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Oaxaca, Mexico 1970-1979


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Portfolio, Commentary and Notes …

Portfolio, Commentary and Notes
A portfolio of black and white photographs taken during numerous craft buying trips to craft villages around Oaxaca, Mexico. Most of the photographs center on the artisans, their lives and their surroundings (always more interesting to me) rather than on the craft objects. This book is the first in a planned series on other regions in Mexico; next, Michoacán and Chiapas
Hardcover with jacket, portfolio & commentary, 11” x 8.5”, 82 pages. 48 black and white images, published 2010, $110 ppd. (ISBN 978-1-4507-3327-4)

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  • 1. OAXACA ! MEXICO ! 1970-1979 Clare Brett Smith
  • 2. Smith with Isaac Vazquez, 1978 Clare Brett Smith, photographer and writer, traveled in Mexico in the 1970s with her husband, Burges, and often with their children. Owners at that time of a. folk art import company, Primitive Artisa n, they specia lized in ev ery da y ha ndm a de objects. Pictures in this portfolio were taken during those buying trips
  • 3. OAXACA ! MEXICO ! 1970 -1979 Portfolio, Commentary & Notes Clare Brett Smith 1
  • 4. OAXACA ! MEXICO ! 1970-1979 Photographs & Text by Clare Brett Smith Library of Congress Catalogue Card Number: ISBN 978-1-4507-3327-4 Copyright © 2010 by Clare Brett Smith All rights reserved Many of these photographs have previously been shown in exhibitions at the National Arts Club, New York City; the Silo Gallery, New Milford, Connecticut; The World Craft Council Conference in Kyoto, Japan and at the Pablo Picasso municipal library in Teotitlán del Valle, Oaxaca, México Clare Brett Smith 80 Mountain Spring Road, Farmington, Connecticut, 06032 United States of America2
  • 5. 3
  • 6. Ir y Vuelta ! Round Trips I’ve been in Mexico often, though never long enough to feel completely at home there. My first visit was in 1943, as a fifteen-year old student in Morelia on The Experiment in International Living. Many years later, beginning in the 1970s, my husband and I traveled throughout Mexico looking for authentic and utilitarian crafts for our folk art import business. Oaxaca was a rich and fascinating source. Each small town in the wide fertile valleys of Oaxaca had its own market day and Mexico, unlike most other Latin American countries, had preserved, and still used, an incredibly wide range of traditional crafts. Oaxaca is also a beautiful place, often described as a land of eternal springtime, and you sense a special freshness in the air when you land there. Traditional baskets, pottery, serapes and rugs were still prevalent then in the markets of Oaxaca along with less commercial but amazing objects, like huge wooden ox yokes and handmade saddles. Shipping to the U.S. was usually practical and affordable - but not always. Mexican railways run on a different gauge, and the smaller Mexican freight cars cannot be uncoupled at the border and hitched directly to U.S. engines. Instead, our three hundred pottery ollas, each in its own basket, had to be transferred by hand, one at a time, into U.S. freight cars in Laredo. We bought directly from artisans but they, often Zapotec-speaking, not Spanish-speaking, were not capable of export and we relied on professional exporters for packing and documentation.4
  • 7. As "middlemen" ourselves, we realized their importance (as our customers did not) and buying inthe villages was our direct link with the artisans, their families, their lives and their land. It wascertainly not an efficient way to buy, but it was pleasant, friendly and respectful. I doubt we wouldhave been as welcome had we been simply curious tourists poking around, and I’m certain I couldnot have taken photographs so freely without this connection. Most of the photographs in thisportfolio were taken over a ten-year period in and around Oaxaca, in the pottery villages ofAtzompa and San Bartolo Coyotepec and in the rug-weaving community of Teotitlán del Valle.On later trips, through the 80s and 90s, I began to take along an extra Nikon loaded withkodachrome film. It seemed crazy not to record Mexicos brilliant and inventive color combinations,but I noticed that color masked the strong shapes and curves that I liked so much, the hills, thekilns, the pots and the women wrapped in their rebozos. Color emphasized itself and it seemed toflatten out the forms. Color shrank the strikingly wide range between the black velvet shadows andthe blazingly white ground beneath my feet. The special rigor of black and white film was a kind ofdiscipline that deepened my understanding and sharpened and delighted, my eye. 5
  • 8. San Antonino del Obispo, 19796
  • 9. 7
  • 10. Oaxaca Cathedral, 19798
  • 11. 9
  • 12. Ruins of a sixteenth century Dominican monastery, near Oaxaca, 197910
  • 13. 11
  • 14. Atzompa, 197812
  • 15. 13
  • 16. San Bartolo Coyotepec, 197714
  • 17. 15
  • 18. Muñecas, Teodora Blancos flower pots, 197816
  • 19. 17
  • 20. Atzompa, 197818
  • 21. 19
  • 22. Galván sisters, San Bartolo Coyotepec, 197720
  • 23. 21
  • 24. Market, Teotitlán del Valle, 197822
  • 25. 23
  • 26. Church Domes, San Antonino del Obispo, 197924
  • 27. 25
