Sunday, November 22, 2015

XLVII. Feria Maestros del Arte

Masters of Art Fair

A detail from near the center of the Otomi wall hanging we recently purchased.
Last Saturday my folk art-loving wife and I attended the 14th annual indigenous art show held over the long Revolution Day weekend in the nearby town of Chapala. This fair gathers nearly 100 of the best artisans from all over Mexico who are masters of a variety of folk arts. Most are from remote areas where traditional styles and techniques have been passed down for ages within certain families. The fair offers them exposure in what is considered the most prestigious gathering of its kind, as well as a marketplace for their goods that allows them not only to continue their work, but to train and employ others in their hometowns.

A close-up of the detail above, showing the individual threads.
Before we left home we gave ourselves a budget and told ourselves that if we didn’t see anything we liked more than the etching we had recently bought from a local artist, Jesus Lopez Vega, we would put the money in a kitty to purchase a larger work from him. As it turned out, after touring all of the booths, we came back to the very first piece that impressed us. It was within our budget, and after consulting each other about where we could display it, we made the purchase.

The piece we bought was a six-foot long embroidered wall hanging made by a lady from the small village of San Pablito—in a hard-to-reach mountainous area of Puebla state, about 100
At about six feet in length and 18 inches width, our Otomi wall hanging found its
place in our dining area. We bought it for the equivalent of about $75 US
dollars, which is a good deal for all involved.
miles northeast of Mexico City. This is an area inhabited for centuries by the Otomi people, and the style of the piece we bought is particular to them. We were taken by the well-chosen variety of bright colors, the style and organization of the whimsical animal and plant figures on the unbleached muslin background,
and the accomplished embroidery.

The first step in making this piece is to draw the design in water-soluble ink on the muslinno stencils are used. Then the work is embroidered. The thread is not drawn through to the back, it is simply pricked part way through the cloth and returned, back and forth. Finally, the piece is carefully washed or soaked to remove the ink drawing. 

Our Otomi art now hangs next to our dining table and brightens our casa. We enjoy looking at it and imagining the care it took to create in the small and isolated village from which it came.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

XLVI. Día de los Muertos

Day of the Dead

The cemetery is a happening place on All Soul's Night, November 2. This year,
from Ajijic's panteon our oldest daughter hiked the parade route to the plaza
where we joined her for the festivities. 
I’m not certain when I first heard of the Mexican holiday, Dia de los Muertos—Day of the Dead. Sometime over thirty years ago is my best guess. I do know that I was so straightaway taken with the name that it challenged me to learn more about the celebration. I gained a bit of knowledge: the cemetery vigils at makeshift shrines to commune with dead loved ones, the calaveras—decorated skulls usually made of sugar paste with colored frosting and spangles—and catrinas, the skeleton sculptures modeled on an old etching, dressed in clothing denoting all manner of lively and everyday occupations. 

On the street leading into the parish  Catholic church in Ajijic a
block-long "painting" of colored sawdust is just being finished.
It was a Phoenix museum display of life-sized catrinas made of papier mâché and dressed in costumes ranging from bargirls and society matrons to cowboys and businessmen, even with their skeleton dogs and horses, that sealed the deal of my infatuation with this holiday. The images were illustrating the truth that we are all just a collection of similar bones underneath the proud finery of our clothing, and the distinguishing covering of our often pampered skin, with its underlying layer of idiosyncratic fat and muscle.

A decade later I took a trip to Oaxaca, in southern Mexico, during the first two days of November when this holiday is celebrated. Altars dedicated to dead loved ones and sidewalk “paintings” composed of different-colored flower petals were the principal daytime features marking the occasion. It was at night, though, that the most distinctive moments occurred. A candlelight procession to a small town cemetery revealed families lounging, drinking, eating, playing, and quietly talking at the newly spruced up grave of their loved one. They brought to
An Ajijic plaza altar is visited by the lady in magenta pants who carefully
stepped over the marigold decorations being applied. Notice the small white
candles on the sidewalk in the shape of a cross, guiding the soul to the altar.
this occasion those things that were most memorable in the person’s life, and with which they might have decorated an altar—guitar, soccer ball, bottle of mescal, or recording of a favorite song might be some examples. 

I read that here, in Mexico, the celebration of these days is an amalgam of pre-Columbian observance of ancestral deaths and the three-day Catholic celebration of Allhallowtide, which includes the now completely secular Halloween. Probably typical of most Christian families in the United States, this playful comfort with death was missing from my upbringing. I enjoy having it as part of my new culture.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

XLV. Virgen del Rosario, 2015

Virgin of the Rosary

For the entire month of October the effigy of the little Virgin, who normally resides in the old chapel by our plaza, goes walkabout among the other churches in our small town. Every morning for the past four weeks these o'dark hundred processions have been announced by tolling bells and exploding sky rockets. That all ended last Saturday with a BIG parade that took her back home where she'll remain for the next eleven months. This tradition has been going on for--literally--hundreds of years. This time it was witnessed--wide-eyed--by me and our daughters who were here for the first day of a week-long visit.

Papales piscados--"chopped paper" flags fly from the old chapel's fence to belfry to welcome the Virgin back home.

Each barrio in our town had its own Catholic-themed float in the big parade that filed past our balcony (far left) for half an hour on its way to a chapel at Seis Esquinas--"Six Corners" neighborhood--and then to the Parish Church for an outdoor mass.

A troupe of fantastically costumed dancers preceded each one of the dozen or so religious floats. The contrast between the immobile "religious" actors and wildly gyrating "pagans" was striking.

These cute little girlfriends had their own place in the parade.

The little Virgin herself ended the parade, here solemnly carried past Bar El Camaleon.

Castillos--"castles"--are colored fireworks that spin from scaffolding. Here they are in front of the chapel, obscured by smoke. They are lit by their daredevil engineers who often climb the structures to reach the fuse. This was the final stage in the day's celebration. Moments later we went inside the chapel and there was the little Virgin mounted high above the altar. She'll stay there until next October when she goes around the town again, just as she has for--literally--hundreds of years.

Safety considerations are pretty non-existent here. Sparks showered down from the castillos on young boys darting among them with pieces of cardboard over their heads. Meanwhile, nearby, a band blared loudly from a strobe-lit stage.

On a neighboring side street, an empty carnival ride awaits youngsters on their way home from the festivities at the plaza.