We must be vigilant.)

Tina Modotti captures Anita Brenner in black and white

Anita Brenner (1905-1974), a Mexican-born Jewish writer who lived and worked during the Mexican Renaissance, saw the country adopted by her Latvian parents as a promised land for intellectual and artistic expression. Her own experience with prejudice and discrimination helped give her voice to bridge understanding.

Mexico was a haven for immigrants escaping Europe throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Even today, Mexico has a welcoming immigration policy. Her people are a blend of indigenous, Spanish, African, Filipino, Chinese, German, and French — representing waves of conquest and immigration. Jews sought haven in Mexico when the gates were closed to the United States of America. (Thank you, Mexico!)

Diego Rivera, Dance in Tehuantepec, watercolor

Brenner was an integral part of the circle of Mexican modernists in the 1920s and played an important role in promoting and translating Mexican art, culture, and history for audiences in the U.S.

Jean Charlot, The Massacre in the Main Temple, fresco, Collegio San Ildefonso

Born during the turmoil of the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920), Brenner was close to the leading intellectuals and artists active in Mexico at the time. These are names we know well: painters José Clemente Orozco, Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, Jean Charlot, and photographer Tina Modotti. There were others whose name we do not widely know in the USA, including Rivera’s second wife, Guadalupe Marin, Frances Toor, Nahui Olin, Luz Jimenez and Concha Michel.   

Abraham Angel, La India

Art historian Karen Cordero says they would meet at Sanborn’s Casa de los Azulejos to talk about politics, social injustices, women’s rights, feminism, and other issues.

The exhibition introduces us to Brenner as an important figure who has been heretofore obscured by the more illustrious in her circle.  An influential and prolific writer on Mexican culture, Brenner is best known for her book Idols Behind Altars: Modern Mexican Art and Its Cultural Roots (1929). 

Cover of Mexico this month, February 1956

Her work is rooted in the shaping of post-Revolution Mexico, when a new identity for a new nation needed to be reassessed to reflect the persistent indigenous culture behind the Spanish conquest. The Revolution brought with it the need to create political, social and cultural change and artists turned to folk art as inspiration to re-imagine past with future.

Mathias Goeritz, Satellite Tower. He was close to Luis Barragan, architect.

She was also instrumental in creating cultural tourism for Mexico — promoting cultural exploration as a vacation activity by publishing the cultural travel magazine, Mexico this month. We can consider her a pioneer in learning about the people who live where you visit.

The Skirball’s exhibition includes a narrative of Brenner’s life. It features pre-Columbian art, paintings, prints, photographs and drawings by Miguel Covarrubias, Jean Charlot, Edward Weston, Leonora Cunningham, Maximo Pacheco, Lola Cueto, Abraham Angel, plus those we are more familiar with: Kahlo, Rivera, Orozco.

Lithograph by Orozco

Charlot was a disciple of Rivera who contributed to the murals at the Secretariat de Publica Education (SEP). He was in love with Brenner; they could never reconcile religious differences and did not marry, though they remained lifelong friends.

Cultural map of Oaxaca, Mexico/this month

Another Promised Land: Anita Brenner’s Mexico is part of Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA, a far-reaching and ambitious exploration of Latin American and Latino art in dialogue with Los Angeles, taking place from September 2017 through January 2018 at more than sixty cultural institutions across Southern California. Pacific Standard Time is an initiative of the Getty.

Gloria Orenstein, Norma Schafer and Patrice Wynne at the exhibition

Footnote: Los Angeles County has the second largest Jewish population and the largest Latino population in the United States.

Thank you to the Skirball Cultural Center for background information and photographs.

Bowers Museum of Art Invites Norma Schafer to Speak About Oaxaca, Mexico

Today, I arrive in Southern California to give a talk about Oaxaca, Mexico, art and culture at the Bowers Museum of Art in Santa Ana. The Collectors’ Club invited me about six months ago to make a presentation on Saturday afternoon, September 16, 2017.

There is so much about Oaxaca to cover.  I thought I would share my narrative outline with you:

Interior gold leaf, Templo Santo Domingo, Oaxaca

Oaxaca is one of those rare places in the world that inspires creativity and artistic expression. A UNESCO World Heritage site colonized by the Spanish in 1521, its indigenous roots go back 8,000 years ago.

