I purchased two wood carvings while in Sante Fe, NM. I have to admit that I really knew nothing of the history behind this folk art until researching the artist after I was home in front of my computer. All I knew at the time, was that the hand painted figures were enchanting. They have a quality and spirit that bring ancient tales to mind. I can just imagine this coyote sweet talking another creature into some tricky mischief.
This beautifully painted coyote and the fantastic lizard further down in this post, were both carved by Ivan Fuentes of San Martin Tilcajete a city 23 Kilometers south of Oaxaca (pronounced wah - HAW - kah). Ivan and his family have become widely known for their artistry with it's rich history. Ivan Fuentes was taught the art by his father Epifanio Fuentes who is the most famous carver in San Martin Tilcajete. Two other brothers, Zeny and Efrain are also fine carvers. The women in the family tend to do most of the painting, although Zeny prefers to paint his own work. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that Zeny even has an Etsy store!
"In the 1930's families carved toys for their children and masks for religious festivals and carnivals. Copal wood is primarily used for these carvings. This tree is indigenous only to Oaxaca. Cedar and zompantle are also used for carvings. Acrylic paints are used to finish the incredible pieces. It wasn't until the 1980's that the demand for Oaxacan carvings became popular. In 1992 the Smithsonian featured well known Oaxacan carvers. American Folk Art dealers flocked to Oaxaca to begin their collections of these unique works of art. Painted woodcarving is a major art form and source of income in three pueblos near Oaxaca City. The Fuentes family resides in the carving pueblo of San Martin Tilcajete."(1)
"In the early morning hours the copal usually arrives by way of a heavily burdened burro. The woodcarvers prize this particular type of wood for it's pliability and gnarled form. Similar to jade tree in appearance, copal wood sands to a smooth porcelain finish. Fresh pieces have an aromatic smell...
Different parts of the branches make for different animals in the eyes of the artist. A fat knob may be used to make a turtle while a wispy branch transforms into a lizard. The endless tangled maze of branches are a constant form of invention and inspiration, nothing is ever wasted.
The artist spends a great deal of their time chiseling the form when the wood is wet. Working from large machetes on down to small kitchen knives the animalito methodically takes it's delicate shape. Equally important is the sanding. It is here the master artist can bring out the personality and the character of their creation.
As the wood continues to dry, cracks are sanded out and sealed. Arms and appendages are carefully nailed on unless it is a single piece carving. Single piece carvings are usually smaller and more "organic" in appearance. Some of the choicest master works actually fit in the palm of your hand and are carved from a single piece of wood."(2)
This is one of those cases where I really had no idea what treasures I had found. I do tend to buy art simply based on what speaks to me. These pieces have become even more precious now that I have educated myself as to their history. One of the things I love about collecting art is how much I learn in the process. I have always believed in the healing power of art. I have sticker on my Portable Wind Rose that says Art Heals. I should have another one that says Art Teaches!