Mirrors of Zegache

Reviving Lost Art in Mexico

Thirteen years ago, I relocated to Mexico from California. Having had a love affair with Mexico for many years, one of the numerous things I love so much about Mexico is the folk and indigenous art. I opened a gallery as I began my life here and settled into finding work to sustain me until I was qualified to receive my social security benefits. 
 
 
Traveling throughout Mexico opened my eyes to the reality that much of Mexico's wonderful art is not easy to find in galleries. The art I found I had never been viewed before. If I hadn't seen it, it was a good bet that others had not either so I decided to start a Mexican folk and indigenous art show. My goal was to generate support and educate the public to the rapidly disappearing art that represents so much of Mexico's history. I called the show Feria Maestros del Arte and the first show was held in 2002 with thirteen artisans.
 
 
Many artisans can no longer depend on their art to earn a living due to lack of sales venues or their inability to afford to travel to such venues. They end up abandoning their art to find easier and more consistent ways of putting bread on the table. Some of these artisans have produced the same art in their families for generations, but once gone another piece of Mexico's history is lost forever.
 
 
Feria Maestros del Arte art show is held in Chapala, Jalisco, Mexico each November.  Artists from all corners of Mexico who produce high-quality indigenous and folk art are invited to participate free of charge—they pay no booth fee, no percentage of sales, and they are housed with local residents of the Lake Chapala  community. In 2009, grant funding was made available to the Feria and even the artist's transportation costs were reimbursed to them—they took every centavo they made at the show!
 
 
Run exclusively by Mexican and expatriate volunteers, I continue to travel throughout Mexico looking for artists who represent the highest quality in their particular art form. Amazing adventures have led to finding artists with incredible talent. One such group of artists is Zegache Talleros Comunitarios.
 
From Santa Ana Zegache, Oaxaca, which was almost a ghost town, sprang a community converted and dedicated to the struggles against its own reality. Every inhabitant has three to four relatives who work the earth north of the Mexican border in search of the American dream or at least human dignity. Today, Zegache is one of many Oaxacan towns in which the few who remain wait and work hard to change their lives in their homeland. 
 
 
Zegache continues to be rooted in its traditions and customs. It is fortunate to have a 17th Century Dominican church holding an artistic and historic legacy at its interior. Mural paintings from different eras cross over the walls, twelve Baroque altarpieces from the 18th Century, two holy-water fonts held by majestic angels of gold-and-silver-covered stone, a collection of mirrors with estofado (a technique by which color is brushed over gilded wood or metal and then scratched off in order to reveal the gold underneath) frames, antique manuscripts from the 17th-19th Centuries, and a large number of highly aesthetic religious paintings and sculptures are part of this amazing edifice. 
 
 
The master painter, Rodolfo Morales, saw Zegache as being invaluable. He dedicated the last part of his life to recuperating and restoring its church. However, he never saw all of the ideas motivating his philanthropic vision — to preserve its artistic heritage and revive the region's former vocations — completed. Señor Morales died in 2000. 
 
 
He created the Zegache Community Workshops to benefit its villagers. At the project'sinitial stages, he was able to provide the townswomen with a vocation which would make them responsible for taking care of the town's legacy. By saving the architectural elements and artistic surfaces, they also participated in restoring the town's essence and its function as a spiritual, social and cultural center.
 
 
Despite many obstacles, the Zegache Community Workshops were reactivated in 2004. With help from various patrons, they increased their membership. Today, both men and women attempt to sensitize Zegache's inhabitants to the love of and care for what is theirs. In the face of changing governments and power abuse, they have recuperated the richness lost over the years and conserved the cultural worth of their heritage. 
 
 
In order to raise funds to restore the nine altarpieces still in need of rescue, the project has reproduced for sale approximately 50 mirror styles based on their 18th Century originals. 
 Originally, the mirrors were hung in the church for illumination. The mirror is very significant in Zegache culture and originates during pre-Hispanic times with Tezcatlipoca (smoking mirror). The god of night used a mirror to look at men's hearts; later, the Christian tradition deemed the mirror a symbol of spirituality. In Catholics, the mirror is also related to a divinity which reflects humans' imperfection. 
 
In 2000, Demián Flores joined the Zegache Project, inviting twenty-five contemporary Mexican artists with recognized artistic careers to freely modify one of the 18th Century frame replicas. Vocations have been revived through this project: mural and easel painting restoration, wood carving, carpentry, application of gold and silver leaf, as well as hand embroidery (by local craftswomen). In this last category, the older women of the village participate enthusiastically, working from their homes, where they create cushions with the designs of these beautiful mirrors.
 
 
The Zegache Talleros Comunitarios will be participating in this year's Feria Maestros del Arte as part of a large Oaxacan contingency that the Feria buses to Jalisco every year for the art show. For further information on Feria Maestros del Arte, visit their website www.mexicoartshow.com or contact Marianne Carlson at (376) 765-7485, email mariannecarlson@gmail.com.
 
 

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