Textiles and lacquer highlight gallery open house

By Susan Page

Galería Atotonilco owner, Mayer Shacter, and I (his wife) just returned from our annual buying trip for the gallery with our giant van filled to overflowing. The gallery has a whole new look, which you will see when you attend our not-to-be-missed open house, Saturday and Sunday, June 28 and 29, from noon to 5pm each day. The trip took us to Guerrero, Puebla, Veracruz, Chiapas, Oaxaca – and this year, for the first time, to Guatemala as well. The gallery is overflowing with gorgeous new items, including handcrafted knives from Oaxaca, beaded iguanas from Chiapas, ceramic trees of life from two villages, antique carved slingshots from Guatemala, embroideries from Chiapas, new works by the ceramic artist Gustavo Pérez, and award-winning iron crosses by Guadalupe Hermosillo. Here I will describe a few highlights among the items you will see in the gallery.

Lacquer from Tamalacatzingo

Once again, we attended the local concurso (competition) in the isolated and barely accessible mountain village of Tamalacatzingo, Guerrero, one of

only five towns in all of Mexico that produce lacquer ware.

About 10 years ago, anthropologist Marta Turok spent time in the village persuading the artists to return to using traditional chia oil, mineral earth powders and plants for color, ingredients that had been abandoned in favor of less expensive linseed oil ,  and commercial dyes. Virtually all the artists now announce with pride that they have returned to the centuries-old natural materials. The result is an unctuous, translucent quality, and soft depth of color unobtainable with artificial chemicals.

To lacquer a gourd or bowl, the artist applies chia oil, works in in a mineral powder impregnated with color, and then burnishes this mix with a smooth pyrite stone. These stages of chia oil, mineral powders and burnishing, the artist repeats over and over. The more layers, the greater the translucency, depth of color, and soft jewel-like quality that results. These gourds may be the Faberge Eggs of Mexico!

Guatemalan Textiles

Seventy percent of the population of Guatemala today is indigenous Maya peoples. Through many centuries of hardships and setbacks, the Maya have retained their identity, their religion (mixed with Catholicism), and their distinctive crafts, most importantly weaving. Their huipils, belts, wall hangings, bedspreads, and fabrics are filled with traditional symbols of ancient creation myths and life concepts. These have been transmitted over centuries through ritual and religious ceremony, song, dance, and always through weaving.

We visited six villages around Lake Atitlan and returned with a treasure of weavings, some of them astonishingly complex and all of them gorgeous. Today, they can be worn or used as wall hangings, table runners, bedspreads, or just to treasure for their sheer beauty and cultural significance.

Ceramic Works by Jose Juan Aguilar

The Aguilar sisters have been well-known ceramic folk artists for many decades, working in Ocotlan, a village near Oaxaca. We first visited their studio in 2002, before we moved to Mexico. They had work on display, but Mayer always wants to snoop around the storage shelves in the back rooms. “May I see that piece?” “Oh that’s by my son, Jose Juan,” we were told. We were astonished at both the subject matter (“Life and Death in the Sea”) and the brilliant craftsmanship, and we bought the piece. Jose Juan was 28, very shy, and very sweet. We have been buying his work ever since and find it to be the most innovative and beautifully crafted work in the entire family. On this trip, we selected a dozen or more of his pieces, including a large Frida figure surrounded by sculptures of her paintings and many of his highly complex insects that sold fast out of the gallery last year. Jose Juan is now 40 and has three young children. He is still very shy and lovable.

José Juan Aguilar’s work is a good example that it’s possible to own a masterpiece of art for less than a thousand dollars. If the work were a painting, it would be thousands of dollars. The highest quality folk art is amazingly affordable!

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