The Story Behind The Art

The Story Behind The Art

By Harriet Hart

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Every year Feria Maestros del Arte invites Mexican folk artists to travel to Lakeside from all corners of Mexico, where collectors and enthusiasts can meet them, view their works, and purchase special pieces that speak personally to them.

This year a new program will allow visitors to the Feria to attend a lecture series called “The Story Behind the Art” that hopefully will shed light on what is involved in creating these beautiful objects. Feria Founder Marianne Carlson says: “Those of us who work on the Feria understand the time and effort that goes into each piece of an artist’s work, and we understand their pricing. The artists simply want a fair price for their time and labors. Each art piece is unique, one-of-a-kind — purchase one of these ‘treasures’ at the Feria and you have a story to tell. When it is admired by your friends, you can say you have actually met the artist and seen first-hand the talent and love he or she has imbued into that treasure.”

This year five artists will show a short video, give demonstrations with a question and answer period. Each lecture will be no more than one hour long.




Moisés Martínez is a traditional silk weaver from San Pedro Cajonos, Oaxaca, a village high in the Sierra Norte. He uses the back-strap loom, with a silk warp and weft dyed with cochineal, indigo, or other dyes made from local plants. The villagers raise their own silk worms, both wild and cultivated.

Moisés has garnered a reputation as one of the finest living weavers of rebozos.  Using traditional techniques, and at times modern designs, is taking textile art into the future. Young artists are combining traditional with contemporary, a practice Moisés sees as necessary for new generations learning and expanding this art form.

For generations silkworms have been raised in San Pedro de Cajonos and their silk is gathered, spun and woven into exquisite rebozos with intricate fringe work or empuntado — hand knotted geometric shapes adorning each end of the rebozo. Silk can only be harvested twice a year; 20,000 silkworms are required to make ten kilos of cocoons, resulting in only four or five large rebozos.

Indigo dye is used. Royals around the world once coveted indigo as a symbol of their wealth, power and prestige, giving rise to the color royal blue, an intense, deep color that saturates the fabric and draws attention to the person wearing it. Indigo was used 6,000 years ago in Egypt, sought after by the Pharaohs who procured it from traders who traveled the tropical belt of Africa.

The wild indigo bush grows along the Pacific coast in Oaxaca and is cultivated, fermented, dried into blocks, and sold to weavers and dyers, who grind it into a fine powder for use on protein fibers such as wool and silk, or on plant fibers such as cotton.

First the indigo is picked, chopped and placed in a fermentation bath for at least 12 hours (sometimes as long as 36 hours) to prepare the dye. The process is thousands of years old. The plant material decomposes and collects at the bottom of the large vats as a thick paste. It’s then strained to separate any sediment.

The result is a highly saturated, concentrated product. It takes about 200 kg of plants to produce 1 kg of indigo dye. It is then dried and becomes rock-hard. Then it must be pulverized into a fine powder. Traditionalists in Oaxaca use a metate or mortar and pestle.

Cochineal is also used to color Moisés’ rebozos. Made from the tiny dactylopius coccus, a mite that feeds on the nopalcactus, it takes thousands of these to make the beautiful red cochineal color that is highly sought after.



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Few who experience a Mexican fiesta will forget the brightly colored perforated paper decorations called papel picado, “punched paper” in Spanish,a traditional folk art that involves cutting out infinite, intricate patterns on colorful tissue paper.  The tissue paper is then glued to a string in a line to form banners that are used to decorate altars, tables, ceilings and plazas during festivals throughout the year.

After working in the fields, peasants in 19th century Puebla found time to use their creativity and skill to work with paper to create an authentic handicraft, papel picado. Artists first began with rudimentary scissors and then switched to forged-steel chisels, which made it easier to create more detailed, elegant works. 

Pedro Ortega Lozano is an artist that has taken the art of papel picado to new heights. While he still makes the traditional chisel-cut tissue paper papel picado, he has become well known in the folk art world for his elaborate alter pieces that incorporate foil and embossed paper. 

His work is on permanent display at the National Museum of Popular Arts in Mexico City. Pedro was the National Art Prize winner in the Rama Paper Competition in 1992 and is featured in the book Great Masters of Mexican Folk Art.

Pedro continues the tradition of preserving this folk art by teaching young people his craft which craft requires patience, creativity, and dedication. Pedro’s attention to detail can be seen and felt on every piece of his work. Touch the fragile, delicate, and very light perforated paper and you will feel the artisan’s caring and love for his work.




