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Insights into Shopping for Arts and Crafts

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Insights into Shopping for Arts and Crafts Empty Insights into Shopping for Arts and Crafts

Post by CheenaGringo Thu Aug 30, 2012 11:48 am

Yesterday, Mainecoons asked for: "getting your insights as to where you found the best shopping for arts and crafts." Yesterday after first reading the question, I thought that it would be easy to answer but the more I thought about it, I realized that the answer can be somewhat complex. It will become evident that my answer pretty much relates to us and YMMV.

When we making our trips around the country researching and sourcing of arts and crafts, we maintain two different hats - one hat for items we want to purchase for our home or buy for gifts and the other hat for items that we may be interested in importing. Having spent years in both the retail and wholesale ends of the gift business, I learned that the two hat thing is of key importance. Naturally, we all would like to think that we each possess the best in taste but the reality is that each of our tastes are different and that emotions enter into the equation. When it comes to shopping for ourselves, our tendency is to quickly decide we like something and purchase it without a bunch of research providing the quality and price is what we expect. Whether we make that purchase from a store or directly from the artisan depends on the circumstances. For us, we happen to enjoy the research, the search and when available, the history behind certain products. As for the import end, we really need to find the "source" in order to control our costs and maintain quality consistency.

Arts and crafts in Mexico have an interesting history and a somewhat unique path of development. Depending on the area, one may find that "the church" may have had a strong hand in creating product pockets where a town or village established itself as a center for a certain art form or product. Once established, then the generations take over and the art form and skills are passed from one generation to the next. You will find this to be true in 100's or even 1000's of towns and villages throughout Mexico. Part of the adventure is identifying and finding the "pockets" and then sorting through the artisans to determine what best fits your tastes. Depending on the Mexican State, it may be as simple as going to a "tourist or arts" website to locate these product pockets but often one has to resort to word of mouth or even dumb luck. A couple of examples:
1) A number of years back when researching a trip to Michoacan, I knew we wanted to find the "pina pottery". All I could find was the name of the town, "San Jose de Gracia". When I plugged that into Google Maps, I came up with a town near Mazamitla and that was out of our way. One day while making a loop drive out of Patzcuaro, we went looking for the villages of Patamban & Ocumicho. After visiting both, we headed down the road and hit a village not on our maps. Sure enough, it was the "pina pottery town" of San Jose de Gracia!
2) We had sourced oinx y marmol y travertino from a shop in Tonala. In talking to him, he had said his product came from the State of Puebla but we hadn't pressed him on just where. In preparing for this trip, research led me to Tecali de Herrera as a source in the State of Puebla. But even though I read everything I could find on the Internet, there was nothing that prepared us for the magnitude of the stone business there! I would estimate that it will take us four or five days of visits to begin to feel we have a grip or understanding of what goes on there.

General observations on various shopping areas:

1) Tlaquepaque is quick and easy and generally speaking, the quality and variety tends to be quite good. For the luxury, you will generally pay higher prices but you can have an enjoyable and relaxing experience.

2) Tonala is a bit further away and certainly more of an intense shopping experience. If one stays with the many products that Tonala is known for (glass, pottery, ironwork, paintings, pewter, metal art, etc), good quality with decent prices are fairly easy to find. On the products brought in from other parts of Mexico, such as Talavera, the quality and prices can vary a great deal.

3) Michoacan happens to be a favorite of ours partially because we have spent so much time exploring this State but also because of what it has to offer in the way of arts and crafts. Don Vasco de Quiroga, the first Bishop of Michoacan, could be called the "patron saint of arts & crafts" in this State as it is accepted that he was the one to first establish product pockets in the various cities, towns and villages. Michoacan has so much to offer that it is our plan down the road to rent a home in say Patzcuaro for 30 days or so while searching out various product pockets in towns or villages we haven't been able to visit up to now. A couple of suggestions for getting a grasp of what Michoacan has to offer: 1) Visit the Casa de las Artisanias in Morelia to see a representative display of a majority of the arts and crafts produced in the State. By taking some notes during the visit, you will have a list of towns & villages. 2) Plan a visit to the Palm Sunday Crafts Fair held in Uruapan each year. This event is attended by over 1000 artists from all over Michoacan. We haven't managed to schedule a visit but it is on our future list.

3) Oaxaca - Since this was our first visit and we were only there for four full days, we cannot claim to be anything more than neophytes. However, we did develop some impressions and opinions that may or may not be valid. Oaxaca has enjoyed a well developed "tourist trade" with visitors from all over the world. Not only can one see this reflected in the prices offered in Oaxaca proper but also in the popular towns and villages frequented by the tour buses and vans. It was explained to us that the artists and craftspeople have a system in place whereby prices are raised 30-40% when tour groups hit to pay "commissions" to the tour guides. For example, it was arranged for us to visit the home and studio of one particular rug weaver well off the main drag through Teotitlan del Valle. As one comes into town, there are some huge shops on the side of the highway and a few more on the main drag of Teotitlan. These shops are easily accessible to the tour buses and vans and the prices are much much higher than those of the smaller family operations! Based on what we observed, I will say that the product quality and prices being offered by the folks who set up along the highway in Ajijic are excellent! Keep in mind that some operations in Teotitlan have gone to using acrylic yarns in place of 100% wool along with commercial instead of natural dyes to reduce their product costs. Down the road, Oaxaca will be a work in progress to find sources in the less popular or not so well publicized towns and villages who also produce fine and unique products. We returned with a Oaxaca map that does attempt to define which town and villages throughout the State that specialize in what products and I will scan that map and post when I have time.

4) Puebla - having spent only two full days in Puebla throws us into the neophyte category once again. Puebla is very well known for the traditional Talavera produced in certain Mexican Government endorsed studios and these are the only ones who can legally mark their products with "Talavera". One benefit is that these products are certified to be lead free in compliance with US Govt. regulations. The products found in the shops and mercados in Puebla appear to be from all over the country and we found overall quality and prices to be quite good. I am guessing but it didn't appear that Puebla was as affected by tourists and tour groups. For comparison, we only saw one tour group in Puebla where as we were seeing 10 to 25 each day in Oaxaca and this is the off season.

5) Feria Maestros del Arte - while I have never attended (but may do so this Nov), I have read all the "Maestro bios" and all indications are that you are extremely privileged to have such an event right in your backyard! These artists and craftspeople are a unique group and can only be referred to as the best of the best.

[/i]A word of caution when considering the purchase of certain types of products, especially low fired pottery or clay products or anything made from wood, consider the time of year it was produced. Low fired clay products tend to be softer and more fragile when produced during the rainy season. Wood products tend to have more moisture content and can crack or split when the dry season arrives.[i]

DISCLAIMER: I don't consider myself to be any kind of expert and certainly some may take issue with comments I have made. I have attempted to be candid with our opinions and thoughts based upon our experiences.

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