Tag Archives: artisans

A Day in Xochistlan de Vicente Suarez, Puebla with Merry Foss and Friends

Xochitl is the Nahuatl word for flower and Tlan de Totonaco is the literal meaning for beautiful place. Xochistlan is the beautiful place between the flowers. (You can tell if a word has a Nahuatl origin if it ends in tl.)

Ducks parade across the embroidered bodice of this blouse made by Radegundis

Ducks parade across the embroidered bodice of this blouse made by Radegundis

Here in the Sierra Norte of Puebla state, a lush landscape of rugged mountains, tall grasses, bamboo, canna lilies, orchids, bromeliad varieties, fruit trees and daisies cling to stony hillsides. Waterfalls flow like abundant rivers. The region is a puzzle of caves. Humidity seeps into everything.

Xochistlan is nestled at the base of a steep valley in the Sierra Norte, Puebla State

Xochistlan is nestled at the base of a steep valley in the Sierra Norte, Puebla State

We spent the day with Merry Elizabeth Foss who took us to Xochistlan, the village she stumbled upon seven years ago in search of artisan women who work in fine beading.

The corn crib. The chicken got away before the shot.

The corn crib. The chicken got away before the shot.

When she met the women of Xochistlan, she knew this was the place for her. She started a cooperative, created patterns to fit American women (yes, we are mostly taller and broader), and invested in relationships that have provided friendship and mutual support.

Radegundis with me and Merry. Yes, I bought this blouse!

Radegundis with me and Merry. Yes, I bought this blouse!

It’s not surprising that the embroidered and beaded images here mimic the landscape, filled with birds, barnyard animals, flowers of every variety, trailing vines, in subdued and rainbow colors.

Bedroom and sewing room combo. Nothing more needed!

Bedroom and sewing room combo. Nothing more needed!

Xochistlan is not easy to get to. It’s about an hour outside of Cuetzalan del Progreso, Puebla. First you take the winding mountain road along the spine, looking down and beyond at villages tucked into the valleys below.

A 30 year old blouse with exquisite embroidery, still fine after all these years.

A 30 year old blouse with exquisite embroidery, still fine after all these years.

Then, you divert and start descending on a road that was likely once a switch back donkey trail. You have to know where you are going! Turn right, continue straight, now turn left, straight again, Merry instructs the taxi driver.

Ducks, chickens and cat wander underfoot, peck at the corncrib.

Ducks, chickens and cat wander underfoot, peck at the corncrib.

We pull into the driveway of a humble home, filled with family, love, joy and beautiful beaded blouses. Radegundis Casilda Teresa greets us with a huge smile, warm hugs and invitation to come in for atole enriched with Mexican chocolate and milk.

Making it last! Sipping atole with a spoon.

Making it last! Sipping atole with a spoon.

She runs out with a bag of whole kernels, telling us to take a seat, she’s going to the molina (mill) to grind the corn.

Hot, delicious atole with chocolate, a favorite drink.

Hot, delicious atole with chocolate, a favorite drink, made in clay over a wood fire.

We meet her husband and grandchildren, sit down by the cooking fire to sip the delicious hot drink, sing and play games, watch the ducks and chickens peck at dried corn.

Playing a singing game with the grandchildren!

Playing a singing game with the grandchildren!

After lunch at Comedor Betty where we had perhaps the best chicken mole in the state of Puebla (Betty won a prize last year), we stopped to visit Martha and her family.

Sewing the beaded panels to the blouse fabric.

Sewing the beaded panels to the blouse fabric.

They sew the beaded panels to the cotton cloth that makes up the entire blouse. Martha, her husband and daughter are master tailors who are very particular about their finish work.

Martha shows us a fine finished blouse, ready for the expoventa the next day.

Martha shows us a fine finished blouse, ready for the expoventa the next day.

Merry also helped the cooperative open a retail shop to sell beads and fabric to other artisans in the village, and created a plan to help market the blouses in the USA.  Merry honors and recognizes the work of each woman by asking her to embroider her name on the inside of each blouse. Personalized. Meaningful.

Poster in Betty's comedor recognizing her cooking talents.

Poster in Doña Betty’s comedor recognizing her cooking talents.

Merry wholesales these finely beaded blouses, known as the China Poblana style, to upscale shops in the United States whose customers appreciate fine Mexican textiles.

Barbara and Rade with finely embroidered V-neck blouse.

Barbara and Rade with finely embroidered V-neck blouse.

Radegundis and Merry Foss, dear friends

Radegundis and Merry Foss, dear friends.

The Altar Room. Most rural homes in Mexico have one.

The Altar Room. Most rural homes in Mexico have one.

I’ve discovered that sometimes the most wonderful experiences are those when you can meet talented people where they live and work. In Mexico, there is extraordinary talent hidden in often isolated, rural villages.

