Tag Archive: Mexican folk art


Maestro in clay

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Jesús enters through door in an adobe wall

I first met maestro Martín Ibarra Morales last November when – as one of the artisans invited to Ajijic’s annual Feria Maestros del Arte – he and his family were my houseguests.

Egg-shaped globes, clay virgin, and clay whistles

Egg-shaped globes, clay virgin, and clay whistles

Martín is a clay sculptor whose work is collected worldwide.  His renowned artisan father taught him his craft, and he’s most well-known for his intricately formed and painted virgins and globes.

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He lives on the shore of Lake Chapala’s smaller cousin, Lake Cajititlan, in the village of San Juan Evangelista which is – as the crow flies – not 15 kilometers from Ajijic.  The driveable route around the mountain is about twice the distance.

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Clay mask with an unforgettable face

Traveling with me is friend and Ajijic artist Jesús López Vega, who has an abiding interest in native artisans and is a welcome bridge over the gaps in my Spanish.

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Sol y luna motif

Our directions fail us just a few blocks short of our destination, but we park along the principal plaza opposite the church and graveyard and strangers direct us to a home walled in adobe brick; Martín is clearly also a local celebrity.

A small foyer opens into open air patio, its brick walls adorned with framed news clippings and certificates of recognition, and tables covered with some of the maestro’s work.

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Not an inch of unused studio space

Clay virgin, nearly finished

Clay virgin, nearly finished

We turn the corner into the studio, a Spartan room in aged brick and stucco.

On a table at its center sits one of Martín’s celebrated virgins, which looks to my untrained eye nearly finished.

Work in progress covers every inch of the studio

Work in progress covers every inch of the studio

Martin and his articulate hands

Martin and his articulate hands

Works in almost every stage of completion seem to take up every square inch of the room, ranging in size from clay whistles that rest easily in the palm to Aztec statuary nearly as tall as Martín’s diminutive frame.

Jesus and Martin compare notes

Jesús and Martín compare notes

Martín is soft-spoken, but not shy, and as he warms to the conversation he talks animatedly, punctuating remarks with his hands.  Often he’ll move the conversation to a quickly sketched explanation of his point.

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Joker or devil?

He and my artist friend Jesús quickly plunge into rapid-fire Spanish, comparing notes from old texts of art history that trace the origins of their work back to pre-Hispanic traditions.

Their Spanish soon races past me and I wander the studio as they talk.

Timeless theme

Timeless theme

A statue looking for all the world like a recently excavated museum piece stares at me impassively.

A devilish mask simultaneously smiles and leers at me from the wall behind it.

Finished work sits above the kiln

Finished work sits above the kiln

In one corner finished work sits on a mantel above a brick kiln, its face smoked black by decades of use.

Jesús and Martin

Jesus and Martin

Just as it seems that the visit is about to draw to a close, Martín points through the gate past the cemetery to the church beyond, and asks if we would like him to take us on a tour.

Church yard cemetery just across the street

Church yard cemetery just across the street

It’s a hospitality not to be refused, and we walk into the bright sunlight and across the street.  What he shows us there turns out to be as memorable an experience as the opportunity to see his workspace, and it’s the topic of my next post, so stay tuned…

More about Martin Ibarra Morales…

The artisan as art

Mexico’s folk art is at risk of becoming an endangered species! Industrialization and urbanization – not to mention cheap Chinese knock-offs – are driving local artists to leave their villages and forsake their craft for work in the cities.

All natural fabric dyes are made from plants and insects

The good news is that there is a strong antidote in Ajijic’s Feria Maestros Del Arte, which this weekend celebrates its eleventh year.

 

A ceramic octopus in fanciful colors

Painstakingly painted detail

The Feria is a standout among area venues for artists and artisans not only for the quality, breadth, and originality of its work, but for its single inspired purpose of protecting and preserving Mexico’s community of indigent artists and their artistic traditions.

 

Artisans in bright traditional garb

Artisans in bright traditional garb

A potter stands chest-high in his work

 

The Feria is also philanthropic capitalism that showcases this art and these artists to the expat community and to visiting art merchants.

The outcome is an opportunity for these distinctive works to fetch the fair price that promotes their economic sustainability.

 

Clay iIguana at perpetual rest

Clay iIguana at perpetual rest

 

The philanthropy, though, goes well beyond simply bringing sellers and buyers together.

The merchants – more than 60 of them – are charged no fees for exhibit space.

 

 

 

 

The Feria is the brainchild of locally resident gringa Marianne Carlson, who each year travels the length and breadth of Mexico seeking out new talent.

There’s a message in the tiny symbols on this piece

Adding finishing touches to a corn husk blossom

Adding finishing touches to a corn husk blossom

 

 

 

An extensive network of volunteers and significant donations – the Feria is registered as a non-profit in both Mexico and the U.S. – assure that every dime of every sale goes to the merchant artists.

 

Lady mariachis waiting to go on stage

 

Many receive transportation assistance or are housed and fed gratis in the homes of locally resident expats.

 

The Feria is also nothing if not authentic.

 

All of the exhibited goods are handmade by native artists using materials native to Mexico, and much of this remarkable work has rarely been exhibited outside of the often remote villages in which it is created.

 

 

 

Lady mariachis' wall of sound

Lady mariachis’ wall of sound

 

 

Many of the artisans are but the latest in generations of family artists.

Shoppers can watch many of the artisans continue to create as they tend their market stalls while patiently explaining the symbolism of the images in their work and the process by which it is produced.

 

 

 

 

This is my first year to experience this event, and I have the good luck to do so from a front-row seat in more ways than one.

Jurassic metal sculptures

Jurassic metal sculptures

It’s located within easy walking distance of my place, which is a real bonus since the patrons’ parked cars have not only lined the curbs of surrounding neighborhood streets, but spilled out along the Carretera for a quarter mile in both directions.

Timeless

Timeless

 

 

 

Location, however, is only the beginning of the good luck because my place is also a room-and-board site for Feria artist Martín Ibarra and his family.

A leap of ceramic leopards

A leap of ceramic leopards

 

 

 

The son of a noted clay artist, Martin has been widely recognized for his painted clay sculptures of the Virgin and his intricately decorated eggs and spheres.

 

 

 

 

A threatening wooden image in playful colors

A threatening wooden image in playful colors

 

 

 

 

This year each room-and-board sponsor is taking a turn at a dinner held in their home for the artists and their fellow sponsors, and these gatherings add yet another dimension to the experience.

 

 

 

 

 

Hand-painted detail on wood and gourd containers

Hand-painted detail on wood and gourd containers

Artisans drawn from across Mexico from Chihuahua in the north to Oaxaca and Chiapas in the south, and when they come together each evening over food and drink the feeling is almost one of reunion.

Talk quickly turns from art to life and there’s lots of laughter here.

It’s a rare opportunity for expats to gain a glimpse into the traditions and lives of these master craftsmen, and for them to see their American and Canadian hosts up close and personally.

It’s also a great demonstration of what happens when people put national identities and politics aside and come together as individuals in a common pursuit.

 

 

Even for casual students of world cultures the Feria is not to be missed.

 

If you’re looking for items not to be found even in the abundance of artist communities in Guadalajara’s nearby Tonala and Tlaquepaque neighborhoods, this is the place to be.

A live face in a wall of masks

 

Fitting beadwork into a design

This 5th-generation weaver may need 2 months to produce a single work.

 

If you’ve ever wondered what happened to the spirit of social activism that marked the youth of many retirees you’ll find it alive and well in the spirit of Ajijic’s Feria.

Make your own contribution by buying something… and spreading the word.

For more information check out the Feria’s web site here.