Monday, June 29, 2009

Cynthia Weill in Oaxaca

Our world-traveling author Cynthia Weill is back in Oaxaca. Her joy and her calling have been to promote the work of folk artisans all over the world, helping them to improve the output of their work and increase its sustainability through books. It helps that she is trained as an educator and art historian. Because she worked for a time in humanitarian assistance in Ha Noi, Vietnam, her first book Ten Mice for Tet (Chronicle) featured the delicate work of master embroiderer, Pham Viet Dinh.

The seeds for her next books, ABeCedarios and Opuestos (Cinco Puntos Press), were planted in 1996 when Cindy was a Fulbright Exchange teacher in Mexico City. On the weekends, she traveled to Oaxaca, Mexico where she fell in love with the enormous array of crafts. She became particularly interested in the wood carvings of Arrazola and La Union Tejalapan, Mexico. On a return trip in 2003, Cindy was introduced to woodcarvers Armando and Moises Jimenez, grandsons of the founder of the tradition, Manuel Jimenez. She worked with the Jimenez family and long-time friend, photographer K.B. Basseches, to develop 29 animal figures to represent the Spanish and English alphabets. During this time, she also met the Santiago brothers: Martin and Quirino, carvers from the hamlet of La Union. A friendship formed and they and other family members supplied the figures for Opuestos.

Cindy, along with Cinco Puntos and book designer Sergio Gomez, has two more books in mind for this series of Mexican Folk Art books that will present and promote the work of different families of Oaxacan artisans. The work will be featured in First Concepts books for very young children. The next two books in the series will feature colors and numbers.

What Cindy is doing right now in Oaxaca is forming new friendships and revisiting old friends, going from village to village looking for artisans she hasn’t yet met, determining the quality and suitability of their work for the next books, and then requesting that specific art be carved or created. And then, once the art is created, and because the economic needs in Oaxaca are so great, Cynthia must be there to pick up and pay for the work as soon as it’s ready or the artisan, not understanding the process of putting together a book, might sell the work to some other taker. Part of Cindy’s work is to work with the artisans through this process and then to show them how the books can open up their work to a much larger international audience.

Crafts are an economic lifeline for many Oaxacan artisans. Oaxacan woodcarvings are usually purchased by visitors to Oaxaca for decorative purposes. Right now, though, because of the economy and turbulence in Oaxaca, tourism is down.

We love Cindy’s stalwart, persistent way in her search for new art (she’s like a kid), and thought you’d enjoy trekking along with her as she makes her way through Oaxaca via email.

June 17, 2009
Today was my first day in Oaxaca. I had made an appointment to see Qurino and Martin Santiago [main woodcarvers for Opuestos] so that they could see their book. Wish that you could have been here. They had on their Sunday best and were doused in after shave. I gave them the copies of the book and we talked about plans to put teacher ed materials as well as a power point on your website to aid in promotion. They really love Opuestos and were very grateful for the opportunity to have their work shown in such a format.

I certainly hope it helps. Oaxaca is like a ghost town. There is no tourism and the international economic crisis isn't helping much either.

Anyhow, thought I would pass this on. I've got some good photos I'll send along. I also put in an order for a big orange lion for our colors book. Should be very cute.

June 18, 2009
I went out to see the Aguilar sisters today [the main artisans for the book Cindy is planning on numbers]. Irene was positively full of herself because she had just been invited to Vicente Fox's [former president of Mexico] house. She had her picture taken with him and the former first lady. They consider her Oaxaca's greatest artisan. Cripes, we better get that book done fast before she signs on with Hollywood.

I continue to work on the colors book. I'm having some of the artisans re-do the work [they had done the last time Cindy was in Oaxaca] so that it will fit into the smaller space [of the book]. One artisan I had really been counting on to do some skeletons to represent white is no longer producing because he is losing his vision. This is particularly problematic when swinging a machete. Will have to move to plan "B"

June 19, 2009
Was just visiting Armando and Moises [woodcarvers for ABeCedarios]. Armando got invited to this huge event at University of Pittsburgh last fall. He said he signed ABCs books for hours. I took a photo of the poster and will try and send. He thinks they will invite him back again next year.

