Tucked into a small space near the corner of Avenida Hidalgo and Avenida López Mateos on Isla Mujeres sits an unassuming little store, Artesanías Glenssy.
This store has intrigued me for quite some time. The walls are hung with brilliantly colored, very scary creatures. I’m certain the two-headed creature with three rows of pointy teeth with a bright yellow tongue was the main villain in one of the Alien movies!
In an attempt to protect his intellectual property, to prevent other artists from copying his ideas, the artist has posted a number of signs in his store: no photographs.
I am a camera buff. Photographs help me write about things that interest me, so I decided to approach the artist and see if he would be willing to chat and to be photographed.
As it turns out he is quite fluent in English, which is a good thing as I am still struggling to learn Spanish.
His name is Emilio Sosa Medina, and he was born in Yobain, Yucatan, in 1955. A political activist since he was a teenager, Emilio left his home town in 1974, moving to Isla Mujeres where he met an island woman who took him under her wing, helping him find work.
He first worked as a kitchen assistant and then a bartender but continued to yearn for a creative outlet for his energies.
In 1986 Emilio took lessons at the local Casa de la Cultura to learn paper maché techniques and he became entranced by the possibilities. Using up to 40 kilograms of newsprint for some of his larger sculptures, Emilio creates supernatural beings from Maya mythology plus his own fantastic monsters. His imagination is astounding.
Crafting each intricate piece is a painstakingly slow process. The piece he is currently working on will take up to three years to complete. Layer upon layer of newsprint is carefully formed over a wire frame and left for several days to dry naturally in the warm Caribbean climate.
Several coats of vivid acrylics followed by a final glaze of clear polymer resin give the grey paper maché vibrancy and character.
Content to live simply with his three children and four grandchildren nearby, Emilio is blazing a new trail in folk art. Even though Mexican mask folk-art has been in existence for thousands of years, and was a well-established part of life when the Spanish arrived, Emilio brings new life to the art form.
His one-of-a-kind pieces enhance interior spaces in homes on Isla Mujeres, and around the world. His legacy of scary and beautiful sculptures will live on beyond his time.
The writers are Canadians who have been full-time residents of Isla Mujeres for eight years. You can read their blog here.