It is mestizo, mixed, a blend of ancient and contemporary, reflecting generations of invasion, migration and cultural identity. Walk her cobbled streets and feel Colonial history. Explore her villages and know the first peoples who lived here before – and now.

White corn tlayuda, indigenous, organic, non-GMO

Corn (maize) was first hybridized in nearby Yagul, Oaxaca, caves by Zapotec farmers. Carbon dating has pinpointed this at 6,000-8,000 years ago. The plant traveled worldwide to become an essential food source on every continent.

Barbecue served for local fiestas

Oaxaca’s culinary prowess is second to none. Her finest restaurants and humble comedors give way to innovative recipes rooted in native history, married with European influences. We know mole negro. There are six others.

Intricately embroidered blouse, San Bartolome Ayautla

Women sit at back strap looms, nested on packed earth floors in remote villages weaving beautiful garments with supplemental wefts embellished with figures from nature and the constellations, just as they did thousands of years ago. There is a revival of native natural dyes, including cochineal and indigo, as well as the use of native silk and wild cotton.

Indigo dye bath turns wild marigold colored wool to green

Pulque, the fermented juice of the agave plant evolved into mezcal, a leading artisanal beverage distilled from the roasted core of wild and cultivated cactus plants. Have you tried Gracias a Dios Gin Mezcal?

Health benefits of agua miel before it becomes pulque

Ceramic figures and cooking vessels are made today much like they were in 900 A.D. when Zapotecs artisans supplied the mountain-top kingdom of Monte Alban. Mixtec gold filigree jewelry unearthed at this archeological site is reproduced and offered for sale, made even more desirable by popular Frida Kahlo style. Contemporary silversmiths adapt traditional designs for practical daily wear.

Ancient traditions, making a clay comal for tortilla making

And, the contemporary art scene is unparalleled. Printmakers, graphic artists, painters and muralists actively produce extraordinary works that capture the essence of Mexican history, culture and politics. Their work is rooted in the pre-Revolutionary iconic work of Jose Guadalupe Posada and post-Revolutionary murals of Rivera, Orozco and Siquieros.

Painter Gabo Mendoza talks about the subject of his works

Experimentation, innovation and design permeate a vibrant arts scene that encompasses all the senses.

Market scene, Teotitlan del Valle

Yet, Oaxaca is the second poorest state in Mexico. It has pockets of poverty, social unrest and a widening economic gap. Rural, indigenous people have limited access to education, health care and public services. They demonstrate peacefully now to express their discontent.

Day of the Dead Altar

Despite this, Oaxaca is safe and welcoming.

During this presentation, Norma Schafer will lead a visual tour of Oaxaca city and villages, discuss artisanal crafts and contemporary art in the context of social history, bring examples for you to see and touch, and answer questions you may have.

At the confite, the church parade

 

 

 

 

 

Eclectic Jewelry and Folk Art Collection Sale, August 11, 2017

I’m back in North Carolina for a while and it’s time to go through my collection of Mexican folk art, jewelry and contemporary American art pieces. I’m beginning to consider what I no longer use or wear and offer them for sale to you. I’ll be listing an eclectic mix of pieces over the next weeks. Keep your eyes open! They are one-of-a-kind!

  1. Taller Spratling Monkey (Taxco, Mexico) Copper Pendant inlaid with turquoise, with hand-woven copper chain made by a North Carolina artisan. Pendant is 2-1/4″ long by 1-3/4″ wide. Chain is 20″ long. Newer piece. Priced at $145 for both, plus shipping USPS.

William Spratling inspired the Taxco silversmith industry. He researched iconic pre-Hispanic Mexican designs, of which this is one. This is a newer piece with the stamp of the current owners who use the original molds. Shows some wear. Needs polishing.

2. SOLD. Huichol Lime and Turquoise Hand-Woven Cotton Shoulder Bag. This is a double-faced weave, which means you can turn the bag inside out and it becomes reversible. The bag is 9″x 9″ (approx.), with a 1-1/2″ gusset that continues into a 44″ long strap. Bag is woven on back-strap loom by Jalisco Huichol women. $85 plus shipping.

