Saturday, June 21, 2008

Morelia - Expo Feria Artisan Show

MORELIA - David Santos Alonzo's hands briskly massaged the wet clay, healing the battle wounds of its creation, wiping away the cracks with a round stick that left wakes of texture.

Pulling more of the reddish-brown dough from the vacuous interior of the Cocucha (named for the town of his origin), he increased the height of the container that slowly acquired its curving conical shape.

Santos, from the village of Cocucho, was one of 240 artisans showing their wares at the Artisan and Municipal Pavilion at the Morelia Expo Feria 2008. Artisans from throughout the state, from Ocumicho, Cuanajo, Cheran, Santa Clara del Cobre, and Santa Fe De La Laguna had set up their pottery, woodcarvings, copperware, textiles in a martyrdom of the senses, a celebration of a selfless ego in which they released their artistic expressions with complete abandon.

A stall labeled Ciudad Hidalgo sold candied figs, peaches, camote, tejocote; Maria del Rocia Diaz Olivarez sold more of the intriguing tamales like those she'd been selling at the Municipal Food Show. From Lazaro Cardenas came macadamia nuts and coffee liquor, and a stall from Madero offered mezcal, bottled chilis and peaches, and tamarind wine. A man from Santa Clara del Cobre, with thick graying hair and a gray vest over his white shirt created a wool blanket on a loom; a few feet away, an artisan from Tarecuato crafted straw hats on a sewing machine. Dancers performed for delighted audiences on a small stage throughout the two-week affair, winners of the Concurso de Alfareria 2008 were awarded for their entries.

Each trip to the feria's artisan show revealed moments of exhilaration. Earlier in the week, a young boy made a fuss over a palm-sized devil mask the color of burnt pine wood and trimmed in white tic marks, one of many spells cast by Barbara Jimenez Pascual of Ocumicho. Jimenez was away at the moment, but her two granddaughters - carefully eating a bowl of beef soup to avoid any drips from their red tops - watched over the playground of colorful figures: bird-shaped whistles with frozen white eyes and flowers flashing across their breasts that seemed poised to fly away from the feathered devils, strange animals with toothy grins in their wide flat heads, winged serpents and frogs with legs jutting from their heads. Other, more tame objects included gentlemen on horseback and women in flowered dresses. A woman in a blue denim dress with a picture of Che tattooed on her left shoulder stopped with a young girl to
look over the images then moved on. A girl with green streaks in her hair purchased an orange bird whistle.

Purchases, however, had been few and far between, said Jimenez's granddaughter, Julieta Ochoa Pascual, 20.

"We haven't sold much. It's the same all over."

Her grandmother had by now returned.

"It's a new feria," added Jimenez, breaking into a smile with jagged teeth.

"Patzcuaro and Uruapan are better. At Uruapan I sold more. I lot of people go through that feria."

A few days later, Jimenez sat next to her wares but Julieta and the other granddaughter were gone.

"You want to eat some of these?" asked Jimenez, her radiant eyes recessed like finely placed black onyx into her sculpted face as she held out a handful of tortillas she was eating with a bowl of hot beans.

I declined then asked how she learned to make the barro. She started to explain that she learned to make barro from an older woman who had since died, then she stopped and said, "Someone else will be here to help you."

I thought perhaps I had touched on a story that was too painful; later I saw her sitting next to a
younger woman in another stall who was holding her hand and Barbara appeared to be crying; later, she sat alone next to her objects with her head resting in her hand. I waited to speak with her another day when Julieta was with her, and several times as I spoke to her Barbara, Julieta or another friend sitting nearby translated in Purepecha. It occurred to me then that perhaps she wasn't competely comfortable talking without someone to translate my broken Spanish, something with which I could surely relate.

With her friend and granddaughter there, she spoke with unbroken liberation about the craft she first began learning at age 14.

"At first I used molds, but no more. It's all by hand."

She picked up an orange bird whistle.

"I started out making these little birds. Afterwards I made gallinitas, toritos, puerquitos. My favorite objects are Nacimientos, pastorcitos with nino Dios, and angeles."

David Santos Alonzo, who goes by the nickname "El Carajito", has continued the craft passed to him by his mother, Juana Alonzo, a familiar figure around crafts fairs. Her large oval eyes watched with detached interest from above broad cheekbones spreading out over her animated face; her spirited lips chewed on gum while she wove another huancipo. She repeated the same pronouncement shared by Jimenez and her granddaughters.

"We haven't sold much. It's the same all over the fair."

Waves of clay rippled before Santos's hands as they worked back and forth on the Cocucha. Fatigue rose to his face, his light magenta shirt bearing the words "BMG Entertainment" rippling as he made circular motions on the Cocucha.

He stopped and dipped his hands in a cup of water, sprinkling it over the surface, then using his fist to dig clay from the inside, the structure slowly acquiring its distinctive conical shape as he extended the walls ever higher.

A woman joining the crowd of onlookers dipped ice cream from the carved-out half of a pineapple, and three young boys watched anxiously with an older man who wore a restless graying moustache and beard, and danger prowling in his eyes. They moved on. A young boy with blond curls wandered toward Santos with a Spiderman balloon before his mother quickly lead him away.

The sides of the Cocucha quivered and warped as Santos pulled more clay from the bowels of the clay being, which told its story now in the splashes of smeared mud imprinted across his loose white trousers. The sides increased rapidly as they rebelled from the confines of their cloistered existence, swooping into the air to become something greater than themselves, a capsule of enclosed space; Santos was now a sort of mad scientist who performed impromptu surgeries on loose pieces as the need arose, dismissing any blemish that would impoverish the perfection
of his project. He sniffled over his bristly black moustache, his beard remaining stoically where it trailed away from his thick lower lip, then removed clay laying on a black plastic bag and added small pieces to the top.

While sales at least for some of the artisans were disappointing, they seemed to improve as the feria drew to a close. Later in the week, Santos was working on another Cocucha. Joyously inebriated, he declared in English, "I think we will sell all of it," after first announcing that he had sold five large Cocuchas earlier that day to one customer.

"Domingo de Ramos is better. We do sell pretty good."

His mother said she had only made a few sales. Two thick braids of black hair streaked with gray and tied at the ends with black yarn fell over her iridescent blue blouse trimmed in lace. She sat on a small stool in her purple pleated skirt, silver crescent moons dangling from her ears as she plunged a plastic spoon into a carton of chilled strawberries.

Surrounded by her coffee-colored Cocuchas, caressed with flashes of volcanic red and burgundy, and brief flashes of purple bronze, she gestured to a larger one about four feet tall and said she cooked it once in the oven and it was priced at about 35 dollars.

"I learned from my sister-in-law, Dolores Molina," Alonzo said. "I began to do this work when I was 16. It's special, all the time. it's an old tradition."

Her son spoke to her in Purepecha for a moment, and then she conversed with two young men, one with glasses pushed over his head who measured heights of her pieces with a ruler. She came back and said she was just paying them forthe space.

"In Monterrey, I sell a lot, more than Domingo de Ramos and Intermex. I go to Monterrey once a year. There's an exposition."


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