Monday, June 17, 2024

Acclaimed folk art and artisan fair returns to Chapala after 2-year COVID hiatus

As the long and difficult pandemic eases, one of Mexico’s best handcraft and folk art fairs is returning to Jalisco’s Lake Chapala this month. 

For almost two decades, Marianne Carlson and a dedicated group of volunteers have worked tirelessly to provide some of the country’s best creative hands an outlet to get fair prices from people who truly appreciate their work. 

November 2020 was supposed to be the Feria de Maestros del Arte’s 20th anniversary, but COVID-19 shut everything down. The loss of points-of-sale like this was a disaster for artisans, even though the Feria and other organizations scrambled to find alternatives to keep artisans afloat.

The Feria was inspired by Carlson’s love of Mexican handcrafts, and by the fact that it is so difficult to find and buy fine, authentic wares due to the logistics of getting small lots of merchandise from isolated areas, where artisans often live, to the markets in bigger hubs where people can and will pay decently. 

Translator at Feria de Maestros del Arte in Lake Chapala, Mexico
As most buyers are English speakers, the Feria provides volunteer translators to make transactions easier.

Artisans generally do not have the means to get their work to those markets, and even resellers can face financial difficulty despite raising prices to several times what they pay creators. It bodes poorly for the continuation of these cultural and economic traditions.

To help, Carlson set up a small show with six artisans at a Chapala hotel, all of whom sold out. Each year, she added a few more artisans, as well as patrons and sponsors such as the Chapala Yacht Club — which has become the permanent host — and the California-based Los Amigos de Arte Popular, which provides bus transportation for all artisans. 

Carlson has recruited many volunteers as well, most notably those who open their homes so that artisans have a free, decent place to sleep. 

Such support is extremely important because artisans then keep every peso that buyers pay.  The Feria does not keep track of what the vendors earn, but it knows of many stories of how Feria income changed artisans’ lives.

This year, the directors began the planning process again with trepidation. No one knew if authorities would shut down public events again or if sponsors and volunteers would want to come back after so much time. 

The Feria also lost a number of volunteers because of the pandemic, and a few artisans too. But despite being short-handed, Carlson says that everyone has been great and eager to get the Feria back on track.

This year, the Feria will have the celebration that was taken from them in 2020. Carlson is amazed that the event has continued for so long, but so many do not want to see these traditions die. 

Carlson says “never again” after each fair, but “…then something happens, like meeting a new artisan… and I’m back at it again,” she says. 

The Feria de Maestros del Arte is taking place this year November 11–13, and is following Jalisco state COVID guidelines, recommending masks, hand sanitizer and ventilation. More information can be found at the Feria’s website.

  • CORRECTION: a previous version of this article stated the incorrect dates for Feria de Maestros del Arte event. It has been updated to the correct dates.

Leigh Thelmadatter arrived in Mexico 18 years ago and fell in love with the land and the culture in particular its handcrafts and art. She is the author of Mexican Cartonería: Paper, Paste and Fiesta (Schiffer 2019). Her culture column appears regularly on Mexico News Daily.

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