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An artisan-crafted leather purse

Guadalajara – artesanías and more artesanías

Besides tequila and mariachi music, Guadalajara is also known as a key center of artesanía (artisanry or handcrafted goods). Artisans produce everything from kitschy tchotchkes to art pieces, and from specialty foods to meticulously crafted leather goods.  Whether you want to buy anything or not, it’s fascinating to walk through artisan communities and see all the workshops, retail shops, and street vendors selling such examples of artistry and craftsmanship.  Sometimes you’ll even see an artisan in action, blowing glass or making jewelry.

(Here are some photos of the area’s artesanía on Google.)

Statues of Frida Kahlo

Two of Frida Kahlo’s self-portraits reinterpreted in clay by sculptor Rafael Piñeda Torres.

Some types of artesanía are easy to find, as the designs are fairly standard.  If you want a basic black leather jacket or purse, or these colorful glass pitchers and cups, no problem.  They’re everywhere.  Some folk art uses traditional designs too, so you’ll see similar things all over.  But there are also some artists whose designs and/or craftsmanship really stand out from the crowd.  You’ll only find their products with lots of legwork, lots of luck, or help from someone who knows.  Or, if their work is easy to find, it’ll be in a soulless specialty shop for tourists where all the merchandise is sold at drastically inflated prices.

I learned about this with my friend Rafael.  He made the Frida Kahlo statues pictured above, which now grace my bookshelf.  These are his original designs.  He has books of her self-portraits, which he studies and then reinterprets in clay.  I loved them from the moment I saw them.

Glass pitcher and matching margarita glasses

Margaritas, anyone? This swirly design is popular and easy to find in the area.

Anyways, Rafa took me to a retail shop in a nearby town of ex-pats and tourists.  They buy and re-sell some of his work.  As I looked around, I got the feeling that things were priced really high.  I was right; Rafa later told me they mark up all his art by 200%.

Meanwhile, Rafa coordinates a collective of forty artists and artisans from across the state of Jalisco.  The collective jointly operates several shops in nearby towns where they sell direct to the public.  The stuff there is really pretty impressive, and the prices aren’t scary.  But that’s another blog post.

Here are some photos of things I’ve bought or admired. And the purse at the top of this post

Colorful, fun, bizarre statues

Years ago, Rafa introduced me to a friend who did these. I brought four back to the U.S. in a plastic bin with wheels, which broke off in transit. And I used inflated sandwich bags as padding. When I got to the Houston airport, Customs stopped me and asked if I was a businessman bringing them into the U.S. for resale. Here’s a tip for any customs agents reading this: If a guy is using sandwich bags and a bin that’s barely surviving the trip, he’s not a professional importer.

Glass dish with embedded metallic foil designs

I’m pretty sure my mother would go gaga for this. I didn’t capture its beauty that well. It’s really stunning. Definitely stands out from the crowd. I’m planning to track down the artisan the next time I need a gift for her.

Life-size bust of Frida Kahlo

I visited Rafa once while he was working on life-size versions of his Frida busts. The arteries and veins coming out of the heart are lighter brown because they’re freshly sculpted and still wet.

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