Day 6: San Martin Tilcajete
Located about 25km South of Oaxaca and a stone throw from San Bartolo Coyotepec, this town is known for its Alebrijes: colorful, whimsical, hand painted wood animals. After making the turn from the main highway, we proceeded down the main street lined with artisan shops, each with their own style and level of detail. In general, the wood is made from copal, the same wood used for incense in churches to keep the spirit and soul nourished and pure. It is a hard wood that comes in two varieties. The price varies greatly from artisan to artisan, but is apparent in the work detail. The process starts with the wood carver and the expertise within. Sometimes, the carver is the same as the painter, but not necessarily. Zapotec symbols are integral to the design, and transition from one body part to the next of the animal. The skills are apparent and appreciated when you witness someone carving or painting, as we saw in several workshops. We visited about 10 alebrijes galleries while in San Martin Tilcajete.
As part of our ongoing promotion of the artisans of Mexico in our business, we hosted an artist from Tilcajete by the name of Jacobo Angeles on March 27, 2015. We had never met him, but, coincidentally, were in his town one week before he was in ours in the United States. Proud to say that he personally exhibited at our gallery in Atlanta.
Jacobo & Maria Angeles Alebrijes Artisans
We asked several of the other artisans if they know Jacobo and they would nod and say he is at the end of the road. After hitting the end of the main road, we first turned left to find a very cool cemetery with nothing beyond. After turning around onto the dirt road and going about 6 blocks, we arrived at Jacobo and Maria Angeles workshop. From the moment our eyes saw the work in progress, we knew this was a maestro of Mexican folk art. The shop was bustling with activity. It was obvious that this shop was professional and that Jacobo took care of his people. There was a cook making food, beautiful grounds with flowers and green plants, healthy animals playing. Lots of the staff wore traditional guayabera shirts or colorful embroidered blouses from their indigenous neighboring villages. Alebrijes painters noticed our unannounced entry and yelled for someone who promptly greeted us. We explained that we just “happened to be in the area” and wanted to say hi to Jacobo. The young man (please forgive me for not remembering his name!) was so kind to us by giving us a tour, after stating that Jacobo was not there. He started with a presentation on the type of wood used (copal), how long it takes to grow, how they prune it to make it more interesting for making alebrijes, how they plant trees so that they have a sustainable supply. We then went to see the woodcarving area, where at least 10 people were busily carving, studying the wood branches, and in various parts of the process. One master carver explained his vision of the wood he was carving relative to a photograph he was working from. It was a custom project for a (very lucky) client. There were two shelves above that lined the u-shaped walls in this part of the workshop, with the hand carved wood shapes: the top shelf was for work that was sold and the bottom shelf was available and separated by type of animal. Some had pencil marks with numbers in square patterns. The reason was to give an estimate to a client based on the square centimeters of work that would be required.
Jacobo Angeles visited No Mas! in Atlanta, Georgia on March 27, 2015, to display his Alebrijes, as part of his continuous education to people on this traditional Zapotec art. His generous teachings help people appreciate this medium, the Zapotec culture. This visit was made possible by Danceando Promotions, Oaxaca Government, Westminster Schools in Atlanta,GA, Alma de mi Tierra Cooking Classes, and the Instituto Oaxaqueno de las Artesanias.