Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Wooden carving from workshop in San Martin Tilcajete, Oaxaca in Mexico


Villages surrounding Oaxaca are occupied mostly by indigenous Zapotec people noted for their folk art.

Ram carved from copal wood
San Martin Tilcajete and Arrazola are the centers for the carving and painting of small wooden animals. Twenty years ago a struggling farmer, Manuel Jiminez, started carving these fanciful animals from the wood of the copal tree and the little creatures have now become so popular with visitors to Oaxaca that family workshops in the village find it a fulltime job keeping up with the demand. 

Right now I have two wooden cats from San Martin Tilcajete on my TV; one red, one blue covered with painted flowers and I consider them among my most successful foreign purchases.

Another small village, Santa Maria Atzompa, is famous for its green glaze pottery.  The entire village comprising family workshops, is a hive of activity.   Their traditional pots come in a variety of shapes, from mermaids and angels to turkeys and iguanas.  They are used as containers for salsa and for Oaxaca's famous chocolate.

San Bartolo Coyotepec is the home of burnished black pottery made in the studio of Dona Rosa, a famous peasant potter. In her lifetime she was visited by the rich and famous including Jimmy Carter and Rockefeller.  While touring the pottery I saw an incised gleaming black bowl that was absolutely beautiful.  The process of burnishing is achieved by rubbing the pot with a stone to give it a lusturous finish.  It was selling for 380 pesos (about $38), a pittance for a superb article. 

Pueblo of Bulmaro Perez Mendoza
 Bulmaro Perez Mendoza, a master weaver heads a  community of rug weavers in the village of Teotitlan del Valle. Traditionally, Mendoza and his family use only natural dyes, mohair and pure wool for their beautiful rugs and wall hangings. No chemical dyes or acrylic blends here.

The raw wool is purchased in local markets, washed in the river to remove impurities, then carded and spun by family members including Mendoza's wife, mother, grandmother and great grandmother. 

Each year a grand family outing sees all 25 family members of the Mendoza clan take to the mountains where they harvest the plants used for making their natural dyes. Using "cochineal" for the colour red, alfalfa for green, marigolds for orange, and for gold they harvest pomegranate shells from plants growing alongside the path leading to their pueblo. Nut shells produce a rich brown and the huisache plant, black. 

 Handwoven rugs made on family built looms using wool purchased from local farmers and dyed with their own plant dyes, are absolutely stunning.  I left having acquired not one, but two treasured heirloom rugs.

Photos copyright Anne Gordon

Posted by Anne Gordon on Tuesday, 4th January, 2011


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