Sunday, December 21, 2014

Calabaza Confusion

Squash in various colors and shapes
Shopping is a big part of my work, so it's a good thing I like to do it. The fact is, I only really like it when I'm buying stuff I like myself. It's puzzling sometimes for me as a professional shopper for Mexico By Hand to predict how popular an item will be with customers. So when we started out, I was a bit unsure whether other folks would like what I like. It turns out that a lot of folks do. There have been some "mistakes" along the way, and of course the logical, best guess is to go by the sales history of similar product. But that doesn't always work.

Take the burnished calabazas (squash) of Zinapecuaro for example. The first year of Mexico By Hand's existence we couldn't get enough of them to meet the demand. With the exception of the giant ones, the small and medium size pieces flew off the table, people were SO excited for them.

The artist/owner of a gallery in Napa, California absolutely went nuts over our calabazas. He displayed them beautifully in the window, along with my photo of the artisan holding a giant one, similar to the one on the right. There are three families who make these, and they live on the same small street in the town of Zinapecuaro in Michoacán. We have bought the squash from all three.

The photo on the right was taken in the workshop of the Hernandez Cano family, just before the artisans packed up our order. This workshop is more known for their beautiful burnished pottery featuring Pre-Columbian designs and drawings inspired by Jose Guadalupe Posada such as La Catrina.

Our burnished squash at The Mexican Museum in San Francisco
The year we exhibited burnished clay squash at the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market, I think we sold more than 25 calabazas the first day of the show. After that, I had trouble getting them, so when I had the opportunity to buy some in the summer of 2013, I went for it. I got some gorgeous ones-- some of the best ever. And they have sat on the shelves for months.
Here we are at the end of 2014 and I still have 80% of that 2013 purchase. Go figure. They were beautiful, affordable, displayed nicely, and supposedly folks in the Bay Area should be into ceramics that celebrate the natural world, and vegetables in particular. I am confused. Where did I go wrong? The only thing I can think of is that customers are going for the more practical items, such as bowls and platters...stuff one can actually use. Maybe since the recession people are more careful about money, and maybe it's because folks are trying to reduce the clutter...something I often hear from folks as they get older. But we all need beautiful art in our loves, and an object created completely by hand out of clay and water, well that can inspire and delight the owner for years.
The calabaza experience has unfortunately caused me to doubt my ability to judge what will sell-- a skill I thought I was getting pretty good at lately. It's an important skill for my business, so I need to figure this one out. On the bright side, challenges like this keep the work interesting, and meanwhile I get to enjoy our beautiful collection of calabazas...until they find the right owner.

For more information about these or other Mexico By Hand crafts, please visit our website or contact us at

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