One of the popular arts for which Mexico is most famous is the wood carvings of Oaxaca. In fact, if people only know one thing about folk art from Mexico, it’s usually about the wood carvings or “alebrijes” which they’ve seen at the beach resorts or airports of coastal Mexico.
The carving of masks and children’s toys in the Oaxaca area dates back hundreds, if not thousands of years, but the current expression of wood carvers in Oaxaca’s surrounding villages was started in the small town of Arrazola by Manuel Jiménez in the late 1950′s. Now, three tiny villages –Arrazola, San Martin Tilcajete, and La Union–are known for their carvings and carvers. The lives of these artisans are not easy. Oaxaca is one of the poorest states in Mexico and most of the carvers living in these villages are subsistence farmers and carve their beautiful pieces for extra income.
A few carvers have done exceedingly well and are world-renowned. This is true for Jacobo Angeles whose amazing work can take months to complete. He employs many, many family members in his lovely home in San Martin Tilcajete. His taste and ability are exquisite and his carvings are highly regarded and highly sought after. We carry the beautiful carved hummingbirds as seen below:
Jacobo’s sister, Roberta, carved this stunning nativity set and it too is exceptional in its concept and execution. Truly a unique and collectible piece.
There are many, many very skilled carvers in Oaxaca and I wish I could feature all of them. I plan to feature others in the days ahead.
Today, I want to recommend a couple of carving families in addition to the familia Angeles, and those are first, Flor and Abad Xuana and second, Aurelia and Juventino Melchor. In both of these families, the man does the carving and the woman does the painting. And in both cases, each person is an artist extraordinaire!
I’ve carried the carvings of the Xuanas before and they will always be some of my favorites. Flor is one of the tiniest people I’ve ever met and one of the most lovely. This photo was taken at the Day of the Dead show in Oaxaca.
Here are some of the lovely pieces that I purchased from Flor and are now available at Zinnia Folk Arts.
There is another couple from San Martin Tilcajete who does very nice work. They are named, Juventino and Aurelia Melchor. I especially fell in love with their bunnies and have quite a few of them in the shop. Here are two in the website shop…
For more information about Oaxacan wood carving and carvers as well as the inevitable politics of it all, you can read, Oaxacan Woodcarving by Shepard Barbash (1993). Another writer is Michael Chibnick and his book is Crafting Tradition: The Making and Marketing of Oaxacan Wood Carvings.
As always, if you have any questions, please ask!
Many times when people look at Mexican folk art pieces in the shop, they ask about the meaning. And many pieces of Mexican folk art are derived from a long tradition of carving, potting, beading and a history unique to the particular region or pueblo from which that item came. But there are also pieces of folk art that are just fun and whimsical and may have an attenuated connection to the past and to a greater meaning but are like toys in that they are mostly for pure joy and amusement. Some of the most colorful and unique pieces of Mexican folk art are categorized in the arena of “toys.”
Though some of the pieces are not meant for children to literally play with, other pieces are. “The Mexican toy world is full of delightfully fantastic objects and peopled with fanciful animals…If all the types of toys could be gathered in one place, they would constitute a great ensemble of beauty, grotesqueness and humor. There would be clay, glass and petate (fiber) insects, birds and animals of all sizes and colors, some with whistles in their tails; animals playing instruments, pigs adorned with flowers, tin rattles…There are many household toys—furniture of all kinds, tiny perfectly formed sets of dishes, mortars and stoves. Dolls and marionettes made from wood or paper mache are common in many regions. The make believe world of children is generally like the adult world, filled with beliefs in magic and miracles…”
Frances Toor, A Treasury of Mexican Folkways
Come visit us and put a smile on your face…Celebrate the joy of the great country of Mexico… See the ART in folk art!
We’re open Tuesday-Friday 11-6, Saturdays 10-5
Closed on Sunday & Monday
As you know, I’m super busy trying to get the shop fixed up and opened by the end of April. So, today I’m sending you a little photo spread of some folk art toys that are quintessentially Mexican…lacquered vehicles, circus rides, animals, carved ox carts…none of these are really “toys” in the sense of permitting a child to play with them but they are whimsical pieces, often taken from common images in the lives of Mexican artisans. Yes, you really do see oxcarts, horses, chickens, and animals playing instruments and of course, bright colors everywhere…
Masks have been an important part of the dances and ceremonies of Mexico for hundreds of years. Barbara Mauldin’s book Masks of Mexico is devoted to the mask culture of various regions of the great country of Mexico. She beautifully explains the dances that some masks are connected to and the Indian beliefs that underlie the ritual dance and the mask-wearing. And the photos are wonderful. Ms. Mauldin is a curator at the International Museum of Folk Art and has access to their fabulous collection of masks.
These photos are not masks that would be used for dancing except the first one. And that one was probably for a child. Most of these masks are quite small and are meant for display only. Some are paper mache, some are wood, some are leather.
Some of these masks have been sold but some are for sale right here.
Generally, when the subject of folk art from Mexico comes up, people usually think of the wood carvings of Oaxaca. These colorful little ambassadors have become world-renowned as representative of Mexico and can literally be found almost everywhere. They have so saturated the thinking of what is Mexican folk art that it can be difficult to pull people away to see that the handmade arts of Mexico encompass so much more.
Did you know that this carving is from Oaxaca? No? Sadly, when one says, “wood carvings of Mexico” the carvings of artisans from the Oaxaca area bring to mind multi-colorful, overpainted, roosters with toothpicks sticking out of their backs. They come in many colors and are mostly animals with bright colors and lots of dots. Or fantastic creatures called, “alebrijes” which I’ve always found unappealing.
The Oaxacan carvings we carry at Zinnia Folk Arts are somewhat different. We prefer the more rustic carving style. This more primitive (less decorated) style comes from the tiny town of La Union, Oaxaca. Many of the carvings we carry are by the Santiago family. The pineapple lady above was carved by Eloy Santiago, and the cart below by his cousin.
The colorful musicians are another example of the more rustic style.
Another town in Oaxaca, known for its woodcarvers, is San Martin Tilcajete. And these styles, below, (hummingbird by Angeles family and tiny masks by Xuana family) are more indicative of the aesthetic in that town.
Which style do you prefer?
Because over 90% of Mexico is Catholic, one finds lots of charming and beautiful hand-made religious folk art all over the country. The saints, above, are from Guatemala, another very Catholic country. Religion is a part of every day life in Mexico, from the home altar to crossing oneself in front of every church, to the pinning of milagros, to the omnipresent image of the Virgin of Guadalupe. Catholicism is not native to Mexico–the Spanish brought it with them in the 1500′s. In indigenous towns and villages one still finds religious practices that harken back to the days before the conquest.
If you’d like more about each of the pieces, click on the photo!
Zinnia Folk Arts at GUILD
4414 Excelsior Blvd
St. Louis Park, MN
Friday & Saturday, Dec 16, 17: 10-6
Sunday, Dec 18: 12-5
Monday-Friday, Dec 19-23: 10-6 (Yes, we’re open on Monday next week)
Saturday, Dec 24: 10-3
CLOSED on Christmas & Monday, Dec 26
Tuesday, Dec 27: 10-6
Select Online orders by Saturday, Dec 17 to assure Christmas delivery
Here are a few shots of some of the Guatemalan saints now at GUILD. They are all hand carved and hand painted. We have lots of choices in colors and saints (St. Francis, John the Baptist, Jesus, St. Dominic, St. Anthony and others…muchos! These are about 15″ tall. We also have some that are 8″ tall.
If you can’t make it to GUILD or you are looking for one particular saint, let me know, and I can send you some photos of what’s available.
St. Dominic is online right here.