3. A la Frida Kahlo, Handmade Sterling Silver Filigree Earrings with Garnets from Patzcuaro, Michoacan. 2″ long and 7/8″ wide. Length measured from where hook affixes to earring. Add length for hook into earlobe. $95 plus postage.

4. Designer Jay Strongwater freshwater pearl, glass beads, sterling necklace, 16-1/2″ long, and Majorica 10mm black pearl studs, from Saks Fifth Avenue. Sold together. $185.00 plus mailing.

5. Frida Style Handmade Sterling Silver Earrings, hands with drop flowers, rose quartz centers, from top Oaxaca jewelry shop purchased over 10 years ago. They don’t make them like this any more. Size 1-1/2″ long from where hook meets hand and 3/4″ wide.  $158.00 plus mailing.

6. Turquoise and Red Huichol Shoulder Bag, handwoven in Jalisco, Mexico, double-faced on a back strap loom. Bag body measures 8″ x 8″.  Gusset and strap are 1-1/8″ wide. Strap is 42″ long from where it meets the body of the bag. Turn the bag inside out and it becomes reversible. Inside pocket and tassels on this one. $98.00 plus mailing.

Questions? Send me an email. Want to buy, send me an email with the number of the item, date of this blog post, plus your mailing address.  I will send you an invoice that includes mailing costs.

Thank you. Norma

Mexican Folk Art for Sale: Vintage and Reproduction Ex-Votos

Ex-votos came to Mexico from Spain with the 1521 conquest. They are devotional prayer plaques applied to shrines in thanksgiving for a miracle received from a particular saint. These small votive offerings are hand-painted on tin and naive folk art. Usually the supplicant, the person giving thanks for the miracle, hired a local untrained artist who could also write to express gratitude.

Often, though, you find misspelled and illegible words, which reflects the lack of sophistication and charm of the piece. The painting often includes the name of the town or province and the date of the offering. They were usually nailed to an altar or shrine.

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera had one of the largest collections of Ex-votos, many of which are on display at Casa Azul in Mexico City.

Vintage Ex-Votos for Sale: 1930’s-1940’s

#1. San Martin Caballero. This first one, below, is a naive vintage painting on tin, surrounded by the original tin frame, of Saint Martin on Horseback.  Saint Martin (San Martin) of Tours is usually depicted giving a piece of his cloak to the poor. My art collector friend says this is from the 1930’s to 1940’s, though it is undated. Size: approx. 6″ wide x 8″ high. $345 USD plus shipping and insurance.

San Martin Caballero ex-voto in original tin frame, vintage, primitive. $345

Back of San Martin Caballero frame

Giving thanks for a miraculous recovery from typhoid fever. $345 USD.

#2. XXX Garcia La Pez, my son (first name partly illegible), has recovered from typhoid and is now healthy because of this miracle. Created by Fresnillo. Zacatecaz, in memory of my father Lupercio Garcia B.  Size: 6-1/2″ x 10-3/4″

$345 USD plus shipping. Note: Colors are pure, as depicted in photo. Small tear at bottom of the tin border. 1930’s-1940’s.

Back side of Fresnillo, Zacatecaz, ex-voto

Thanks for a prodigious miracle.

#3. Lupema Lora Rosales from Zacatecas gives thanks for a prodigious miracle. We don’t know what it is, but we see her photo affixed to the ex-voto in the lower left corner — an unusual application! The saint is surrounded by flowers, a burning skull, a naively painted Jesus, and children. $345 plus shipping. Size is 6-3/4″ high x 9-3/4″ wide (approx.).

photo of back of A Prodigious Miracle ex-voto

Condition of Vintage Pieces: These are between 70 and 80 years old. There will be some surface scratches, rust and imperfections due to age.

Ex-Voto Reproductions for Sale: New

These two ex-votos (below) are painted and signed by contemporary Mexico City artist Rafael Rodriguez, noted for his whimsical ex-voto depictions. They are reproductions based on the artist’s knowledge of the genre. I acquired them. from a well-known collector in Mexico City. It is offered to you for sale. Size: 9-1/2″ high x 12″ wide, at $95 each, plus shipping.

Wild turkey guajolote did not devour the boy Jose Luis Arreola. Give thanks. New. $95.

