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Mexican Folk Art: Artisans of Ocumicho

 Whimsical Folk Art of Ocumicho

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Each work of art from these Ocumicho artisans tells a story of everyday life: nativity in a Volkswagen bug; nativity on an elephants head; people climbing the twin towers; bloody goat killing; surgery in the hospital; fruit truck.

About Carmela Martinez

Our love for this small pueblo in Michoacan started when we were first invited to it in 1996. While visiting the Spanish Colonial town of Patzcuaro, Michoacan, we met Carmela Martinez. An indigenous Purepecha folk artist, she exhibited her pottery creations amidst the displays of the other artisans in the tianguis. Carmela invited us to visit her small town of Ocumicho where we would soon meet her family and see all of their work. We decided to make the trip in our rented Volkswagen bug, which took nearly 2 hours. The bug barely muled up the steep and

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bumpy dirt roads as we made our way. I remember the townspeople’s reactions as we asked for “Carmela Martinez”; there was no address so we

asked at every corner. As it turns out, many others in the town do the same clay folk art as she did. Once they realized we were looking for the folk art, they tried to get us to see theirs first. In all fairness to Carmela, we we

re determined to find her first. She was surprised when we showed up on her doorstep. These gringos were seri

ous! Our Spanish those days was less than perfect, but we were relieved that Spanish was her second language, also. She invited us into her humble home and introduced us to her husband and daughter. She offered us a seat on the mattressless bed frame as she told us stories about her inspiration, her family, and the recognition she earned from the various Mexican Folk Art Competitions. We were thankful for her one-syllable-at-a-time Spani

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sh. As she spoke, she had a somewhat rhythmic way of grouping her words while inhaling and exhaling.

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The combined effect was that she was almost easier for us to understand! A brief tour of her backyard kiln and the process for making the clay figures followed. We took some photos of Carmela and her family. Her daughter even put on a nice dress for the photo. We bought as much of her art as our VW Bug could carry. The rest we shipped back to our warehouse in Tonala. Sadly, nearly all of the product was destroyed on the long trip back to Atlanta. The loosely packed, not-suitable-for-export method of crating that they employed was a painful lesson that we learned.

We thoroughly enjoyed discovering artisans around Lake Patzcuaro and making side trips through the many towns, including Tzintsuntzan, known for the beautiful carved wood columns, armoires, doors, and even fireplace mantles. We have since lost touch with Carmela due to security concerns of traveling to Michoacan.

Déjà Vu

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Fast forward to Puerto Vallarta, 2012. There was a pop-up artisan market in the parking lot of the Walmart (of all places!), featuring artisans from various small villages throughout Michoacan, Oaxaca, Jalisco (Tlaquepaque and Tonala), and Veracruz.  They even had many regionally prepared foods such as chiles and mole. Guitars, toys, handtooled leather handbags, tin stars and m

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irrors, amber and silver jewelry from Chiapas and Taxco lined the rows of temporary space they occupied for a week. In that market, we found the sister of Carmela and her husband, who made the same style of Folk Art from Ocumicho. We loaded up our car and were happy to make the re-connection. Just this August of 2015, we found the same couple at the Enart exhibit and bought their “Pieza de Concurzo” (Select Art presented for judging). Another prize was a ceramic elephant head with all the pieces of the nativity on it–you have to see it! Other pieces represented at the Enart Show from Ocumichu are the Pinas de Patamban. We had the honor of meeting the son of the Master Artisans of Mexican Folk Art, Neftali Ayungua Suarez, at the same location the year before. (See the artisans of Patamban blog here)
We try to exhibit the works of Ocumicho Michoacan Artisans in our Atlanta Artisan Market–No Mas!

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