Tag Archives: folk art

Extraordinary: Yanhuitlan, Oaxaca and Ceramic Artist Manuel Reyes

Off the beaten path and definitely a must-see, Santo Domingo Yanhuitlan is a small Mixtec pueblo located about an hour-and-a-half north of Oaxaca city, off the Carretera Nacional toll road to Mexico City.

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It is the home of an extraordinary Dominican Church whose massive stone architecture is reminiscent of the finest European churches, complete with flying buttresses and elegant arched ceilings. Six thousand indigenous people constructed it beginning in the mid-16th century.

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Ceramic artist, sculptor and painter Manuel Reyes lives here, too, with his wife Marisela, also an accomplished artist, and their two children. They are what draw us to this place since their work is not sold in Oaxaca city. They have been exhibited in galleries throughout the United States and recognized in numerous contemporary art journals and books.

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Manuel understudied with potters from throughout Oaxaca state and has been working with clay for fifteen years.  He uses a gas kiln and fires his work at 900-1,200 degree Fahrenheit temperatures, unusual for the region where most clay work is low fire, cooked in a shallow wood-fire kiln.  Manuel gets his red clay from pits in San Jeronimo Silacayoapilla, not far from his home in Tlaxiaco.  He says the clay from here is the strongest, the best.

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Yanhuitlan is Marisela’s home.  This is where they have created their life and work together.  The children are also collaborating, making small clay figures and painting on canvas.

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The clay is painted with natural mineral pigments that Manuel gets from the local region.  Some of his work is primitive.  Other pieces are highly polished polychrome with three or four colors.

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Pre-Hispanic designs on clay come from pottery shards that Manuel finds in the region.

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Marisela and Manuel invite us to join them for lunch.  It is a homemade red mole with rice, black beans, fresh tortillas, and another type of tortilla, rougher, denser, made with wheat flour by Marisela’s mother.  I pass on the mezcal because I’m driving!  The head sculpture is a napkin holder.  Magnifico.

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The church is one of the most important colonial sites in Mexico. Why was it constructed in this tiny town that seems to  have little or no importance today?  Yanhuitlan was on a major pre-Hispanic trade route and the Mixtec temple there was a very important indigenous religious site.

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The Spanish imported the European silk worm and Yanhuitlan became the center of silk cultivation for export.  Silk, along with cochineal, made Yanhuitlan an important economic center.  Hence, this imposing church — extraordinary and definitely worth the visit in its own right.  Note the Mixtec carving embedded into the church wall.  A practice for attracting and converting locals.

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Couple the stop with a visit to the home studio of ceramic artist and sculptors Manuel and Marisela Reyes and you have a very satisfying day-long excursion to explore the art and creativity that is Oaxaca.

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How to get there:  Go north from Oaxaca on the Cuota–toll-road–to Mexico City.  Exit at Nochixtlan.  Turn left and go over the toll road bridge.  Continue northwest. Follow the road signs to Yanhuitlan.  The church can be seen from several miles away.  To find Marisela and Manuel Reyes, go to Aldama Street which faces the side entrance of the church.  Drive until the end.  Their house is across from the Calvario church (metal dome), which is part of the original convent.  coloresdeoaxaca@yahoo.com.mx or call 951-562-7008 for an appointment.

Special thanks to Francine, Jo Ann and Tom for guiding me there!

In Mexico City: FONART for Folk Art Shopping

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

FONARTAt 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.

Viviana Alavez Hipolito, Grand Master of Oaxaca Folk Art–Beeswax Candlemaking

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It takes over one hundred passes of hot dripping wax poured over a four or five-foot tall woven cotton wick to create a handmade ceremonial beeswax candle. We are in the Teotitlan del Valle home workshop of traditional candlemaker Viviana Hippolito Alavez, who is recognized as one of the Grand Masters of Oaxaca Folk Art.  Her work is exemplary.

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The family lives on an unpaved road off the main street just as you enter the village, about two miles from the Pan American Highway 190.  There is a freshly painted, brand new sign at the corner directing visitors to Abasolo #7.  It is a humble house, filled with activity and warmth.

Viviana greets us with a wide smile and guides us to the covered outdoor space where she works alongside her son and daughters-in-law.  They are learning from her, just as she learned from her grandmother.  In the corner, a pot of cochineal-dyed wax simmers over a wood fire.  It is hazy and aromatic.

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The wicks are suspended from wheels.  Viviana climbs on a small chair that she tells us she has been using for thirty years.  It is crusted with wax layers like an archeological discovery.

Today, there are only four artisans remaining in Teotitlan who craft these traditional candles that are used every life cycle celebration: baptisms, funerals, engagements (contentamientos), weddings.  These are candles used in the church, home altar rooms, and posadas during Christmas, Day of the Dead, and Semana Santa.

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We talk about the abuelas, the traditional grandmothers who keep craft alive. Viviana tells Crespo, you must present your wife with a bouquet of candles when you ask her to marry you.  Did you do that? she asks.  Crespo’s wife, Ana, stands next to us, smiles and says, no, but he will do that today!

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Claudia wonders how long this art form will survive as we watch Viviana first spit on and lick the bottom of the clay bowl before dipping it into the hot wax colored red with cochineal.  An enzyme in the saliva must make it easier to remove the wax once it hardens.  She then dips it into a bowl of cool water and peels off the circle that will become a flower decoration for an elaborate candle.

Will this be the last generation to do this work?  Is our visit something that only tourists do, as one village visitor said as she declined to join us?  What can we learn here about family, environmental sustainability, and the hard work and time that goes into creating something made by hand?  What do we value as a society?

