Home Grown Arte
By Antonio Ramblés AKA Tony Passarello
The moment that I walk through the doorway of Colon #15 only a few blocks from San Cristóbal Zapotitlán’s central plaza, I realize that the Ostrich Ranch tour is about to be displaced as the high point of my trip.
The house is unassuming, a stucco home not unlike many others on the street. Only a hand lettered sign next to the front door gives any hint of what’s within:
CANASTAS de PALMA y MANUALIDADES CON HOJAS de MAIZ
Palm Baskets & Corn Husk Crafts
The rooms are typically small, the walls stuccoed and the floors tiled.
The house is sparsely furnished except for a well-worn display cabinet and shelves on which stands a virtual army of intricately fashioned miniature figures, dozens of woven baskets, and vibrantly lifelike artificial flowers.
A bride and her entourage stand in immaculate sepia before an unseen altar.
Lambs stand at the side of the manger in a Christmas crèche.
In the next room bundles of palm leaves, sliced into narrow strips as tall as a man, stand drying.
Another doorway opens onto a softly lit room with a ceremonial feel. Selections of the handiwork sit on covered table and I move toward them for a closer look.
Just to the side of the door behind me an ancient woman seated on a low stool is weaving the palm strips into a basket.
Her shoulders are stooped and her head bowed over sturdy fingers. She wraps the palm tightly and densely to fashion trays, baskets, and vases that are at once pliable and sturdy.
Two women seat themselves on a bench behind the table and a pile of dried and brightly colored corn husk leaves – hojas de maiz – and begin before my eyes to fashion the kinds of miniature figures seen in the front room tableaus.
They work with a quiet intensity, their fingers so automatically folding and twisting and wrapping the leaves that their eyes seem less to guide than to observe.
Three generations of women have built and continue to work this cottage industry artisan enterprise. Some of their photos hang on the wall of this room.
Back in the entry room Herlinda (I know her from Ajijic’s Friday Artisans’ Market), is joined by a young woman and the two of them quickly begin another demonstration of their craft.
The young woman threads small bits of violet corn husk together much as a sportsman might craft a fishing fly. It turns into a flower, followed by another and another until she has crafted a small bouquet.
Herlinda, beginning with a lollipop stick bit of palm and folded corn husk, fashions as I watch a tableau of a woman rowing a flower-festooned boat made of woven palm leaf.
It’s clear that each of these women has developed a particular skill, and that the success of this cottage industry rests upon their ability to orchestrate their individual efforts to produce endless combinations of artisan eye candy that delight and inspire.
All of this is accomplished with apparent effortlessness, a genuinely collective spirit, and an obvious joy in the work. It employs only human energy, and uses only natural, sustainable, and readily available raw materials.
Once you’ve seen the women and the work behind these artifacts, you’ll see their craftwork through entirely different eyes.
Friday Artisan’s Market Ajijic, where you can meet some of these artisans and purchase their work weekly.