  • 28. Churchyard, San Antonino, 197926
  • 29. 27
  • 30. Maguey Cactus, 197928
  • 31. 29
  • 32. Near Mitla, 197830
  • 33. 31
  • 34. Santa Ana del Valle, 197932
  • 35. 33
  • 36. Santa María Coyotepec, 197734
  • 37. 35
  • 38. Rolling out tortillas, 197936
  • 39. 37
  • 40. Isaac Vasquez, Teotitlán del Valle, 197838
  • 41. 39
  • 42. Teototlán del Valle, 197740
  • 43. 41
  • 44. Teotitlán del Valle, 197742
  • 45. 43
  • 46. Teotitlán del Valle, 197844
  • 47. 45
  • 48. Santa Ana del Valle, 197846
  • 49. 47
  • 50. Santa Ana del Valle, 197848
  • 51. 49
  • 52. Teotitlán del Valle, 197850
  • 53. 51
  • 54. Teotitlán del Valle, 197852
  • 55. 53
  • 56. Zócalo, Oaxaca, 197954
  • 57. 55
  • 58. Oaxaca, 197956
  • 59. 57
  • 60. Teotitlán del Valle, 197858
  • 61. 59
  • 62. Oaxaca, 197860
  • 63. 61
  • 64. Oaxaca, 197862
  • 65. 63
  • 66. Teotitlán del Valle, 197864
  • 67. 65
  • 68. Teotitlán del Valle, 197866
  • 69. 67
  • 70. Teotitlán del Valle, 197868
  • 71. 69
  • 72. Teotitlán del Valle, 197870
  • 73. 71
  • 74. Oaxaca Central Market, 197372
  • 75. 73
  • 76. Oaxaca, 197974
  • 77. 75
  • 78. Atzompa, 197976
  • 79. 77
  • 80. Notes about the Photographs78
  • 81. Page 17, Teodora Blanco, 1978A celebrated folk artist out in the world, athome in Atzompa she was considered amaster too, but also mischievous, almost awitch. As we watched, she delighted in addingan iguana’s head to her muñeca, her classicdoll-like flower pot. Animal and bird spiritsinhabit all her figures. Teodora Blanco diedin 1980, but her daughters and her son, Luis,carry on her style of pottery. It is nearlyimpossible to equal her quirky trans-formations.Cover & Page 21, Galván Sisters, 1977I havent found any mention of the sisters incurrent accounts of the black pottery of SanBartolo, but in the 70s they were quiteproductive, I used their picture (the one withthe turkey) as publicity in our import businessand it was also in a series of postcardspublished in Mexico city by Turok. We tooka batch of the postcards back to San Bartoloand gave them to the sisters. They werepleased and surprised at multiple copies. Imconferring with them in the photo at right. 79
  • 82. Page 25, Domes, 1979 From the bell tower in San Antinino del Obispo you could climb out onto the church roof and up the steps between the vaulted domes. Its not exactly handicap accessible, but it made a fine lookout over the town. The photographs on pages 7 and 27 were taken there. Page 29, Maguey Cactus, 1976 An iconic image of Mexico, a giant magueys heart is a source of pulque, mescal and tequila. Of the genus Agave and sometimes called Century Plant, its leaves yield a strong fiber used in hammocks, bath scrubbers, doormats, rope, feed bags. The Maguey is sterile and must to be fertilized by hand.80
  • 83. Page 35, Santa María Coyotepec, 1977This image has a contradictory message: thegoats represent an environmental hazard asthey’ll eat anything and everything that grows,but the conservation message painted on thewall reminds us that we, all of us, depend onthe earth for sustenance.Pages 39 through 45, Teotitlán, 1978The weavers of Teotilán del Valle specializein tapetes, small rugs woven in family work-shops from local wool, natural dyes andancient designs, some of them rememberedand some from museum collections. IsaacVasquez (page 39) is probably the mostfamous weaver, and his wife (page 41)manages the dyes. Soledad Vasquez and herfamilys work are on pages 43 & 45. Right,Enrique Ruiz from another family. 81
  • 84. Pages 47 & 49, Saints Day, 1977 Every year the currently wealthiest man in Santa Ana del Valle is elected mayor and he is expected to pay for the drinks, the music and the festival, a very effective system of wealth distribution. Pages 69 & 71, Teotitlán, 1978 There is not much work available in small rural Mexican villages and many young people, often family men unemployed and desperate for work, leave for the cities or make the dangerous journey across Mexico to the border, and north into the United States.82
  • 85. ! ! ! Clare Brett Smith has lived most of her life in New England. She graduated from the Putney School and from Smith College. She is the mother of seven, grandmother of ten and great-grandmother ( to date) of seven. Clare has worked with artisans all over the world, first with her husband, Burges, in their importing business and later, for twenty-two years, as president of the non-profit Aid to Artisans. She has been honored with many awar ds for her wor k , cr eati v i ty and leadership and is considered a pioneer in co m bi ni ng m a r k et i ng w i t h cult ur a l preservation and economic development. Recently retired, she has returned to her other major interest, photography. Her work has been widely exhibited in one-person shows in the United States and abroad. She taught photography at Zone VI Workshops in V e r m o n t a n d St u d i o A r t s C e n t e r s International in Florence, Italy. Her ten books testify to her keen visual sense. Many are family-oriented but three recent books (and this one) are of more general interest: Japan, Attention to Detail Men&Boys/ Women&Childrem, Pakistan 1979 China 1977 Character ! ! !© 2010 Clare Brett Smith
  • 86. Tlacolula, OaxacaISBN_978-1-4507-3327-490000_PC.eps