# 1. The wild turkey, Mr. Guajolote, was about to gobble me up!

Ruperto Chaves offers thanks for being saved from the giant octopus. New. $95.

#2. Imagine being strangled by a giant octopus that suddenly appears from a cave.

Terms of Purchase: Please contact me you are interested in purchasing and refer to the subject of the ex-voto or the number. Payment is requested in full with PayPal. I will calculate shipping and insurance based on your mailing address and send you a link for payment. There are no returns or refunds. Thank you.

 

Exvotos: Mexico’s Naive Folk Art Painting of Thanksgiving

In the third room of Casa Azul you will see a small sampling of a vast collection of exvotos amassed by Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. It is said they had one of the largest collections of these small tributes of thanks to a saint for a miracle, for saving a life, a favor received.

Domera Morales Rojas Milagro con ce vida. Cholula, Puebla. 1940’s.

These are charming, naive paintings on laminate, tin, paper or cardboard, made by the person giving thanks.  It usually includes a personal message below the scene, along with the name of the petitioner, and sometimes a date. You often see misspellings, incomplete sentences. A hammer and nail was all that was needed to attach the ex voto to the shrine in offering.

New ex voto painted by Rafael Rodriguez, collectible, riding a guajalote.

It is now difficult to find antique ex votos.  Many we see are painted on distressed tin or steel to look old.  Buyers can be deceived and pay a higher price than the piece is worth.

A prodigious miracle. Lupema Lora Rosales. Zacatecas. Circa 1940. Vintage.

Yet, my tried and true motto is: If you like it, buy it.  You may never see a piece like the one in front of you again. Meaningful mementos are important.

My other motto, that I learned a long time ago is: There will always be a sale. That is, there will always be something to fall in love with.  If you pass it by, there will be something else, but it won’t be the same!

Saved from octopus strangulation in Baja, California, by Rafael Rodriguez. New.

Back to ex votos.

The day after my visit to Casa Azul last week, I took the Australian group to Bazaar del Sabado in Plaza San Jacinto, San Angel. This is now my favorite place for imaginative, creative shopping in Mexico City. The bazaar, held only on Saturdays, is filled with contemporary art, jewelry, clothing, textiles and artisan designed wares.

Early ex voto, 1931. Saved from pulminary sickness, infinitely grateful.

Adjacent streets are lined with boutiques, galleries, and street artisans selling crafts from all over Mexico. Painters and print makers show their work displayed on easels in the surrounding parks. It is a lively place to meet, eat and spend the day.

Vintage exvoto, giving thanks for safe journey on treacherous mountain road.

My greatest discovery was the small shop operated by Karima Muyaes, whose father was an antique dealer and one of the original founders of Bazaar del Sabado. Karima is a talented painter who is in process of publishing a collection of her vast body of work.

Giving thanks for surviving this train robbery in Chihuahua in 1937. Reproduction.

The shop has a selection of fine contemporary ex voto reproductions and I became enamored with the idea of owning one, a la Frida and Diego. Karima is forthcoming about what is old and what is a reproduction. After I bought a blue six-headed sea monster who, ojala (god willing), did not strangle the supplicant, Karima and I talked about our mutual love for Oaxaca.

You need a magnifying glass to read this old one!

She also told me she had a few vintage ex-votos at her home and invited me to come to visit, which I happily did. The environment is a visual feast in tribute to the work of her father, his collections, and her amazing paintings.

Galley proofs of Karima’s new book, The Color of Spirit

She is in process of putting together a photo book of her life’s work. I had a chance to look at the early galleys and meet the graphic designer from Chicago who is working with her on her project.

Portrait of me and Karima in her living room, Mexico City; her paintings

Painting on ceramic, by Karima Muyaes

I am thinking of purchasing a few ex votos for resale. If you are interested, please let me know. norma.schafer@icloud.com

Painting on canvas, unframed, by Karima Muyaes

Tabletop still life, home of Karima Muyaes

It is likely I will meet Karima again before I leave Mexico City to return to North Carolina on this trip. We will probably visit her studio, where I will take more photos to share with you.

Paint brushes, home of Karima Muyaes

Vintage sterling silver milagros –folk charms, a father’s collection