Enriqueta Cenobio Calixto
Mazahua Textiles and Miniature Embroidery

When she was nine years old, Enriqueta Cenobio Calixto learned embroidery from her mother. She was so interested in it that while the animals under her watch pastured, she spent her time embroidering miniature designs on the rebozo she wore every day. Finally, her mother felt her work was worthy and gave her a piece of cloth measuring 80 x 40 centimeters. Enriqueta spent months working on that cloth!

The embroidery technique that Enriqueta uses is done with two needles. She simultaneously works with two colors of thread, usually black and red or black and blue, which is the typical Mazahua style. Most of the designs come from the patterns that Enriqueta’s family has designed and used for generations. Although Enriqueta often uses her own designs that incorporate various colors of thread.

Over the years, Enriqueta has been awarded numerous prizes. On several occasions, she was awarded the Gran Premio de Arte Popular, one of the main prizes granted to folk artists in Mexico.

The Mazahua are indigenous people inhabiting the northwestern area of the State of Mexico and small parts of Michoacan and Queretaro. They also have a presence in Mexico City, Toluca and Guadalajara. Enriqueta lives in San Felipe Santiago, Mexico.

The word Mazahua is of Náhuatl origin and means “the owners of the deer” — probably referring to the fauna found in the mountainous region inhabited by the Mazahua. The Mazahua people refer to themselves as Hñatho. The basic economic activity is agriculture with corn, beans, squash, maguey and fruit being the principal crops. The Mazahua also keep common farm animal such as goats, sheep, chickens, turkeys, horses and oxen.

Contact information: San Felipe Santiago, Villa del Allende, Mexico, 552.753.8700

Article adapted/reprinted with permission from Feria de Maestros a Los Amigos-supported program.


Manuel Jimenez
Wood Carver
Arrazola, Oaxaca

Manuel Jimenez Ramirez (1919-2005) was born and died in Arrazola, Oaxaca, Mexico, in the shadow of the ruins of the ancient Zapotec city of Monte Alban. He is credited with the creation of alebrijes, the colorful wooden carvings one sees all over Oaxaca City.

Manuel grew up in very difficult circumstances. His parents were elderly and infirm and he had to fend for himself from an early age. He spent a lot of his early youth herding goats, burros and lambs. As a child, while looking after the animals, he copied them in clay, as a pastime. Later he began to carve them out of pieces of wood. Eventually he found other work but continued to carve. “This was my joy, carving wood, nothing else. And I began to appreciate the pleasure and delight the carvings could give to others. But still nobody bought my pieces, nobody came to my house for carvings. Only later did I take them to the markets,” he said in a 1981 interview with my friend Don Terpstra. The interview, which is long, was done in preparation for a huge show of his work at The Charles Lewis Company in Austin, Texas.

From Vivan los Artesanos!
(Mingei International Museum)

For some time Manuel was addicted to alcohol. Two of his brothers died from alcohol and eventually Manuel stopped drinking entirely. One day he had his fortune told by the little birds in cages who pick a folded piece of paper with a fortune written inside from the top of the cage. From this fortune Manuel began to understand that his art was the answer to his predicament of poverty and hardship. Art was his destiny. “From that moment I felt the spirit of God descend upon me. I was able to go on with life, with hope. I would say my work took root in around 1950. I had gained the right to work wood. The public began to take notice and buy my carvings. The request for my work gradually increased. Now everyone wants something,” said Manuel in the same 1981 interview. Manuel’s works are mostly in tsompancle and copalillo wood which is often brought from a distance. His tools were machetes and kitchen knives. His art became a family craft with his two sons working with him and

From private collection

Now his grandsons do carvings as well. Originally, of course, like all true folk art, Manuel did not sign his work. In the huge show of his work at The Charles Lewis Company in 1981 none of his work was signed. Some time after that, though I am not sure when, signatures started to appear. What did not change over time, though the types of paint used and the intricacy of the carvings did, was the personality which has always oozed from his carvings. It is as if his animals are alive. I have never seen this in any of the other wood carvers’ works. This is the true signature of Manuel’s pieces.
Manuel was a complicated man. He believed his art was a miracle of God, he was a curandero, he was filled with himself but he had, indeed, come a long way. He was now the biggest landholder in Arrazola. He was also very interested in the history of his country for, after all, he was born in 1919, the year that Emiliano Zapata died for the agrarian reform cause. Politics, ancient civilizations, the church and the land are all strong themes in his work as a wood carver. Again from Don’s 1981 interview Manuel said “I traveled far, working, suffering. But I have arrived at the hour of my glory.” It was 1981, and so he had.

(1)From Oaxacan Woodcarving
by Shepard Babash

(2)From Tyler Art Museum Exhibition

(3)From Oaxacan Woodcarving
by Shepard Babash

Article by member Deirdre McKee (TX).

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