Living Art: Designs and Crafts of the Otomi of San Pablito
Nestled in the steep, sloping hills of the Sierra Madre, just north of Puebla, Mexico, lies the remote Otomi village of San Pablito. With limited farming opportunities here, many villagers rely on traditional crafts for income. Women create whimsical embroidery and beadwork arts inspired by Otomi legends and the region's rich plant and animal life. Men carve benches in the shapes of horses, armadillos, and burros. Sounds of artisans pounding bark into sheets of thin, flat paper, or Amate, echo throughout the valley below.
The Otomi crafts also serve traditional ceremonial purposes. Amate, for example, is carefully cut into mythological figures that curanderos (healers) use for curing ceremonies, and figures of seed spirits made from colorful tissue paper are used to encourage healthy crops. Despite the outside pressures of commercialism, the remarkable designs created by the villagers embody a rich cultural heritage that has been preserved for centuries. As one artisan explains, "This is the work our ancestors gave us."
In Living Art: Designs and Crafts of the Otomi of San Pablito, sixty Otomi artworks from the collections of the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe, New Mexico, are reproduced along with photographs of the town and community. The text by Kerin Gould—who lived and worked in the community for two years and continues to visit regularly—explores the history and origins of the Otomi culture, examining the legends and ceremonial practices that inspire the intricate designs of their modern-day creations. The foreword by curator Barbara Mauldin provides an overview of the many crafts unique to the Otomi of San Pablito.
About the Authors
Kerin Gould, PhD, lived in the Hnanhu community of San Pablito from 1995 to 1997; there she worked with neighbors to create a cultural center and to organize cultural visits to other communities. Inspired by her experiences in San Pablito, on her return to the United States she worked with the Abya Yala Fund, an indigenous self-determination organization, and went on to study at the department of Native American Studies at the University of California, Davis, where she received her doctorate. She is currently working with indigenous activists to accelerate the dissemination of information and resources needed for indigenous self-development and human rights projects.
Barbara Mauldin, PhD, has been curator of Latin American folk art at the Museum of International Folk Art in Sante Fe, New Mexico, since 1991. She has produced many exhibitions and publications, including íCarnaval! and Mexican Masks: Tigers, Devils, and the Dance of Life.
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