Sunday, December 14, 2008

Maestros de Arte: Lake Chapala's folk art fair

Butterflies of death.  In early November, Carole and I visited the Feria Maestros de Arte (Masters of Art Fair) held at the Yacht Club in Chapala, about 5 miles east of Ajijic. The Yacht club sits right on the edge of the Lake and the late Fall day was sunny and gorgeous.  The skull above is an example of Mexico's whimsical attitude toward death. Butterflies have been revered in Mexico back to the  earliest civilizations, and have sometimes been connected with death. The artist here uses the Monarch butterfly to adorn a highly decorated skull.  Monarchs are famous for their incredible migration from Canada to Michoacan State, where they nest in the millions.

The Feria Maestros de Arte is an annual non-profit art show created and run (with plenty of volunteer help) by Marianne Carlson.  Carlson, an artist herself, travels around Mexico to visit remote towns and villages where folk art is still produced the traditional way.  She recruits the artists and craftspeople to come to the Feria and display their work.  

Huichol indian at work.  A gorgeously attired Huichol works on a small creation he hopes to sell in the Feria. Every part of the Huichol native dress has a meaning.  This is not a costume, only to be brought out and worn on special occasions or for tourists.  This is how they dress for everyday life.  I have seen photographs of Huicholes in their remote homeland dressed in similar outfits while tending crops or grinding corn for tortillas.  The Huichol native land lies in remote mountain valleys on the border of Jalisco and Nayarit States. They are a poor but very proud people.  Their displacement from some of their lands has led many to migrate to the Lake Chapala area where they are often seen on the streets and at the Wednesday tianguis (street market) selling their incredibly intricate bead creations. 

Huichol bead creations utilize abstract and animal symbols. The jewelry above is typical of what Huichols sell on the street.  Some of the crafts are much bigger and  more intricate, taking the three-dimensional shapes of turtles, jaguars, and other animals. A friend of mine once calculated that a one-foot square creation contained 60,000 beads. I asked a craftsman once how long a large piece on which he was working would take to finish.  He looked at me for a moment and said "until I am done".

Taking it easy the old-fashioned way.  The figure above is a reproduction of the pre-hispanic style. The ancients of Western Mexico often portrayed human and animal  figures in a very naturalistic way, similar to this one.

Three men and a dog.  Dogs were a common theme in pre-hispanic Western Mexico.  The artists' representation above closely resembles 500+ years-old figures I have seen in the Museo Regional de Guadalajara (see my two-part posting  from the November archive).  

Oaxacan weaver spinning wool by hand. The Indio woman above demonstrated the ancient technique of wool-spinning. Before spinning, she carded the wool with the tool at her feet. Examples of her final products hang around her.  She was assisted by two adolescent girls, possibly family members, who were learning her techniques. Weavers from Oaxaca State in Southern Mexico are renowned for their rugs, blankets and other woven products.

Hand-operated loom is a work of art in itself. This is not a museum artifact from a bygone day. Looms like this are functional and use no energy other than that generated by the operator. While strolling around Ajijic, I have come across several similar looms. Their operators have been very gracious in allowing  me to observe them at their work. Notice how the moving parts are connected by twine. There is very little metal in this wooden structure.

Catrina on the way to the water well. Several of the artists specialized in Catrinas, which are closely associated with the Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). Catrinas (known as Catrinos if they portray a male figure) grew out of cartoons by a Mexican journalist Guadalupe Posada who portrayed people from all stations of society as skeletons wearing their natural dress and performing everyday activities.  He especially loved showing Mexican woman of the upwardly striving classes wearing the French fashions of the day, with the low cut dresses showing off the bare bones of their chests. Catrina dolls have become a Mexican tradition and can be found in all sizes from a few inches tall to over six feet.

Catrina at work in her kitchen. The artist here shows a Catrina in a particular style of native dress working in a wonderfully decorated kitchen.  A Catrina-style pet enjoys dinner out of his bowl. The addition of the dog adds a nice touch to the humorous tableau.

Flaming skull contains details within details. Notice that the eyes of the skull are tiny skulls themselves.  Various small creatures crawl about among the flames sprouting from the skull. I found this an especially striking creation.

The raffle prize I didn't win.  This skull, by a different artist, was one of the prizes offered in a raffle at the Feria.  We bought several tickets, but since I had never in my life won a raffle, I had no expectations. Later we got a call to pick up our prize. I had lusted after this skull but, alas, it went to someone else. The decoration reminded  me of  the fantastically intricate doodles my boss used to create during especially boring meetings.

Hand-painted plate created through ancient techniques. The artist did everything by hand, using methods handed down though generations of craftsmen.  It takes a steady hand and good eye to paint the finely detailed figures and designs.

Young dancers added extra sparkle to the Feria. There were several groups of dancers at the Feria and we got to see this troupe perform traditional campesino dances.  In this particular dance, the pretty girl flirts with the young boy and they playfully struggle over her water jug which inevitably breaks.  He is crestfallen, but is rewarded with a sweet kiss. 

Young beauty takes a bow. At the end of one of her performances, this  young beauty curtsied to the crowd. Her fellow performers look on appreciatively, and perhaps enviously. Like everyone else, we were captivated. Dances like this have been performed at public events for centuries.

This concludes my posting on the Feria Maestros de Arts.  In a future post I will show the workshops in Tonala, Guadalajara where some wonderful crafts can be seen in the process of creation.  Please feel free to comment below or by email if you'd like.

Hasta luego, Jim

1 comment:

  1. Jim, I've enjoyed your blog for some time and the pictures in this post are just great, what amazing pieces of art! I was wondering if I could use the picture of the monarch skull on a website of mine? I would be happy to properly reference you as the owner of the photo.

    Cheers, Thomas


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