La Abuela Radegundis. Grandmother love.

La Abuela Radegundis. Grandmother love.

One has to be willing to be open, explore and appreciate people for who they are, what they do, and how they live. I’m grateful to Merry for introducing us to her friends and for helping bring their talent to the world.

Brightly colored beaded bodice in Radegundis' sewing room.

Brightly colored beaded bodice in Radegundis’ sewing room.

The tradition of beadwork came to Mexico from Europe with the Spanish conquest. Most were trade beads from Venice and Africa, used for ballast on the Spanish galleons that landed in the port of Veracruz. The beads were traded for food and raw materials. Women learned to embellish their garments and the these fantastic blouses were born!

A bodice strip of black and white daisies before the dressmaking begins.

A bodice strip of black and white daisies before the dressmaking begins.

 

Que Supresa! Oaxaca in San Diego, California

As I drive south from my son’s home in Huntington Beach, California, on my way to visit Barbara and David, and dear friend Merry Foss in San Diego, I marvel at how the landscape looks like Mexico, how the climate feels like Mexico. Except there is development everywhere, new houses, shopping centers, freeway congestion. Infrastructure.

Pedro Mendoza and Carina Santiago from Teotitlan del Valle, in San Diego, CA

Pedro Mendoza and Carina Santiago from Teotitlan del Valle, in San Diego, CA

When I stop at the Pacific Ocean overlook, everyone around me speaks Spanish and I take up a conversation with a young mother traveling with two daughters from El Paso, Tejas (the J is a soft H. Tay-Hass). Oh, you might think that could be Texas. Sometimes I think we are borrowing the Southwest from Mexico and the day of reckoning will come when most of us will speak Spanish and justice will prevail.

Sisters Consuelo (left) and Violante Ulrich continue the Spratling silver tradition

Sisters Consuelo (left) and Violante Ulrich continue the Spratling silver tradition

At Barbara and David’s house, I expect a small gathering. I know my Teotitlan del Valle friend Merry Foss will be there with exquisite beaded blouses from the State of Puebla Sierra Norte made by a cooperative of indigenous women that Merry started six years ago.

Jacobo Angeles with copal wood carved and painted ram from San Martin Tilcajete, Oaxaca

Jacobo Angeles with copal wood carved and painted ram, San Martin Tilcajete

I know that friends Violante and Consuelo Ulrich who continue the William Spratling silver jewelry making tradition in Taxco will be here. (I take study tour goers to meet them in Taxco during the February Textile and Folk Art Study Tour to Tenancingo de Degollado. Spaces open.)

Then, I turn the corner. Que Supresa! Que Milagro! I  see part of my extended family from Teotitlan del Valle and Oaxaca.

Shopping for Oaxaca embroidered blouses

Shopping for Oaxaca embroidered blouses

I had no idea that Pedro Mendoza and his wife Carina Santiago and their son Diego would also be there with their terrific handmade rugs. Carina runs Tierra Antigua Restaurant and Pedro is a weaver/exporter.

Or, that friend Jacobo Angeles drove a truck up from Oaxaca filled with alebrijes made by him and family members in San Martin Tilcajete, in Oaxaca’s Ocotlan valley.

Ortega's Folk Art, Tonala, Jalisco, Mexico

Ortega’s Folk Art, Tonala, Jalisco, Mexico

And, then there are ceramics from Mata Ortiz, and hand-carved whimsical wood figures by Gerardo Ortega Lopez from Tonala, Jalisco.

If you can get to San Diego this weekend, there’s a great Expoventa (show and sale) at Bazaar del Mundo, where you can meet all these artisans and buy directly from them.

Mata Ortiz pottery from Chihuahua, Mexico

Mata Ortiz pottery from Chihuahua, Mexico

Both Pedro and Jacobo tell me that tourism has dropped substantially in Oaxaca in the last month our of fear about the clashes between the federal government and the striking teachers. While Oaxaca’s economy depends on tourism, the teachers have legitimate grievances that need to be addressed. It’s complicated!

Hand-beaded blouses from Puebla, Merry Foss artisan cooperative

Hand-beaded blouses from Puebla, Merry Foss artisan cooperative

Some artisans who have visas and have come to the U.S. to do business for years, are able to cross the border and try to make up for what is lost in the local economy. Instead of talking about building walls, United States leaders need to talk about building bridges.

Mexican doll collection, home of David and Barbara

Mexican doll collection, home of David and Barbara

In the meantime, it takes people like David and Barbara, Robin and Linda, and members of Los Amigos del Arte Popular de Mexico who keep the folk art traditions of Mexico in the forefront, who host artisans for private sales, who promote that Mexico has a rich artistic and cultural heritage that remains vibrant only through support and understanding.

