Gallery Open House features Oaxacan woodcarvers

By Susan Page

While many types of Mexican folk art have their origins in pre-Hispanic art and have evolved over hundreds of years, the much beloved carved and painted wood animals, birds, and alebrijes (fanciful monsters) that have now made three Oaxacan villages famous for their wood carving, go back only as far as the 1950s. Small wooden toys and masks were commonly carved before that time, but in the early ‘50s, Manuel Jiménez Ramírez pioneered more elaborate and colorful animals and encouraged other wood carvers to do the same. It was not until the 1980s that the work became enormously popular. The author of a book about Oaxacan crafts says he spent three summers in Oaxaca during the 1960s, and was unaware that any woodcarving was going on at that time.

Galería Atotonilco Open House
Sat and Sun, Jun 29 & 30, 12-5pm
Featuring master wood carvers Claudio and Teresa Ojeda
Directions to the gallery in the ad in this issue

Now, more than 800 families in three villages make their living creating ever more beautiful and innovative woodcarvings. Among the most skilled and creative of these are Claudio and Teresa Ojeda, located in San Antonio Arrazola, right at the base of the magnificent mountaintop ruins of Monte Alban. The Ojedas have distinguished themselves by creating large-scale sculptures, and also by developing distinctive painting techniques that they preserve as their own and will pass on only to their two sons as a family inheritance.

The Ojeda’s spectacular woodcarvings have been among the most popular items at Galería Atotonilco over the years. Many visitors will remember the large, elaborate tree of life near the entrance to the gallery, built on the base of a real tree and covered with leaves, orchids, colorful mushrooms, feathered birds, a frog, and 15 hummingbirds. This piece recently sold to a German collector. But on our May trip to Oaxaca, as we spent a delightful day with the Ojedas, we were able to replace that tree of life with a stately tall cactus adorned with many of the same embellishments. We also bought many other Ojeda pieces, both large and small, that we are pleased to present at our open house on June 29 and 30. We will also introduce two new wood carvers whose work is quite different from the Ojedas and is especially appealing: Luisa Ortega and Pedro Mendoza.

We recently acquired some unusual vintage pieces from two distinguished collectors who were letting go of exceptional items, including Mexican straw hats dating back to the revolution of 1910, Tarahumara violins and baskets, a rare dance costume and mask from Guererro, pottery from the great master Emilio Molinaro, who is not producing work any more, and three spectacular vintage Olinala trunks. Also, our gallery of decorative blown glass is newly supplied with ever more imaginative vases, bowls, platters, and pitchers.

In May, we attended the annual competition among lacquer workers in the barely-accessible Guererro village of Tamalacatzingo. The artists create their most spectacular works for this competition. We were the only people buying that day and could select all of the most beautiful works. The luscious lacquer gourds and bowls sold quickly, but many more exceptional pieces still remain.

As one customer commented recently, “Anyone who leaves San Miguel without a visit to this gallery has missed one of its most spectacular attractions.”

The gallery, usually open only by appointment, will host an open house on Saturday and Sunday, June 29 and 30, from noon to 5pm each day. Directions to the gallery are in our ad in this issue. 185-2225.


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