June 20, 2009
Went off to see one of the Aguilar sisters today. She was going to make me a sample for the numbers book. When I got there she was very apologetic and told me that she had just been invited to an official event in Oaxaca City. So we drove the hour back to town and I sat through several speeches by various functionaries. They were breaking ground on a new artisan center. By the end of the day I had zero ceramic samples but one nifty photo with the governor. Will try again tomorrow. Hope your day was more productive!

June 30, 2009

Hope all is well. I had a hell of a morning. Went out to a rather remote village to pick up blue and red figures. Blue was yellow. I already had yellow so we had to start over. Red was 8 times the size I had asked for, so once again needs to be recarved. On the way out, I was bitten by a dog. Fortunately, he chomped my ankle. I was wearing heavy jeans with long cuffs. (I had those on because there have been several cases of dengue fever in this village and I did not want to give the mosquitos a chance!) One of the artisans scared off the dog with a rather large rock before he had was able to come back at me. Youwza!

July 2, 2009

I planned for several artisans to come by this morning to drop off work. However, it rained torentially last night and flooded the streets. It is raining again this morning. This keeps wood, paper and paint from drying so most people were no shows. One of my favorite carvers Eloy Santiago, he did the pink goat figure in Opuestos, came by unexpectedly at 7:30 a.m. He wanted to talk about a marimba he is making for the colors book and what tones of green he would use. I owed him some money which he asked for and I gave him. He wanted to make the last payment on a saxaphone he is buying for his eleven year old son. I tried to make him see that this might not be in his best interests but he was determined. Anyhow, with the rain it looks like a quiet day at home. I will meet with the Aguilar sisters tomorrow. Each made a sample piece for the numbers book and we are going to see how their figures do or don't work together.

July 4, 2009

Had an amazing day yesterday. I set up an appointment with all four Aguilar sisters to talk about a project for next summer. We have been working together for the last three weeks on samples for a numbers book. Each sister has her own style and usually works separately. However, I wanted to give them all the opportunity to work together on a project and they have agreed. We talked for an hour about the steps we would take to complete the project. When the business part of things was over, the sisters had a wonderful time catching up on things. Although they live very close together their professions and the demands of their immediate families keep them from socializing. Just to give an example, Guillermina and Josefina have over 70 grandchildren between them! There was quite a bit of giggling and teasing. Everyone seemed to be having a lovely time. I was surprised when Guillermina told me later that it had been years since all four had had a chance to just sit down and talk.

Before I left, I went over the plans with Guillermina for next week. She will travel to New Mexico with her sister Irene. Guillermina has been invited to the annual Santa Fe folk art festival and Irene will be the artist-in-residence at Jackalope. They are taking the bus from Oaxaca and will have a five hour layover in El Paso. They have the Cinco Puntos phone no. and plan to get together with Lee, Bobby and Johnny. I'm sure that a good time will be had by all!

July 7, 2009

I had a nice day down here. I went out to Guillermina and Irene's sister Josefina's house. She is such a talented artisan. I told her that I wanted some angels. She does all of her work on the floor sitting in kind of a mermaid position. We chatted away about life and her family and in less than an hour she had two angels playing with a dog. After they dry she will put them in her kiln and paint them. I should have them by Saturday.

Later, instead of going home for lunch I went to a Frida Kahlo party. If you did n't know today is her 102 birthday. You had to dress up. The owner of the place I am staying loaned me a huipil and a long skirt. You should have seen me. When I got there somebody was painting on unibrows. Quite the look!


Kathy said...

Hola Cindy! It sounds like quite an adventure you're having.


Esperanza said...

Hola Cindy, ¡Me encantan las artesanias de Oaxaca! Dos favoritos que tengo son un pájaro por Manuel & Angélico Jiménez y una ranita por Rocio Ramírez de Arrazola. Fui a la casa de Josefina Aguilar pero no tuve la oportunida de conocerla. Tengo ganas de regresar y aprender mas.
Leo tu blog con mucho interes y uso tu libro con mis estudiantes. Tengo mi propia copia en casa.

Esperanza said...

Can you update us on your adventures since July 4?