Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Giving Thanks

It's the day before Thanksgiving and with all the madness of food prep and housecleaning, I realized that I need to take a minute to reflect upon all that I am grateful for at this moment in time. It has been five years since we began this venture...which is something that we sort of fell into, really. I didn't go to Mexico in June of 2003 with the idea of starting an import business, it just evolved and came about organically because of mainly two things: the Art and the Relationships. The art speaks for itself. It is beautiful and inspiring and gets better every year. I never, and I mean never get tired of looking at it.
Though the public events we do are always a lot of work, I enjoy watching people admire the amazing art I am able to bring back from Michoacan... it feels so good when I get to share this gift I have been given with others.
The photo above represents the relationship part of this business. I am using it this year again in promotion of my upcoming annual event for loyal Mexico By Hand customers who live in the Bay Area. (please email me if you'd like to be on the list) I can't remember who in my family actually took the photo, but the creator of that beautiful display of our copper pieces was a brilliant and talented artist, designer, and friend named Reuben Godinez. He was originally from Michoacán it turns out, and immigrated to Napa when he was 14. He received his MFA from the California College of Arts and Crafts, and went on to do too many things to mention here. We met at our first Dia de los Muertos show in 2005, and collaborated several times since then, including our most recent exhibit at the Petaluma Arts Center. Reuben loved this year's catrinas (see below).

After working his heart out on yet another masterpiece for the Day of the Dead celebration, Reuben died on Nov. 14 at the age of 34. I am so sad about this terrible loss, but extremely grateful for the opportunity to have known him through my work. His own art was contemporary and edgy, but together we appreciated the artisans of his homeland, respected and loved each other, and had fun bringing the art to those who were fortunate to experience it. I will miss Reuben, but his passion for life and his influence on me will live on.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Day of the can't be serious!

Day of the Dead. Like the notion of an after life, one needs to suspend disbelief. We don't actually KNOW what happens after we die, even if one believes in a heaven and hell, no one has been there and returned to report what it actually looks like. So when a woman at a recent Dia de los Muertos event pointed out how weird it is to see a skeleton such as the one below with breasts, I am amused. Yes, it is unrealistic, but is it less "real" than all the other religious rituals and spiritual practices surrounding death and dying? The whole idea of playing with death, dressing up skeleton figures in clothing and arranging them in life-like poses, is to say "whatever" is all possible. And impossible too. Without getting too deep into these questions, the idea that one day we are alive and then one day we die and no longer exist...that can't be possible. And if it is true, I don't think we should put up with it.
Please enjoy these examples of some talented Mexican artist's imaginations-- inviting us to let go of what we think is real and unreal.

These and other skeleton figures, also known as catrinas and calacas, are available for purchase.
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Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Spirit Sashes

We first got to know Nati when we were shooting our video documentary for La Casa de las Artesanias (the Michoacán Folk Art Center) and right away we knew that she was special. How many people can endure so much illness and hardship, and manage to smile like that? Polio as a child, and barely surviving cancer shortly before we met, Nati has always inspired Doug and me. When I look at this photo-- her crippled feet tucked under and her wooden crutches nearby-- with that big warm smile... I feel this gentle woman's strong spirit and determination.

Natividad Romero Casimiro makes each of her weavings with love, generosity, and gratitude, and the hope that tomorrow will be better. For that reason, I call them "spirit sashes".
Recently a woman asked me at an exhibit for Dia de los Muertos, what these woven pieces sashes called fajas are for. I answered that the women who make them use them as belts, but one could make a camera or guitar strap out of them, or simply hang them for decoration. All were correct answers to her question. But I needed to tell her so much more. I needed to say that all of Nati's woven belts, bags, and table runners carry the same designs used by her ancestors, the Purepecha women who came before her and who taught the next generation, as she is now doing. When I look at her weavings I am reminded of all the poor Mexican campesinos who struggle to hold on to their indigenous traditions. Weavings from Cuanajo-- even from this master artisan-- have never been commercially successful. Mexicans and Americans alike usually fail to understand that $70 (my reduced price) is not a lot of money for this work. So I end up selling what I buy from Nati at my cost...which gives her a few more pesos for food or bus tickets or yarn, so that she might keep doing what she knows until she can't any do it any longer.
We hadn't seen Nati for a couple of years, though we saw her mother last summer, and we were anxiously hoping to find her at home this time when we brought our tour group this past August. There she was, as soon as we turned into Cuanajo, walking down the dirt road towards her house. We stopped to pick her up, and after kisses and happy exclamations of "que milagro", we quickly noticed how the diabetes has taken its toll on this woman who has already suffered so much. We all treasured that visit...our tourists also found Nati and her family special, and they enthusiastically bought numerous weavings to take back home. Below Nati proudly posed this summer with one of her cotton fajas. Her mother, Maria Guadalupe (right) is holding a certificate Nati received in recognition of a weaving course she gave. Maria, also an excellent weaver, recently stopped weaving due to the arthritis in her hands.
To see or purchase cotton fajas or wool purses (morral) please go to our website: