Ajijic, Mexico - Mexico’s folk art is at risk of becoming an endangered species! Industrialization and urbanization – not to mention cheap Chinese knock-offs – are driving local artists to leave their villages and forsake their craft for work in the cities.
The good news is that there is a strong antidote in Ajijic’s Feria Maestros Del Arte, which recently celebrated its eleventh year.
The Feria is a standout among area venues for artists and artisans not only for the quality, breadth, and originality of its work, but for its single inspired purpose of protecting and preserving Mexico’s community of indigent artists and their artistic traditions.
The Feria is philanthropic capitalism that showcases this art and these artists to the expat community and to visiting art merchants. The outcome is an opportunity for these distinctive works to fetch the fair price that promotes their economic sustainability.
The philanthropy, though, goes well beyond simply bringing sellers and buyers together. An extensive network of volunteers and significant donations – the Feria is registered as a non-profit in both Mexico and the U.S. – assure that every dime of every sale goes to the merchant artists.
The merchants – more than 60 of them – are charged no fees for exhibit space. Many receive transportation assistance or are housed and fed gratis in the homes of locally resident expats.The Feria is the brainchild of locally resident gringa Marianne Carlson, who each year travels the length and breadth of Mexico seeking out new talent.
The Feria is also nothing if not authentic. All of the exhibited goods are handmade by native artists using materials native to Mexico, and much of this remarkable work has rarely been exhibited outside of the often remote villages in which it is created. Many of the artisans are but the latest in generations of family artists.
Shoppers can watch many of the artisans continue to create as they tend their market stalls while patiently explaining the symbolism of the images in their work and the process by which it is produced.
This was my first year to experience this event, and I had the good luck to do so from a front-row seat in more ways than one. It’s located within easy walking distance of my place, which is a real bonus since the patrons’ parked cars have not only lined the curbs of surrounding neighborhood streets, but spilled out along the Carretera for a quarter mile in both directions.
Location, however, is only the beginning of the good luck because my place is also a room-and-board site for Feria artist Martín Ibarra and his family. The son of a noted clay artist, Martin has been widely recognized for his painted clay sculptures of the Virgin and his intricately decorated eggs and spheres.
This year each room-and-board sponsors took turns at a dinner held in their home for the artists and their fellow sponsors, and these gatherings added yet another dimension to the entire experience.
Artisans drawn from across Mexico from Chihuahua in the north to Oaxaca and Chiapas in the south, and when they came together each evening over food and drink the feeling was almost one of reunion. Talk quickly turns from art to life and there’s lots of laughter here.
It’s a rare opportunity for expats to gain a glimpse into the traditions and lives of these master craftsmen, and for them to see their American and Canadian hosts up close and personally. It’s also a great demonstration of what happens when people put national identities and politics aside and come together as individuals in a common pursuit.
Even for casual students of world cultures the Feria is not to be missed. If you’re looking for items not to be found even in the abundance of artist communities in Guadalajara’s nearby Tonala and Tlaquepaque neighborhoods, this is the place to be.
If you ever wonder what happened to the spirit of social activism that marked the youth of many retirees you’ll find it alive and well in the spirit of Ajijic’s Feria.For more information check out the Feria’s website HERE.