Oaxaca clay nativity scene, private collection

Oaxaca clay nativity scene, private collection

If you personally or an organization you are involved with would like to host an artisan visit to the United States, please contact me. I can facilitate. This means a lot to people to keep their family traditions alive and income flowing.

Pacific Ocean overlook, sunny Southern California day

Pacific Ocean overlook, sunny Southern California day

I’m returning to Oaxaca next week. I’ve been traveling for over a month. This is a great interlude to visit with family and friends. I seem to be happy wherever I am these days! I hope you are contented, too.

Pond sunset, end to a perfect San Diego day

Pond sunset, end to a perfect San Diego day

 

Injustice, Coping: Fine Oaxaca Black Pottery Maker Goes to Santa Fe International Folk Art Market

Right now, there’s mango cardamom chutney cooking on the stove. It’s a clear, cool day after a series of heavy rains and the sky is brilliant blue. White puff clouds hug the mountain just beyond my reach, and I’m thinking about the injustices in our world and how people cope.

In about three weeks, I’m leaving Oaxaca and traveling to Santa Fe, New Mexico, for the International Folk Art Market where I’m volunteering. For artisans, it’s a privilege to be invited to this juried and highly competitive exhibition market.

This year, the market welcomes Jovita Cardozo Castillo, an exceptional master artisan of black pottery from the Oaxaca village of San Bartolo Coyotepec. It is her first visit outside of Mexico and to the United States, as part of Innovando la Tradicion and associated cooperative Colectivo 1050 Grados.

I appeal to you to give to The Wayfinders crowdfunding campaign to help cover her expenses to travel, sleep, eat and ship her beautiful work. And More!

Jovita needs all the help she can get! Why?

Wayfinders 04 | Haz que Jovita llegue a Santa Fe, NM. from Innovando la Tradición a.c. on Vimeo.

Jovita’s husband, Amando, a fine potter, too, and head of their family workshop, has been diagnosed with Guillain-Barré Syndrome, a pretty rare disease with unknown causes. Medical researchers believe it is linked to the Zika virus. The couple have three children. Amando is in hospital for the past two months, unable to speak, with paralysis and the prognosis isn’t clear. The family has spent more than 150,000 pesos for public health treatment. This is a huge sum in Mexico, equivalent to about $10,000 USD. The long-range implications of a head-of-household not working will have a huge family impact.

Donate Here!

Note: If you are making the gift from the U.S. or Canada, please log into Generosity with your Facebook account. Otherwise it won’t work because we just discovered this Indiegogo donation site was created in Mexico! So Sorry! Don’t use your email address. It won’t work. Many thanks for your support.

Or make your gift with PayPal to: 

1050grados@gmail.com

They won’t have to pay a transaction fee if you send it to family/friends!

One of the children stopped going to school for a semester to help at the ceramic workshop, since they have orders to fulfill and Amando is not able to work. 

Jovita does not want you to feel sorry for her and was reluctant for us to share this very personal information about family circumstances. She wants your support for the Wayfinders crowdfunding campaign because she is an exceptional artisan and nothing more.

 Celebrating the Humanity of the Handmade

But that is not the complete story, and the family situation makes this appeal even more urgent and necessary. I talked about it with Kythzia Barrera and Diego Mier y Teran, who lead Innovando la Tradicion. They spoke with Jovita, who agreed that without support, the financial stress on the family for out-of-pocket expenses to go to the Folk Art Market would be a burden they would not easily recover from.

Will you help? Any amount will make a difference.

I don’t personally know Jovita, but I know her work. I know that handmade Oaxaca artistry and craft take time, is a family heritage, is multi-generational and the best quality can be hard to sustain as some cut corners and turn to more commercial production methods.

 Help for Jovita

$1,331 raised toward $8,000 goal. That’s 17%. We can do better!

What your gift will help underwrite:

  • Market registration fees
  • Air and bus travel to Santa Fe, New Mexico
  • Lodging and food
  • Shipping cost (I can’t imagine what it costs to build wood shipping containers, package and send pottery to make sure there is no breakage!)
  • More possibilities for Jovita, Amando and their family

If Jovita sells out without encumbrances, she will have the funds to help her husband recover. Will you join me as a donor? Thank you.

All my best, Norma

 

 

 

Color Culture: Oaxaca at the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market

Oaxaca and Mexico is well-represented at the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market, a knock-your-socks-off bazaar of many of the world’s best artisans.

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Interspersed among the over 150 exhibitors are some of Oaxaca’s best artisans, too. Selection to participate is very competitive. Preference seems to be given to collectives and cooperatives that further the economic, cultural and social development of at-risk folk art.

