The Legacy Of Folk Art
By Harriet Hart
Part of the mission of Feria Maestros del Arte is to keep folk art alive by promoting artists who pass their skills from generation to generation. Let me introduce you to several families who are part of this important legacy.
The Linares Family: Alebrijes
Leonardo Linares is the grandson of Don Pedro Linares, creator of the alebrije art form in 1936. Over 80 years ago, when Don Pedro was suffering from a serious illness, he dreamt that he was in an unfamiliar place where there were animals with horns, claws and wings changing shapes. He heard the word “alebrije, alebrije, alebrije.” When he awoke, his infirmity was cured. Don Pedro recreated these figures using wire, paper and paste and called them alebrijes. Don Pedro passed his skills onto his grandsonLeonardo who gave his own special imaginative twists to the figures.
Brown wrapping paper or newspaper is torn into small pieces and used to cover frameworks of reed or wire. The paper is attached with a flour-based paste of glue. The colors come from aniline dyes or commercial oil-based paints. The colorful designs painted on the piece vary according to Leonardo’s imagination. Depending on the size and intricacy of the alebrije, it can take 3-8 weeks to construct one. In the hands of the Linares family, these become creative works of art that send satirical, humorous and optimistic messages.
The Ortiz Family: Pottery
Potter Angel Ortiz Gabriel has his studio in Tonalá. . His calling was taught to him by his grandparents Cruz Gabriel and María Felix Bautista. It isn’t just a livelihood, but a lifestyle that is passed on through generations. Currently, Angel is involved in a project to revive the lost art of making pitito ronderos (clay whistles). Every time he makes a large piece, he uses the left over clay to make a pitito. These come in a myriad of different shapes and themes – animals, skeletons, and heads.Sometimes, these whistles are also called ocharinas, a traditional folk instrument known to both the Mayan and Aztec cultures.
He is reviving the glazing and designs used in the early 1900s. Angel is very concerned about the fate of Mexican art and is doing more than his share to ensure many of these art forms and techniques are not forgotten or lost. Angel senior has dabbled in various art forms but burnished pottery is his forte. He has won many important awards on both the state and national levels. His son and best student, Angel Ortiz Arana, follows in his father’s footsteps.
The process used by the Ortiz family begins with selecting quality grade clay. Once the clay is located, it needs to be mixed in proper proportions to make it both strong and flexible to resist humidity and heat.
The piece is formed by hand and then placed in the shade to dry. As it loses its moisture, it hardens. The slight irregularities on the surface are polished out with a river stone. Using small amounts of water to wash one side of the piece, father and son deftly sand the area with a smooth stone. Next a type of whitewash similar to varnish is brushed over the surface. Over this, earth tone paints are used to decorate the object. Now it is close to being finished. The next step is the firing at 600 degree C. It takes 2-1/2 hours to fire a piece of pottery.
The Candelario Family: Masks
Gorgonio Candelario Castro is the son of the renowned Herminio Candelario Dolores from Suchitlán, Colima. Herminio passed away some years ago. Gorgonio has followed in his father’s footsteps, hand carving wooden masks of unusual quality.
A farmer out of necessity and a mask maker out of love, Gorgonio clings tightly to the traditions of his people. His passion for the various dances and ceremonies native to his community was inherited from his father and his grandfather, Don Basilio. If these customs remain alive, it is due to the effort that this family has made in promoting the formation of groups of young dancers and implanting in them the desire to preserve the traditional fiestas that characterize the village of Suchitlán.
Gorgonio’s father specialized in the masks used in the dance of the Morenos which includes the representation of pairs of animals that danced to distract the Roman centurions who stood guard at Christ’s tomb. The dancers hide their faces behind the masks and become owls, goats, burros or roosters. Personalities emerge as if by the magic from the skillful hands of Gorgonio. All are infused with the traditions of Colima.
In 1995, Herminio was awarded a grant with which to establish a workshop for instructing young people as well as for his own artistic production. Gorgonio carries on the tradition.
The Salgado Family: Maque Masks
Although Victoriano Salgado Morales has passed away, his legacy lives on through his family. He was one of Mexico’s premier mask carvers whose masks were synonymous with the regional dances of Uruapan, Michoacán where he was born. Now Victoriano’s sons, Martin, Gerardo and Juan Carlos carve and mold wood into desired shapes and color the masks using a process known as maque.
Martin shapes a face with gouges, chisels and various knives. The mask is put aside to dry for a few days and “baked” in a small oven to avoid insect infestation. The carved piece is polished with wet sandpaper and coated with a mixture made from plaster and zinc oxide called size.
The artisans spread the size over the mask with their fingers. After drying, color is added using powdered pigments. After being dried again, the mask is polished using bare hands or a polishing stone. Next, it is coated with oil and polished again, followed by another coat of size and more pigment. The process is repeated over and over until the desired background is produced. Finally, the mask is rubbed with a piece of cotton. If the cotton does not pick up any of the color of the lacquer, it is ready to be decorated. It is given a careful polishing with a cloth dipped in linseed oil to bring out the shine of the lacquer.
Feria founder Marianne Carlson says that each generation of artists puts their own spin on the art form they practice, while preserving the methods, techniques and materials passed on to them by their forefathers. In this way, the legacy of Mexican folk art lives on. This year’s Feria will be held November 15, 16 and 17 at Club de Yates in Chapala. Come and meet these artists who are doing so much to keep Mexican folk art traditions alive.
For more information about Lake Chapala visit: www.chapala.com