Sunday, April 25, 2010

Calabacitas-- Burnished Clay Squash

Since we started Mexico By Hand, the burnished clay squash have always been a special item for our customers. In 2005, the first year we exhibited at the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market, we had 25 of them-- and sold out in two days. They reflect a love of nature, create a warmth in one's home, and of course are beautiful to the eye. Many people, including me, enjoy stroking them as well, as they are so smooth and sensuous. Really they are.

The Martinez family has one of the three workshops on the same short block in Zinapecuaro, Michoacán-- where the calabazas or burnished squash are made. We had been buying from the other two artisan families for many years now, but a couple of years ago we discovered the Martinez family -- dad, mom and son-- thanks to this boy here, who is NOT a member of the family. On one of our annual trips to the town, this guy came out to hustle us inside, as he saw us going into his neighbor's place, our friends the Hernandez Cano family, to buy clay squash. In other words, he was trying to steer us away from the competition. We agreed to come by afterwards, and we did. The mini squash are a new thing in town, and the Señora's specialty. Her husband, Ventura Martinez and their son, Fernando, make the large ones. The chico spends a lot of time helping the Señora, instead of going to school because he says it doesn't interest him. She in turn feeds him and basically mothers him, something he apparently doesn't get much of in his own family. I hope the boy listens to my advice about the importance of knowing how to read and do math if you're going to be a successful artisan. Obviously he finds something interesting and worth learning in this family's clay workshop. Who knows, maybe I'll buy one of his creations someday if he sticks with it and learns the craft.

 These beautiful  burnished squash come in a variety of sizes and colors and are available at the Mexican Museum store in San Francisco and on our website: Please contact us at (510) 526-6395 for more info. if you'd like to order.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Sustainable Woven Tule Baskets

Every day should be Earth Day, don't you think?
This traditional woven basket from Michoacán is almost an endangered species, because most Mexicans are now using insulated plastic or styrofoam tortilleros. They do the job and keep the tortillas hot, but most everyone agrees they're pretty ugly. The tortillero here was handmade by an indigenous artisan near Lake Patzcuaro, and the material used came right from the shores of the lake. It's called chuspata there, but more commonly known here as tule reeds. Wrap up your tortillitas in a handwoven or embroidered servilleta (napkin) and serve them in this pretty basket-- and you've got yourself an eco-friendly sustainable item for your home. Plus you're helping employ poor folks in Mexico who can really use the income. The chuspata artisans also make animal figures, and even lamps and furniture that are reinforced and quite strong! It's a sustainable craft that gives your home that touch of soul and charm we all desire. Please contact us if you're interested in making a purchase at We also sell wholesale to stores and restaurants.

I often buy from señora Juliana whose family workshop is located in the pueblo of Ihuatzio. Here she demonstrates figure weaving with another kind of plant material they call popote or straw. You can often find her here at La Casa de los Once Patios in Patzcuaro.

Above is a typical woven fish, one of the many animal figures made by skilled Purepecha artists. Below on the left, a beautiful chuspata tray with handles. And below on the right-- a lovely, yet sturdy chuspata chair and lamp made from tule reeds from around Lake Patzcuaro.