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The family uses only natural dyes to color the beeswax and the clay molds made in Aztompa that Viviana inherited from her grandmother.  Her son shows us the molds that are intricately carved with figures of hummingbirds, nuts, ducks, and lilies.  The type of clay used then is no longer available today.

Should it be our responsibility to visit, support, and buy the handcrafts and artwork created here, whatever it is, in order to offer and demonstrate our respect for the traditions that keep a culture vibrant?  I believe so.

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Over the years, I have visited Maestra Viviana many times, never tiring of watching her create, the expression in her face, appreciating the knowledge and rootedness and love she expresses for her traditions.  I see the caring and support of her children who help her continue her work.  This is a blessing for all of us as she teaches the next generation of candle makers.

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Best to call in advance to make an appointment for a visit.  Impromptu often leads to the disappointment that no one will be home! Although serendipity happens, too!

Viviana Alavez Hipolito, Abasolo #7, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, tel: 951-524-4309

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Shop Mexico: The Artisan Sisters Week 10–Tin hearts Frida-style and a word about nichos

Oaxaca is filled with craftsmen tucked away in small corners of the city hammering tinware into picture frames, throbbing Frida-style hearts, and ornate boxes.  With hammer in hand, a large nail and metal clippers, they create exquisite designs in locally made metal.   The results can be as simple as a small nicho – a little shrine, altar or blessing box.  These are usually outfitted with a small glass door, empty inside, waiting to be filled with your own heart’s desire or whatever inspires you.  When you are finished, hang it on a wall or put it on a table top.

Today, the Artisan Sisters offer you a choice of beautiful tin hearts for sale, painted and ready to hang.  Finest quality tinware and painting. An inspiration to visit or return to Oaxaca!

Buy the entire collection of 4 REMAINING pieces below for $35 USD, includes shipping to anywhere in the USA.  To purchase, send me an email first!

Left:  SOLD. Tin heart with mirror, stunning crown, of red with blue accents, little turquoise dots rim the mirror.  See the reflection of the potted plant in the mirror? Measures 9-1/2″ high x 5″ wide.  An unusual piece, beautifully crafted!  Item #1.08192012.  $25 USD. Includes shipping to anywhere in USA.

 

 

Email me first to order.

Left:  Flying heart — Heart on Wings.  Hand-hammered tin and painted. This is the quintessential Frida-style heart that lifts the spirit.  Measures approx. Wingspan is 10″wide x 4″ high. Item #2.08192012. $15 USD. Includes shipping to anywhere in USA.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Above left:  Hearts surrounded by hearts!  Measures 7″ high x 5-1/4″ wide. Item #3.08192012.  $10.00 USD includes shipping to anywhere in USA.

Above right: Feathered crown heart.  Measures 5″ high x 3-1/4″ wide.  Item #4.08192012.  $8.00 USD includes shipping to anywhere in USA.

Left: Not a Heart. Circle with center mirror.  Measures 3-1/4″ diameter.  $10 USD includes shipping to anywhere in USA.

 

Email me first to place your order.

To order your own tin nicho to decorate yourself, contact Chiripa: Artisan Crafts of the Americas. They will give instructions with purchase! And, be sure to visit Nicodemus at the corner of Mina and J.P. Garcia or another artesania at the corner of Reforma and Abasolo for a great selection of tinware when you are in Oaxaca.

Shop Mexico: Week 3–Day of the Dead Extravaganza

The Artisan Sisters offer, on this Memorial Weekend Monday, unusual pieces by noted Oaxaca artisans who playfully render clay and wood into fanciful Day of the Dead figures.  Today’s line-up:  Josefina Aguilar, ceramic artist, Bertha Cruz, alebrijes painter, and Miguel Diaz.

1.  First,  we introduce you to The Happy Couple: Ready for a Stroll Around Town.  By famous Ocotlan de Morelos folk artist Josefina Aguilar. The glittery female Catrina rests on her parasol while balancing a cigarette holder in her other hand.  She stands tall at 11-1/2″ high x 5″ wide.  Her male companion is 13″ high x 4″ wide, complete with bow tie and top hat.  These are substantial figures, larger that what is typical.  Note: both heads rest on wire springs — the better to see you with, my dear.  Sold as a pair.  Item #5312012.2.  $265.  Day of the Dead is just around the corner!

    

3. Catrina Roja Negra. Bertha Cruz, an amazing alebrije painter from Arrazola, outdid herself on this figure.  Bertha began selling independently out of her home about four years ago. She is not represented in galleries. Her brush details are eensy teensy and exquisite. Her husband, Alfonso Castellanos Ibañez, does the carving but insists that she sign her name because the beauty is in the painting, he says.  She is quite collectible. 14″ high x 5″ wide. Item #5312012.3.  $225.

    

Alebrijes-Mexico, a German art resource, notes that “Bertha is a famous painter. Every single one of her alebrijes is a unique work of art. None of her sculptures matches any of the others. Each of her sculptures represents a three dimensional painting of the highest standard. She predominantly uses Zapotec motifs in subdued colors. She is without restriction one of the best artists in Mexico.”

4.  Donkey Playing Keyboard is a whimsical musician lady, she’s got the  rhythm, she’s got the beat. Carved copal wood and painted alebrije figure by Arrazola folk artist Miguel Diaz (signed).  9-7/8″ high x 3-1/2″ wide.  Item #5211012.4.  $45.

 

Don’t forget to contact us first by email  to see if the item you are interested in is still available.  We will send you an invoice after we calculate shipping costs based on your Zip Code.  Many thanks, Norma and Barbara, The Artisan Sisters.

Come see Oaxaca for yourself during Day of the Dead and attend our Photography Expedition, October 28-November 4.