Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Cynthia Weill collects items for GLP in Oaxaca, Mexico

Cynthia Weill joined Global Language Project (GLP) as a consultant this spring.  As a writer of bilingual children’s books, she spends every summer with artisans in Oaxaca (Wah-hah-kah), Mexico.  Below is her story of her most recent trip, during which she collected pieces for a Mexico "culture kit" for use in GLP's programs.

Cynthia and figurative ceramist Guillermina Aguilar.

The artisans of Oaxaca supply the figures for my work, which teach the bilingual alphabet, colors, opposites, numbers etc. The books impart basic concepts while exposing children to Mexican art forms (see and
The cover of one of Cynthia's books.
My wish when starting was that the books would bring the artisans involved more recognition.  Many of these artisans, such as the Aguilar sisters - creators of figurative ceramists - are considered “Great Masters of Mexican Folk Art” (Fernández de Calderón 2012).  However, even in Mexico, they are known to only a handful of folk art enthusiasts, anthropologists and academicians.  I also  hoped by virtue of exposing these handicrafts to a wider audience that readers travelling to Oaxaca would visit the artisans and purchase their work.  
Sadly, this did not happen.

In 2006, a civil disturbance landed Oaxaca on the U.S. Department of State’s Travel Advisory list.  Just as things were starting to improve, fear of the swine flu epidemic kept people away.   Today, I feel perfectly safe in Oaxaca; however the terrible press about the violence relating to Mexico’s drug cartels currently frightens off most international tourists.
Artisans who made their livelihood for years from their ceramics, wood carving, tin figures and baskets by selling them to visitors are trying to supplement their meager incomes with farming or tortilla making or whatever else they can do for a cash income.  These craftspeople used to be able to employ their children insuring that there would be a new generation of artisans. The adult children of some of the most famous artisans in Mexico - the successors of these ancient traditions - are now laying bricks and driving moto-taxis to support their families.
When I was asked to create a "culture kit" for the Global Language Project based on Mexican artifacts, I saw an opportunity.  From my book projects, I knew that many artisans were producing work that used appropriately had tremendous educational value for young children.
The kits contain several different types of crafts. There are two types of ceramics: black and red. The artisan who made the black animal figure whistles for the project, Carlomagno Pedro Martinez, is considered a “Great Master of Mexican folk art.”
Carlomagno Pedro Martínez makes black pottery whistles.

Although his pieces are in major museums throughout the world,  he loved making the whistles as they reminded him of the work he used to do as a child.  
Another clay worker, Josefina Aguilar, probably Mexico’s most famous artisan, made the ceramic market ladies. If you go to her town of Ocotlán on Fridays, when women bring their wares to market, you will see how they inspire her.
Josefina Aguilar, figurative ceramist, shows “Mercadera” figure or lady at the market.
Wood carver, Jesus Sosa Calvo made a special iguana for the kit.  It’s less delicate than some of his other pieces but he felt this one could withstand the wear and tear of many little hands.
Jesús Sosa Calvo and wife Juana, wood carvers, show lizard wood carvings.
Women’s collaboratives in Oaxaca made the pre-hispanic figure in the collection as well as the woven baskets that house the artifacts.

Through its purchase of these crafts,  Global Language Project can share these art forms with educators.  The project also makes a direct contribution to the livelihoods of rural artisans and plays a small role in keeping these wonderful craft traditions alive for the next generation.

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