In the community of Pinotepa de Don Luis, situated on the Costa Chica of Oaxaca, artisans of Mixtec origin weave beautiful cloth on back-strap looms. The women weavers of this community have formed a cooperative called Tixinda— 60 women, both young and old — who are passing on the 3000+ year-old tradition of spinning and weaving from one generation to the next. The women spin by hand the cotton thread that is locally grown.

The thread is then painstakingly woven. The artisans also grow and weave rare brown cotton called coyuchi. In addition to producing their traditional dress, they make table and bed linens, throw pillows and bags, using both traditional and contemporary designs.

The men dye the hand-spun cotton using natural dyes, including the rare purpura pansa mollusk, red cochinilla dye extracted from beetles that grow on the nopal cactus, and indigo from the native anil or indigo plant. It takes about two weeks of preparation and spinning to produce one kilo of cotton thread, and approximately three months to weave a traditional huipil dress using four kilos of thread, which is why museums and collectors prize their textiles.

Two short videos will be presented. One features Don Habacuc Avendano Luis who was awarded the highest prize in Mexico for the Conservation of Ecology in 2015. He is known for his work rescuing and protecting the purple snail “tixinda.” This video focuses on dyes and colorants used by Dreamweavers. The second video follows the life of Margarita Avandano Luis, the oldest weaver in the Tixinda Cooperativa. She talks about her love of weaving and helping to keep its tradition alive.




In the world of miniature bone carving, the Ruiz brothers stand out as maestros who learned their art from their famous father, Don Roberto Ruiz (deceased) who is featured in the folk art collector’s bible, Great Masters of Mexican Folk Art.

The brothers have dedicated their lives to following in the footsteps of their father, famous for his bone art miniatures and considered one of the most important popular artists in modern Mexico. At the time of his death, Don Roberto had made over 4,000 pieces of art. Don Roberto and, now his two sons transform natural materials into precious, tiny figures.

Sterilized bone from cattle is the material of choice used to create the small and intricate art objects. The bone is worked with when dry, without any water or moistening agent. It is purchased from butchers or found on the street. Their tools are their eyes, hands, and a lot of creativity, coupled with tiny drills, bits, spatulas, jeweler’s saws, tweezers, and polishers.

After boiling, the bones are cut into pieces and then thoroughly cleaned. Then they are polished with a great deal of force so as to remove any imperfections they might contain. The first cuts are made with tiny drills or emery wheels; then begins the work of trimming and removing the areas of material that don’t pertain to the figure.

Taking advantage of the natural shape of the bone, the artist decides on the figure he will produce. It might be a scene from the countryside, an animal or another delicate piece, which, on occasion, may measure a mere two centimeters.




The Huichol are one of the oldest living traditional people in the Western Hemisphere. UCLA anthropologist Susana Eger Valadez came to Mexico over 30 years ago to conduct a month long investigation of Huichol culture and never left. She established a center to build a bridge between tradition and the future; it runs a variety of projects including artistic training and jobs. Artists from the center will be on hand to demonstrate how they create beadwork, yarn pictures, and fine jewelry.

In a colorful country like Mexico, the art of the Huichol Indians stands out as eye-catching and vibrant. The Huichol incorporate the natural environment into their spirituality and their art. Strange shapes and brilliant colors combine in a psychedelic style to depict snakes, birds, rabbits and deer alongside ritual objects like feathers, candles, drums and peyote. Colors convey meaning: white represents clouds, blue the rain, red is fire and green is the living, healing earth.

The Huichol are a special people in our midst. Their work is artistic, labor intensive, and created with skill, love, and patience. Learning more about it will help in its preservation.

Collector extraordinaire Nelson Rockefeller felt that folk art fulfills a spiritual need in our over-mechanized industrial age. Modern man “is so surrounded by mass-production, by machines and anonymous consumer goods that his eye thirsts for individuality. He turns to art to enjoy individual expression.”

The “Story Behind the Art Lecture Series” will provide an opportunity to hear the stories from the artists themselves, to see works created by their hands and conceived by their spirits out of love for the art itself and the traditions behind it. Feria Maestros del Arte will be held at the Chapala Yacht Club from November 10 to 12. For information, contact Marianne Carlson at (376) 765-7485 or

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