Our Tales From The Road
Trees of Life Part II
Posted on Sep 23rd, 2006
Why We Are Drawn to Folk Art
It is rare to find work that is made by hand, piece by piece, with great attention and care to detail. Some of the world’s most exciting and creative folk art is made by common untrained people of Mexico, using whatever materials are at hand.
The work is steeped in tradition and is a place in the world where whole families still work together to bring income into the family, where family members work simply, with their hands, together, for a lifetime. The work includes utilitarian, ceremonial, decorative and historic objects that are vessels for local history, tradition and design mixed with modern and new techniques. It enjoys a history of over 2000 years and the people of Mexico are continuing to create art that reflects the roots and tradition of the culture. It is not a static thing and is ever changing as new ideas, materials and processes find their ways into the work, and old methods are rediscovered.
The world recognizes the inherent Mexican character which carries sense of national identity that the world relates to and understands, giving the work of regular people world wide recognition.
Trees of life from Izucar de Matamoros
Heriberto Castillo Orta has followed in the footsteps of his mother, Catarina Orta de Castillo, working in clay and color since he was young. Now in his late 70's he still maintains a small studio where he lives and works. He has a bed, a cook top, small shelf for his clothing, a few dishes. The bed is always smoothly made, with a few clothing items laid out. There are chickens and dogs running the yard. His workspace includes a slab table, chair, a few rows of shelves that hold his finished pieces, jars of paints and brushes, and a collection of pinup calendars and pictures of tigers and other animals that muses. I always go away thinking that the living studio space has a packed dirt floor, but in reality, I believe it is a concrete slab
Heriberto is a gentle man, always happy to see you coming down the street to visit him. He seems to have a sixth sense when you are leaving the home of his sister Isabel, and greets you at the gate and takes you in to see his current work. Heriberto's work follows traditional lines, such as the trees of life that his parents and grandparents made, animal candle figures, suertes and pyramid animal figures. Along with these, he creates 'sahumarias' or copal incense burners that are fashioned as the religious figures of San Rafael, San Miguel, the Anima sola & the Virgin of Guadalupe. One time you will find traditional dancers, another time mariachi figures or birthday candles. He works with traditional molds, but also creates new figures by hand. He paints with modern paints, acrylic, but does not finish them in the super glossy lacquer like Isabel's work.
His painting style reflects that of Alfonso, but not so finely tuned, more of a rough look to it. These days, he rarely works in the family workshop, preferring the quite of his small studio.
Alfonso Castillo Orta
One cannot talk about Alfonso Castillo Orta without acknowledging his fantastic contribution to his craft and family legacy. During the farming depression of the 1970's Alfonso quit farming and decided to take up the family craft of working in clay, making trees of life. Over the years he has developed his unique style and brought back into the craft the use of natural earth dyes.
His creative genius, years of hard work, and willingness to break from the traditional family designs, has won him recognition throughout the world for his work. Choosing not to follow the family tradition in design, coupled with the decision to bring the use of natural dyes, which his grandfather used in the early part of the century, back into the work was what set his work aside from the others in his village as well as the ceramic works of other artists in Mexico. The work took on other dimensions, embracing el dia de los muertos and other traditional and historic events, creating new markets and attracting collectors.
They entered their work in various concoursos (juried shows) and won many awards throughout Mexico and the great honor of being included in the Banamex, 'Great Masters of Mexican Folk Art' book, which gave world- wide recognition to his work, and cemented his role as Master folk artist 'Don Alfonso'.
Part 3 of this article, featuring Francisco Flores will be in a future newsletter
© Dos Mujeres Mexican Folk Art 2006