Years ago, on the narrow stone and mud steps that make up many of the “streets” of Taxco, in Mexico, I met a little girl, about 9 or 10 years old. She was sitting at the edge of one of the drier and wider steps, painting on sheets of bark paper, amate, that she kept on the step above her. Finished paintings were stored by her feet on the next step down.
She showed me her work, glowing with pleasure and pride; street scenes, as she saw them. She followed no pattern. Each painting was unique, although certain motifs were in all of them; the people she knew, doing the work she was familiar with, the flowers that overhang every roof and fill every empty corner, the blazing sun above everything.
|Taxqueña's Mexico. Paint and crayon on bark.|
|Detail. Men with vegetables for market, straw-thatched adobe houses.|
I bought one; so did the other people with me. Ten pesos I paid, if I remember correctly. I should have paid more, but that is what she asked, and I didn't bargain, at least.
Is this art? Primitive art, maybe? Some would say yes; that little girl wouldn't recognize the term. She painted. That was how she brought home money that would buy her family that day's supper. But there's no doubt but that she loved what she did, that she put her whole being into it, that it expressed the colour, bustle and beauty of her home town.
Taxco is a tourist town. Many of the roofless artisans, the ones without the funds for a shop, sell their work around the public plaza in front of the cathedral. But down towards the market under a roof made of cotton sheets and rope, down, down, down all those steep, slippery steps, where the people of the town buy their daily food, these handicrafts, these “artesanías” are needed, too. There are the clay pots, mugs and bowls; the paper hangings to celebrate family and national occasions; the baskets (I bought one of these, big enough to pack the bean and rice pots I also took home); the hand-woven rebosos; the stick and reed chairs, painted in cheerful colours; and yes, the occasional small painting to decorate the walls.
Men come to market with heavy bundles of pots on their backs, or tied onto burros dwarfed by the load. Women carry smaller loads, but all, even the children, come burdened. All of them are involved in the production of their stock. Staying alive is serious business.
Every town in Mexico has its equivalent, a handful or a small crowd of artisan/sellers with their wares spread out on boxes or cloths in some convenient place where people pass by. If you've been a tourist, you've seen them, maybe bought something pretty to take home at what seemed like a ridiculously low price.
I have a story to tell about a group of artesanos caught in one of our modern dilemmas.
To be continued, tomorrow ...