Friday, April 10, 2009

Uruapan Part 4 - The art scene

Guaranteed to scare. The center of Uruapan's art scene is the Fabrica San Pedro, also known as the Fabrica de Hilados y Tejidos. Carole and I visited this old textile factory, long since converted into a center for folk arts and crafts. The Fabrica is located about six blocks southwest of the zocalo (main plaza). Among the crafts the Fabrica is seeking to keep alive is the art of mask making. Masks have a history in Mexico that long pre-dates the Spanish. I found the one above particularly interesting not only because of its size (about 4 feet by 3 feet) but because of the human face depicted inside the jaws of the creature's face.

New use for old wheels. The Fabrica was built in 1886 and at its peak produced 40,000 blankets. Most of the old machinery has been dismantled and some of the pieces have been used in various works of art. Others, such as flywheels shown above, have been welded together to form walls and barriers which create smaller work and display areas within the cavernous spaces of the factory floor.

A work of art in itself. Like a good deal of 19th Century machinery, this piece shows an elegance in design that apparently led someone to display it in the gallery area. In the 1980s, American expatriates Walter and Bundy Illsley bought the mill and began using it to create traditional textiles for export all over the world. They also set aside areas for artists and crafts people to work and display their products. The Fabrica provides one of the major facilites for the annual folk art festival held during Santa Semana (Easter week), when thousands of indigenous folk artists converge for one of the premier folk art displays in Mexico.

Loops of yarn dry in the sun. The Fabrica still uses some of its old machines to produce yarn for weaving. I discovered these loops drying in the sun in the rustic backyard area of the factory. I was attracted to the long looping rows and the shadows they cast on the ground below.

Doing it the old-fashioned way. This ancient wooden loom still produces beautiful work. There are almost no metal parts used in its construction. The various parts of its wooden machinery are connected together with twine. The power to drive the loom comes from human hands and feet pushing on its various wooden levers. I have seen similar looms operating in the shops of Ajijic weavers.

Another ancient craft. The Purepecha indians of Michoacan were renowned throughout Mexico for their woodworking long before the arrival of the Spanish. The abundance of wood in the heavily forested mountains helped the development of the craft. After the bloody chaos of the early phase of the Conquest, Bishop Quiroga encouraged different villages to specialize in various crafts in order to rebuild the local indian economy. He is still viewed with reverence throughout Michoacan. While his views were based on Sir Thomas More's book, Utopia, the specialization he introduced has lasted for 500 years, so it could fairly be said they have stood the test of time.

Kinetic art. I found this large stone and metal bird on the main floor of the Fabrica. The fulcrum is the large stone which provides the body of the bird. The bird is delicately balanced so that a touch to its beak or tail will set it bobbing up and down. A similar, but much larger, bird graces the patio in front of the Centro Cultural in Ajijic. It never fails to delight passing children. I suspect the artist may be the same person.

Fine leatherwork was introduced by the Spanish who brought in cattle. This fine Mexican-style saddle is an example of the pairing of beauty and utility. The broad flat wooden pommel (upright post) on the front of the saddle marks it as Mexican.

Purepecha Venus. This exquisitely carved wooden statue was one of two I found in the lobby of the Hotel Victoria near the zocalo. The goddess figure holds a rooster, snarling somewhat oddly with bared fangs.

A pair of Catrina dolls, all dressed up for a day on the town. Catrinas are part of the humorous view Mexicans take of death. The Catrina on the left holds a bouquet of marigolds, another symbol of death. Both of them wear the ubiquitous robozo so beloved by Mexican women. I found these dolls in the lobby of the Hotel Plaza, which forms the west end of the zocalo. The two photos which follow were also in the Plaza lobby.

Ceramics form another part of the wonderful folk art of Michoacan. The platter above, called a "batea", is beautifully laquered. The two objects below the platter are ceramic pineapples, a speciality of the village of San Jose de Gracia outside Uruapan.

Copper and wood, two of Michoacan's original crafts. While my eye was originally drawn to the graceful copper vase, when I looked again, I was delighted by the wonderful carved wood panels which frame the vase. Santa Clara de Cobre, a village northeast of Uruapan is a center of copper work in the area.

Hotel Mi Solar, one of Uruapans oldest hotels. I can't finish my series on Uruapan without a few comments about the Mi Solar. Built in the 1800's as a manor house, Mi Solar has been converted into a Bed and Breakfast hotel. In recent years, the owners refurbished the hotel and filled it throughout with lovely examples of Michoacan woodwork, including some in our room. The dining room, where the meals were tasty and filling, also had several large, finely carved pieces of wooden furniture including the bar.

A cool courtyard, one of two in Mi Solar. The architect who refurbished the Mi Solar had a fine eye for detail and design. The hotel sits on a side street only a couple of blocks from the zocalo and the other attractions of El Centro. Mi Solar provides secure, off-street parking, one of our requirements when we go adventuring in these old colonial cities with their narrow cobblestone streets.

This completes my posting on Uruapan's art scene, and my 4-part series on Uruapan and its surrounding attractions. I hope you enjoyed them all. Anyone considering a visit to Michoacan should certainly include a stop in Uruapan, one of Mexico's too-often overlooked gems.

Hasta luego! Jim

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