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It was one of the last days in April. The first rains arrived that night. As we sat in Isidoro Cruz’s house, we were cold as only you can be cold in the tropics when the temperature is 13 degrees centigrade. The excitement and relief of the rains arriving was tangible. Water is life in Mexico. It was a torrential down pour that surrounded us in white mist. We had to raise our voices to be heard Its arrival was announced with lightening that lit up the purple dessert and frightened the children. The turkeys took shelter under a tree unable to stand the noise of the rain on the tin roof. Isidoro Cruz fed us blue corn quesadillas, pork scratching, bananas from their stem and a papaya from his garden, We drank week coffee. The beans grown in his garden. He had the week before given us a papaya and had asked us to return the seeds so he could replant them. This is the story that he told. In 1970 the village of San Martin was a subsistence-farming village. As a young child he made his own masks. There was a tradition was making wooden toys and farm machinery. Ox can still be seen working the fields with a wooden yoke. The carving boom can be traced back to a couple of artists Isidoro Cruz from San Martin and Manuel Jimenez from Arrazola. Arrazola was form many years the fragment of a vast sugar hacienda, located on the plain below the ruins of Monte Alban. As a child Manual Jimenez herded goats and made models of the goats from clay. He moved from one job to another. It was when he was thirty- five years old that his carving was spotted by a local gallery owner Arthur Train. “Mine is a sacred history… I am not just anybody. I am a real tiger. I was born intelligent. Everyone here is living off my initiative. If I hadn’t started carving none would be doing anything. I invented the whole tradition. They should make a statue of me in the plaza with an arrow pointing to the house, and rename this street Jimenez Street. The carving boom started in 1985. In 1982 Mexico had devalued the pesos as oil prices dropped. The government had to pursue growth through exports. This meant the price of Mexican art work was favourable to buy and export to the USA. The wood carving boom took place in three villages San Martin, La Union and Arrazola. It transformed the lives of the carvers. Anyone born before the 1950’s in one of those villages would have been poorly fed, illiterate and lived in poor housing. The villages changed in a short time from subsistence farmers to building their own homes and sending and keeping their children at school. The wooden carvings are inspired by the villagers life, the universal world of dreams-nature, spirituality, superstitions, myths, folk stories and religion. They carve virgins, angels, animals, devils, hybrid humans and animals. Many of the villagers continue to farm, carving in their spare time. Most carvers strive for realism in their carving and fantasy in their paintings of the carvings. “ Live animals look beautiful because they are alive. Wooden animals painted the same way wood look sad.”
Milagros is a Mexican shop on Columbia Road’s famous flower market & a showroom in the old board works in St Anne's, Bristol
+44 (0) 207 613 0876.