Thursday, September 1, 2011

Art That Sustains Communities and Mother Earth

Question: What do you give the person who has everything?
Answer: Something beautiful made by someone who has next to nothing.
When that something will help sustain a family, a culture, and the Earth, then we can all smile.
I'm talking about sustainable crafts made by indigenous Mexican artisans:
Handmade traditional pottery that is created from local clay deposits, decorated without lead or other chemicals that are harmful to the artisans, their families, and consumers. Use these bowls, plates, or pots to serve healthy, natural food and it will all look and taste better.

Use this lead-free clay cookware to cook your beans on the stove and then serve on your table. The beans will have more flavor and your guests will sing your praises. For more info. on CocinaSana, our clay cookware, go to

Gorgeous hammered copper vases like these are made in Santa Clara del Cobre from 100% recycled copper...old telephone wire, pipe, and motor parts. Add one of these stunning pieces to your table, fill it with flowers and your life will be better...I promise. Give one to a friend or lover, and you will be spreading happiness.
Baskets made with pine needles from Mexico's forests, and tule reeds from Lake Patzcuaro-- all sustainable products that come from the Earth and can be used to beautifully serve your bread and tortillas. Say no to plastic, and yes to natural products that enhance our lives.

Support artisans who are trying to maintain their culture, their families and their communities by buying traditional, sustainable crafts. For more info. or to purchase, please go to:

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Mexican Women Make Art and History

As we celebrate Women's History Month 2011, change is happening all over the world. From Egyptian women demonstrating their desire for democracy, to girls attending school for the first time in Afghanistan, to young women now outnumbering men in American universities.
Recently I have personally encountered a profound change also going on in indigenous communities in our neighbor to the south-- Mexico. I hope to share with you the stories and struggles of these indigenous women, as they continue to create beautiful traditional art, working towards a better future for their children.
Here are a few snippets from interviews with three women in Michoacán for my video, "En las manos de las mujeres":
"I had the desire to continue my education after
secondary school (8th grade) but my parents wouldn't let me. They said, 'Your brothers will study, but you're a don't need to study because you won't do anything with it.' My three brothers didn't care about getting an education so they didn't study further... and I, the one who wanted to study...they didn't allow me to."-- Herlinda Morales.
Herlinda grew up in Santa Fe de la Laguna, a Purépecha Indian village on the edge of Lake Patzcuaro-- a place where girls and women usually need to ask the man of the house for permission to go out for any reason-- including to attend classes. Herlinda ignored the gossips and critics to participate in workshops for women artisans, where she learned how to get a better price for her pottery, and about the dangers of using leaded glazes on her clay candelabras. These were lessons that changed her life and caused her eleven years ago to convert her clay workshop to being lead-free, so that her family home and her community's environment would no longer be contaminated from the clay process. Herlinda says it is difficult to make change, but she is working so that her daughter will have a better life than the women who came before her. Here's an excerpt of an interview we did with Herlinda Morales.

Zenaida Rafael Julian (left) quit school in the 3rd grade when her father took off; her mother had to go to work and Zenaida was needed at home to cook and care for her siblings. At age 13, Zenaida's mother began to teach her daughter to make the painted clay figures the village of Ocumicho is known for. When her mother died, Zenaida at age 23 became the sole support of her four younger siblings. She now has 3 children of her own, and refuses to marry. "I prefer to stay single, that way no one can tell me I can't go to a festival or exhibit my art. Here, husbands scold their wives and don't let them leave... because they're jealous I think." This independent lifestyle has caused a lot of gossip in the village, but there is also a great deal of admiration and envy of Zenaida, as she has won dozens of local, state, and national prizes for her work, and today at age 39, is considered to be the finest artist in Ocumicho.

Teofila Servin Barriga (above) left her home on the Santa Cruz rancho near Tzintzuntzan and worked as a servant so that she could attend school in Patzcuaro. She said when she was a child looking up at the airplanes flying overhead, she never dreamed that one day she would be flying in one of those planes to the United States-- on her way to exhibit her embroideries at the prestigious Santa Fe International Folk Art Market. "One of the many things I've learned as an artisan is to value myself... I was afraid sometimes to leave my home-- it was a challenge. But this is the best school one could have in's how we learn. Whatever the obstacle, if we make an effort, we women can make our dreams come true."

Folk art and crafts by these and other artisans of Michoacán is available for sale at:

Sunday, February 13, 2011

In Celebration of the Olmecs

I've written about the Hernandez Cano workshop several times before. They have been a favorite of ours for a long time, and it's great that these artisans are finally being recognized by others for their unique, beautiful burnished pottery featuring Pre-Columbian designs. Numerous of their pieces are now on display in the museum store of the de Young Museum in San Francisco-- to coincide with the upcoming Olmec exhibit.
The Olmecs are most known for the their colossal stone heads and were considered to be the mother culture of Mesoamerica. This artisan workshop, located in Zinapecuaro, Michoacán, specializes in replicating an ancient pottery technique and Pre- Columbian designs. The photo above was taken at the workshop when we picked up the museum's order. Several pieces shown here are part of the stunning collection currently on sale at the de Young. The guys did their best work for this San Francisco show, and we are so pleased to be able to share it with folks in the Bay Area who appreciate fine Mexican crafts.
I love the creativity of this family, and how they all work together, with the younger generation now taking more of a role in both creating new designs and managing the business. I'll never forget my surprise when my first big order in 2005 was written down with pencil on notebook paper. They still use spiral notebooks, but now I am able to place orders via email with Salvador Hernandez Cano's son, German. I am happy to see this technology come to rural Mexico, and thankful that their friendly, honest way of doing business has not changed one bit.

Salvador Hernandez Cano of Zinapecuaro.

If you're interested in seeing more of the burnished pottery from the Hernandez Cano family workshop, please contact Mexico By Hand at: or call (510)526-6395

And check out our other blog posts on ceramics with Pre-Columbian designs.