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Here are the groups from Oaxaca who came this year. We are proud of their accomplishments. They did very well and the income from sales are significant in sustaining and developing their personal lives, culture and craft.

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  • Macrina Mateo, Silvia Garcia Mateo, Silvia Medina Hernandez from San Marcos Tlapazola, Tlacolula, who are part of the ceramics cooperative Innovando la Tradicion
  • Flor de Xochistlahuaca weaving cooperative represented by Margarita Garcia de Jesus and Antonia Brigida Guerrero Santa Ana, working in natural dyes and indigenous cotton
  • Jose Garcia Antonio and family from San Antonino Castillo Velasquez, Ocotlan, who make life-size primitive clay figures
  • Odilon Merino Morales brings Amuzgos textiles hand-woven on the backstrap loom, many using natural dyes, all with expressive designs

SaraSheri

Last Thursday I went to a discussion about color at Collected Works Bookstore given by textile design instructor Barbara Arlen. She talked about the psychology of color, how we choose it for fashion, home decor, mood, political importance, emotional well-being and comfort, and what we think looks good on us.

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I’m moving toward indigo, the deep, intense blue derived from a plant, compressed, dried, ground and then made into a dye bath. This is a change for me and at the folk art market I was in search of indigo from Mexico, India, Africa. This seems to be the hot color this year, although it fits into the cool zone. Wear it with hot red beads.

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Here in Santa Fe, like in Mexico, colors tend to be hot as a reflection of the environment. What works here doesn’t make it in New York or Detroit. Barbara talks about how New Yorkers prefer black and gray, the color of business, solemnity, seriousness and sophistication.

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I am in New Mexico, the land of carefree fun, heat and brilliance with a deep Native American tradition of color. Red, coral, orange, turquoise, lime green, deep blue, pure gold, primary colors prevail here. Red, the color of passion, excitement, and yes, even sex, is predominant. Purple, the color of royalty, which came from the rare caracol purpura seashell.

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Barbara Arlen says that color has to do with craftsmanship, faux vs. real, as in clothing, handbags and yes, even food. Slow food vs. fast food, the difference between flash cooked goodness where food is still close to its original fresh goodness and commercial food with chemical additives that give off a gray or brown or overcooked look.

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Her discussion was an excellent introduction to folk art market shopping, where your bank account could be decimated within minutes. She asked us to pay attention to color hues, values and intensity.

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She asked us to stretch to try a different color than we are used to wearing. Barbara recommended that we look at Style.Com and Vogue UK to keep up with current textile and fashion colors.

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Always, she says, choose what makes you feel good. So, I did! And my friends Sheri and Sara did, too.

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Oaxaca Folk Art: Jose Garcia Antonio Ceramic Figures

Jose Garcia Antonio, one of Oaxaca’s best clay sculptors, participated in the 2014 International Folk Art Market in Santa Fe, New Mexico, this July. This is no small accomplishment. This juried exhibition invites only the most accomplished artisans from all over the world to show and demonstrate their craft.

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Last Friday, we drove out to San Antonino Castillo Velasco as part of an all-day excursion to celebrate my friend Carol’s birthday. She wanted our first stop to be with Don Jose.

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It’s dark inside the studio, atmospheric. Don Jose works intuitively, feels the clay, feels his wife’s face, the faces of his children and grandchildren. He inspires creativity for those with physical limitations.

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While we were there, he received a call from TV Azteca in Oaxaca. They wanted to come out to interview and film him that afternoon. He is becoming very famous.

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I remember going to his studio years ago when not many knew about him and he was far off the beaten path, long before tour guides had him on their radar to bring clients there.

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I remember when we drove into the entrance of San Antonino and inquired from a moto-taxi driver if he knew where Don Jose lived. We paid the driver 10 pesos to lead us there.

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I remember when I bought a life-size figure of a Juchitan woman carrying a basket on her head, hips swaying, braids hanging, skirt flowing, knowing she was too heavy to ever bring back to the USA, and putting her in the home of friends until the Oaxaca home I was to live in was completed — years later.

Each time I visit Don Jose Garcia Antonio, I am amazed how his magic hands inspire and create work his eyes cannot see. Each time, I am tempted to add something to my collection. This time, it was a pig planter, which my travel mates called Wilbur.

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His daughter, Sara, makes expressive clay face-mask planters to hang on a wall. All the children work the clay. The grandchildren are growing up in this clay culture, shaping simple figures of butterflies, mermaids, and winged angels. Small treasures to pack into suitcases to remember the artist, his family and the experience of being in the arts and artisans mecca of Oaxaca.

How to Find Jose Garcia Antonio: Turn into the village of San Antonino Castillo Velasco.  Turn right on Calle Independencia. Turn left at the first street. Go several blocks. Look on the left side of the street for the clay lion on the roof. There you are!