Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Woodcarvers of San Martin Tilcajete

On the road home from Octolan we stopped in the village of San Martin Tilcajete at the studio of Jacobo and Maria Angeles. Jacobo took us through his studio and explained to us what goes into making a collector's quality carving.He started with the tree, the copal tree to be exact, giving us each a year old seedling to hold in our hands. Then he took us to the woodpile and showed us the difference between male and female tree wood. The female is softer and easier to carve. The male wood has a reddish color in its bark that is used as part of the natural coloring.The carver begins with a machete, chunking the wood into the form that he wants. The finer work is done with chisels and knives. The wood is left to dry for 6 months, and about half way through the drying process is dipped in gasoline to kill any termites.

The traditional ways of making pigment were explained to us. Using his hands as his palette, he began with traditional plant and animal pigments ... the powdered sap of the copal tree when mixed with honey becomes a rich brown. But if you add a little limestone to it, it becomes a rich black ... add baking soda and lime juice to to that and you have a rich yellow. There is a yellow ochre that comes from the fermented corn mold called huitlacoche ... and the reds, from the now familiar cochinella. It was quite the magic show.
Thoroughly dazzled we moved to the area where the painters were at work. There were some painters working on commercial pieces in acrylic. But there were also artists working with the natural paints on the collector pieces. Here is an example of a finished collector's quality piece from their gallery. You can see the intricate detail, and while this picture does not showcase the rich earth tones that I think make these pieces so attractive, it does highlight the intricate detail of the work.

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